New Cover of Lava, the Kona Edition

The school of fish and competitors at the mass swim start at the Ironman World Champs in Kona 2011. (Photo by Donald Miralle fo LAVA)

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.



  1. Congratulations, amazing shot

  2. Don,

    One of my favorite shots of all time. I love it. So glad you got the cover and great story to go with the pic.

  3. Bill Coleman says:

    No fair! You guys get to live in the future. It’s 11:21 pm on Nov 14th in my world.

    Anyway, I love the shot too, but their crop’s so tight they cut out my favorite parts.

    • Hey Bill – I agree, I originally pitched it as a gatefold cover as they did last year, buy not sure if they printed it that way or not. It comes out this week so I guess we’ll see…

  4. Bill Coleman says:

    Hmmm. I guess wordpress is living in the future.

  5. Tom Niagara says:

    Can the editors of LAVA print their BAR CODE on the BACK COVER, instead of on the front cover, lower right ? Every pixel of your great shot deserves to be seen. When battery life is risky underwater, do you ever dive with a complete second back-up system ?

    • Hey Tom, great to hear from you and I’m not sure why they put that barcode on the front 😉 Great question about the backup system, I actually always shoot with two Aquatech housings, one for Canon DS mark III and one for canon 5d mark II. Last two years at Kona I ended up using both after card was filled or battery was dead as it’s easier to grab the other setup on shore than having to dry/open/reset/close a wet housing. Cheers – Don

  6. Comgrats!!! A great cover!!!

    Mary Ann Blais
    Jon’s mom

  7. Congrats on the award!!

  8. Congrats on the world press photo award. A big picture!

  9. Hey Donald…this shot really caught my attention. As you say…it is the magic happening when all the elements of a shot come together. I have shot a few Ironman and road races…but never under water. I salute you for finding that pov that makes your photograph have what we try to get one way or another. I was curious how your battery crapped out on you. I know the colder temp’s affect battery life…but it seems that you would have plenty of juice especially when this was the beginning of the event.
    Kudos for getting the cover and the award. cheers.

    • Hey Carlos, thanks for the kind note. As for the camera crapping out, it is a Canon 1Ds Mark II and the nicads drain very quickly now after several years of use. I need to stick to my Canon 5D MkII in the aquatech housing or upgrade…

      • Yeah…those pesky batteries…I teach photography locally and tell my students to keep an good eye on them that they don’t go down at the wrong time. You might have had to wash your shorts several times to make sure they were clean after that little scare…just kidding…:-) Super shots anyway you cut it.


  1. […] can read the full story behind how the photo was shot over on Miralle’s blog, but here’s an […]

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