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…
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.
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.
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.
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!