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The Real Stig

If you’ve seen the series Top Gear on the BBC then you’ll know all about The Stig: a professional racing driver who always wears his helmet so remains anonymous, and gets behind the wheel of test cars to put them through their paces. Sharing his name with the infamous character, Stig Hoefnagel knew it would make a great premise for a video project. So he headed to Ireland to do some shooting and racing to see which Stig would come out victorious…

PHOTOS: Andy Troy (unless specified)
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Growing up introducing myself to older people (especially middle-aged dads) they would always make the same joke about my name: “Ah so you are the guy underneath that helmet.” Or they would say they’d always wanted to know who the real Stig was and now they finally knew. I never really understood, but even as a seven-year-old, if a lot of different people keep on joking or giving compliments about your name, you start to wonder who this other “Stig” is that they are talking about. So after dozens of these comments, I went to my mom and asked her who this Stig is that everyone mentions when they hear my name. She told me that there is a very fast driver who drives around in cool cars. No one knows who he is, but he wears a white racing suit and helmet and always wins the races and puts down the fastest times. I had a moment of pride that I share my name with this mysterious and famous race driver. Now I knew how to reply to all those dads’ joking about my name.

Many years later, when my kiting journey was well on its way, I met Edwin Haighton on the beach, a talented videographer who would sometimes get out his camera gear after he finished his kite sessions. He’d seen me ride and asked if he could take some clips of me. This was a huge upgrade from my GoPro attached to a pole on the beach, and when I saw the footage, I couldn’t really believe that someone had taken such good shots of me. We met a few more times and became better mates, and even though I was still very young we seemed to get along well and have an eye for the same kind of shots. After shooting quite a few videos together we both came to the conclusion that we needed to create something bigger and more creative than just some tricks at our local spot. So he suggested doing something with my name and the racer Stig and so it began. We started brainstorming locations, a script, the crew needed, and before we knew it, we had created the concept of “The Real Stig”, a little film where the Stig from Top Gear (played by my friend Rover) would race against myself the kitesurfer.

We ended up filming the first video in the Netherlands in 2019, in the polder landscapes that have small canals with just enough space to kite in, with “the Stig” in a yellow Ferrari on the roads next to them. This video became a big success and many people seemed to really like it, so we decided to make another version. Episode two was planned for the year after, and I arranged permits to drive on the beaches of The Hague. The project grew quite a bit compared to the first one we did, but unfortunately we were never able to finish the movie – during the first few hours of the shoot, while filming the opening scene, the car flipped four times ending up on its side! Luckily my friend Rover only had a few scratches and was unharmed. But the car wasn’t… it was completely totaled and written off… this meant the end of the video and, in my mind, the end of this video concept.

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But you wouldn’t be reading this article and looking at these photos if we hadn’t given it another go. Three years later and a lot of dreaming about making a second episode I finally had the balls to have another go. First I called Edwin to see what his thoughts were on making another one – his response: “I thought you would never ask!” So then the second person I called was Rover, because flipping a car is not something you forget easily. His response: “Bro, I’m really busy at work, but whatever it takes, I’ll be there!” After getting these responses I knew it was the right moment to make another episode. This time, not on home soil, but in Ireland. I visited the country earlier this year for a Prolimit shoot, and in almost every location we visited I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect this place would be for another episode, so it began.

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“When you are out shooting with Stig, you know it’s going to be good – jumping gaps, big loops, big stunts – it’s all there. We had planned all the scenes down to the tiniest details and the crew worked together like clockwork. But in the back of our minds we constantly had this little reminder of the last time we tried this shoot, where we trashed that car… So the most memorable moment for me was when we wrapped up. It all came together like we planned and the result was epic. This felt like making amends to the previous attempt, and I couldn’t be more glad that Stig pushed on to shoot this film again!”

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I started by scouting all the spots, working out what tide and wind direction would be best at each, and the script slowly started to come to life. The next step was to find a car. The first time we’d used a private car, but I wanted to get more people and brands involved this time so I reached out to Jeep NL. They were super stoked to help out with a car and were so thoughtful that they brainstormed with me on how to make it a success. They mentioned that the BBC might not like it if we copied the image of The Stig, so I had to find a lawyer to check what we could and could not do. Once this was sorted and the whole team was put together, it was a matter of patience and waiting for good conditions, and hoping that nothing would go wrong this time.

On the first day of the planned waiting period a perfect storm appeared on the forecast. It was on. I had to get the car from the dealership in Amsterdam all the way to this little island in Ireland. Together with Edwin and Andy the photographer, we took a ferry to the UK where we had to cross the width of the country to take another ferry the next day to Ireland. After a good 30 hours of travel we made it to Achill Island to arrive at PureMagic, a small surf lodge that was so nice as to host us. Rover and Mathijs, the missing half of the crew, arrived that same night and we were on for a busy few days of shooting since the storm was meant to hit Ireland the next day. Some locals told me that this was the best forecast they had seen all year.

It couldn’t have turned out any better than it did. Everything was on our side this time with the best conditions the island had seen all year, and a well-oiled and very professional team that worked really well together, this in combination with months and months of preparation. The results and opportunities we got during those three days were unreal and something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. We went above and beyond our own expectations and the script that we had written in the first place. I am incredibly thankful for the effort of the team and what we managed to pull off. A big thanks to everyone involved and to TheKiteMag for allowing me to tell my story to all their subscribers!

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