When I first shot the The Ironman World Championship Triathlon in 2000 for Allsport photography, the photography and triathlon world were very different from where they are now. Photographers still shot film and chrome transparency slides, very few triathletes were using aerobars on their bikes, and when I went to these triathlon events very few "professional" photographers would actually come out to cover it. The first year I shot Kona, I was the only photographer (or videographer) in the water and had the wide open bay to myself. Last year, several photographers and videographers were in the water which makes it a lot more challenging and restricting to get a clean shot. But one thing that has remained the same is I still love shooting the Ironman World Championships, and the triathletes are still as passionate about the sport as they have ever been.
The Ironman World Champs is one of if not the the most grueling endurance races in the world: competitors must complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile marathon consecutively within a 17-hour cutoff period to be considered an "Ironman". From a professional standpoint, as a photographer it is the hardest one-day sporting event to cover, but also one of the most rewarding. You get to travel through 140.6 miles on the Big Island of Hawaii, from the blue waters of Kailua Bay, to the lava fields of Queen K highway, to the final stretch on Alii drive where champions are made. This race has given me some of the more memorable images of my 20-year career, including two first place awards at the World Press Photo Awards in Amsterdam in 2010 and 2012. From a personal standpoint, I have many close friends who are past Ironman champions or currently work for Ironman, and I train with many professional triathletes at my home in San Diego in my spare time. So, I really love the sport of triathlon on so many levels. And of course it's in Hawaii, a place that I spend a lot of time in and is like a second home for me.
Just like the triathletes, I'm usually pretty anxious the morning of this race, because so much planning goes into the logistical nightmare of photographing athletes via scuba, motorcycle and helicopter for 17 hours. About the time I was kicking out into the bay at about 6:00 am (45 minutes before the start running on caffeine and adrenaline), I remember hearing the Ironman announcer mentioning over the loud speaker that a green turtle was spotted in the bay that morning. A turtle or "honu" as the local Hawaiians call it, are symbols of luck, and I was immediately excited that I may get a lucky photograph that morning. Over the years, I've seen fish and a bunch of triathletes down there but never a turtle!
After descending about 25-30 feet to the bottom, I waited patiently for the start canon to sound. A couple minutes before the start you can feel the anxiety and energy in the water, as the swimmers start to pile up and push forward arm to arm while the course managers are holding them back at the starting line with surfboards and paddle boards. Its was about this time I saw something in the corner of my frame swimming into the scene, it was a green honu! She swam right between me and the swimmers a couple feet in front of my underwater housing. She flapped her font fins appearing to float effortlessly across the scene, and then disappeared into the deep as quickly as she appeared. Luckily, I had my camera up and ready, and knew right after the shutter went off, I had captured a special moment.
This image "Kona Honu" is very special to me for so many reasons and couldn't be more happy when it was recognized in both Pictures of the Year International and in the Best of Photojournalism contests this year. After being a staff photographer with Getty Images for 10 years, I've spent the last decade as a freelance photographer having to hustle for clients constantly, and the triathlon and Ironman industry has been a demographic I had to work hard to get into and keep my relationships going. I hope in another 10 years, I can still successfully make a photo like this again at Ironman Kona, and continue to do what I love - photographing people doing what they love.
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