So there I was, sitting on the bottom of Kailua Bay trying to preserve the air in my tank and keep my camera dry in it’s housing like I have on the first week of October in the years past. To get the underwater mass swim start photo from the Kona Ironman World Championships, I’ve always had to wake up about 4:30am to get into the water with my full scuba and underwater camera kit and watch fish go by until the cannon blast starts the swimmers at 7am. But the difference with this year and past years was the fact that the large surf a couple days before raceday kicked up sand and mixed up the water making it more cloudy, which didn’t lend to the clearest water with the best visibility for photos. However, these conditions brought larger schools of fish that I hadn’t seen in the past, swimming in the shallows of the bay looking for food.
So as I was sitting there at about 6:59 am, 30 feet on the bottom of the bay, trying to line up schools of fish, below schools of man, without getting too many of by bubbles from my mouth and regulator in the frame, and getting the correct exposure/focus as well, when I noticed in the corner of my eye the battery was blinking. All I could think was “shit my camera is going to die before this start, and I’m gonna miss it all”, and less than a minute later I could hear the muffled cannon fire, the surfboards holding the line of swimmers open, and the mass of humanity swim overhead. Click, click, cli… and I got about 2.5 frames in the first second of the race before my camera crapped out. All I could do was swim back to land and pray that I got one usable frame out of all the time and preparation that went into that morning.
A week later as I entered the office of LAVA, the official publication of Ironman, to show my images from Kona to the Publisher and Editors of the magazine, I had one image in mind from the 60+ I was showing that stood out in my as the strongest contender as the cover. It wasn’t a classic image of Chrissie Wellington crossing the finish line, nor one of Craig Alexander crushing the course record becoming the first man to win the 70.3 and Ironman World Champs the same year, but rather an artistic frame of anonymous swimmers amongst a school of fish in the Bay. I’ve shot all but one of the cover photos run by Lava, and they are usually lit, stocky, tight action or portrait shots; so this scene setter from Kona was a long-shot by those standards. The fish frame was one of those images and moments you get once in your lifetime, where all the elements line up, and preparation meets opportunity. The Editor Brad Culp went to bat for me on this one, and after a couple heated debates over what the best cover image should be, they went for it. It’s my favorite cover shot yet and it’s for the best as all the other triathlon magazines will have that stocky image of the finish line or running, while LAVA will have that different shot that no one else runs.