Big Island Fever

Hot lava explodes as it meets the ocean outside of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii (Photo by Donald Miralle)

I headed out to the Big Island after a day at home from the UK reminiscent of a Nascar pitstop to cover one of my favorite sporting events in the world, the Ironman World Championships in Kona. I always love going to Hawaii, enjoying the surf, the sun, plate lunches and the aloha spirit. Last year was a very fruitful trip and I was hoping for the same this time around.

After settling in to my accommodations at the Casa De Edmeko on mile two of Alii drive right on the marathon course, I enjoyed some paddling with some other San Diego friends in town for the race (thanks for the board Roch!). I would follow each calorie burning session with calorie binging at Big Island BBQ everyday, opting for the 3,000+ delicious calories of the chicken katsu, bbq spareribs, macroni, and rice plate lunch combo. Mmmmmm…


That’s me shooting the lava flow into the ocean, a violent but beautiful scene…(Photo by Bruce Amori)

Now that I felt semi-acclimated to the 11-hour time change from Wales, I was ready to start working. As the Senior Photographer for LAVA, the official magazine of Ironman, by default it made me one of the official photographers for the race. Things would be a lot less crowded on course this year in comparison to the past races due to Ironman and the World Triathlon Corporation installation of Endura Pix photographers only allowed on course.

My plan was similar to years past – water start in scuba and water housing, multiple remotes at start, drying off and jumping on motorbike for the bike and run. Last year I hung out of a chopper for a which made for a great angle for the race, but for multiple reasons no heli this year.


The frame I gained as I was drying out my water housing for the first of two times…(Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Mass water start with about 1800 age group competitors thrashing in Kailua Bay. (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Competitors exiting the water from the swim. It’s amazing how many people trip on that first step, they should consider a ramp…(Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Giving the shaka bra while waiting for some triathletes to swim by (Photo by Hugh Gentry)

Regardless, it’s one of the longest days in sports photography. The day starts at about 4:30am, after setting up remotely fired cameras the night before, with first photos snapped at 6am as athletes enter Kailua Bay and the last exposure from my cameras and breakdown 18-hours later close to 9pm. But I can’t complain as my day is a breeze in comparison to the final competitors, usually finishing at about 11pm, after 17 hours of exertion to get through a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile marathon. Triathletes, especially Ironmen, no matter what time they finish are amazing athletes whose commitment to their sport and lifestyle is pretty inspiring.

My race started a little bumpy with my water housing flooding not once but twice from a slow leak crack. After swimming in twice with housing and full scuba to dry it out, I managed to get a nice frame on shore that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Being a good photographer usually means being a master at improvisation, making the best out of bad situations, and having a little of luck along the way.


Long bike line, no drafting here! (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Bikers go through large crevasse in lava rock on Queen K Hwy (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Rinny grabs water while photogs grab snaps during the 112 mile bike (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)


Suzanne, who I swim master with, killed it in the age group race (Donald Miralle for LAVA)

My remotes that Heather and Laura from Lava graciously helped me set up and fire unfortunately didn’t work out. This was my fault in not taking more time on the setup of the remotes being so pressed for time in the morning. I just had to forget about it and keep on moving, running back to media center, drying off, switching my camera setup to being on a motorbike for the rest of the day.

I had a great driver, Tim from Colorado, who was one of the three professional motor drivers allocated to the photographers by priority. It was his first Ironman, but he did a unbelievable job getting me in tight spots, and seeing more of the course than I ever have in the past. It was great to see new faces, and familiar ones like Delly Carr of Australia covering his 17th Kona Ironman.


Runner jogs past signs of encouragement written in chalk on the hot pavement on Alii Drive (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)


Macca pulls away from the German in the last couple miles of the marathon (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Macca comes across the finish line first in a classic (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

Another angle of the same moment, first time this remotes been done in Kona (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

And the full frontal…


Congrats to Rinny for her first Ironman win! (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

And also the countless others who ran into the night (Photo by Donald Miralle for LAVA)

The day ended up a big one for Australia, with Macca and Rinny both coming across the line first in exciting races. Their finishes, the scenery, and the beautiful sunset made for some great photos. But the highlights of my trip other than the little bit of surfing and paddling I did, was heading to the Hilo side of the island at 1am for a 3am excursion to the live lava flow with local photographer Bruce Amori. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce years ago when he was a student in one of the Sportsshoter Academies I was instructing at. Now he was the teacher and I was the student as we traversed a couple miles of hot newly formed lava shelves in pitch darkness with a headlamp, big boots, a sulfer dioxide max and our cameras. I likened it a lot to walking on a frozen lake with the cracking hard ice ontop, water flowing beneath you; but here you were waking on pitch black rock which could collapse from your weight on hot glowing and flowing magma beneath. All the time, the hot lava pouring new land into the ocean as large waves were trying to beat it back. A truly surreal, amazingly dynamic, spot on our planet, where the terrain looks completely different week to week.

Here’s a gallery of some more of my favorite photos from my trip, I hope you enjoy!

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  1. Jonathan Moore says:

    nice work! glad you’re back safe!

  2. Great images!

  3. thanks for sharing, it’s really good

  4. I see Bruce showed you his favorite spots 🙂 Amazing as always!

  5. tomniagara says:

    Donald, The Big Island is one of the most glorious places on earth, and the Big Guy is still not finished making it yet. Thanks for your wonderful images. Visors and baseball caps so often shade the most expressive eyes and facial expressions. Do you ever wish you had used fill-in flash outdoors, to compensate for shadows on faces ? Tom

    • Thanks Tom…in regards for fill flash, yes I’ve used them in the past and did use them while shooting the Ironman. But usually if the light is so harsh that a hat brim makes a dark shadow across the face it’s better to shoot backlit or not at all…

  6. Don,

    These photos are simply fabulous — as usual. It’s clear that being a superb athlete yourself is probably a significant factor in your being able to get some of the shots you get. Being bright, resourceful, and determined probably helps, too. I think you need to write a book on sports photography and give away all your secrets! BTW, how the hell did you get shots of the winner from above, behind, and on the ground in front of him — quick running around or remote controlled cameras? (How do you protect your remote cameras when you’re not around?)

    Thanks again for sharing your great photos.


    • Thanks for your flattering comments Dennis, they’re much appreciated! And yes, I used remote cameras for many of those angles (above head on in tv tower, overhead behind in finish line clock). I keep them secure by getting permission to place them in restricted places like this where limited people have access; also, a safety cable with padlock doesn’t hurt either! If you know anyone who want’s to publish a sports photography book with my name on it, please forward along!

  7. Outstanding ironman stuff as usual! As a triathlete also, it must make you want to give it a go!!

    • Thanks Mark…Although I’ve competed in a handful of triathlons, I don’t really consider myself a triathlete (especially when seeing these athletes in the ironman!) I’ve always considered myself a descent swimmer/surfer/paddler who can make it through a triathlon. But I have to admit watching the ironman inspires me and makes me consider trying one out someday…

  8. Donald, What a wonderful set of photos!! Your energy is unmatched. Great job.

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