In the grand scheme of things ten years might not be a very long time, but as I looked through all the wakeboarding photos I’ve taken over the past decade, it seems like a lifetime. My experiences over that ten year span will last me a lifetime though: 16 feature interviews, ten countries visited, 29 cover shots (30 if you count the one former editor Tony Smith gave me credit for, but he actually pushed the trigger), three laptops, a handful of “firsts” photographed, one international interrogation, and countless friends. Needless to say it’s been a decade of hard work, extreme blessings, and too much fun. I have no way of knowing how many pictures I’ve shot over that span, or how many have been published, but I thought it would be fun to share one photo from each year. I didn’t really have any criteria when I began firing up old hard drives and browsing through bunches and bunches of folders, I just ended up pulling some that sort of spoke to me in some way, shape or form. Each has a story that is special to me for one reason or another, complex or simple. Take a look and hopefully you enjoy.
This photo of RF (a.k.a. “Whispers”) was my first published photo. Alliance publisher/editor-in-chief Bill McCaffray was cool enough to introduce me to Delta pros Josh Smith, Darin Rayzor and Rich Facciano, as well as So-Cal pro Ricky Gonzalez at the Malibu Open in Sacramento that year. I’d seen all of them in video sections and magazines before, so I was kind of freaking out trying to photograph them with a Canon D30 (a whopping three megapixel DSLR) I’d borrowed from the University of Colorado’s student newspaper pool equipment for the summer. Rich decided to hit some double ups so I got out on a part of the Old River Bridge that looked down onto the water hoping to get something decent so all these legends wouldn’t think I was some know-nothing hack kid wasting their time. When Tony and Bill at Alliance told me they were interested in running this shot I got excited. Looking back, I was overly excited. I remember e-mailing them both on a regular basis asking if they knew when it would run. I’m surprised they didn’t get sick of me and throw my CD of burned images into the trash. When the issue came out this shot was the opening spread of the “Framed” photo section and in the corner it said “photo: Cortese”. I couldn’t believe it; I’d been published, in a wakeboarding magazine. Little did I know that was my first step toward starting a career (I just had to finish two years of college first).
The summer of 2003 I spent a lot of time with two Mikes. Wakeboarder Mike Schwenne and wakeboard photographer Mike Isler. To this day I still call both great friends, but back then we were just figuring some things out (especially me) while trying to get cool-looking photos. Isler was known for having all kinds of cool photo toys to mess around with, so one night while hanging out at Schwenne’s brand-new wakeboard camp on Lake McClure, he mounted a couple strobes to the tower of the boat and put a generator on the passenger seat to power them. Mike used one Pocket Wizard to fire one strobe from his camera, while I used one to fire the other from my own. As the light got darker I kept having to reduce my shutter speed, but the effect of blurring the background as I panned the camera with Schwenne was pretty cool and helped make this photo. We had a lot of fun those few days and this photo ultimately ran in an issue of WakeBoarding Magazine.
The summer of 2004 was a crazy one for me, definitely some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I finished school at CU Boulder in May and immediately went on a six-week road trip with the Centurion Boats company RV and one of their brand-new Enzo wakeboard boats. Myself, Mike Isler, Ty and Ian Udell, and Aaron Aubrey drove around the Northwest from Sacramento, CA all the way over to Bigfork, MT and up to Kelowna, BC, Canada doing nothing but riding, photographing, and having a blast. During that trip I was able to write two feature stories for Alliance, as well as contribute a bunch of photos. We had a lot of fun doing it and got to meet a lot of other riders and industry insiders, including then pro rider Brian Francis who later in the fall invited Isler and myself out to shoot on his home waters of Lake Havasu, AZ. One morning we got out before the sun came up hoping to score some perfect conditions. Isler wanted to get the chase boat really close to Brian so he could shoot with a wider lens. I did the same, but rather than wipe off the spray every time Brian jumped, I just left it, knowing the droplets would “flare up” since we were shooting into the sun. On this particular shot I got really lucky that the brightest water spot in the shot was right where Brian jumped. This shot never made it to print anywhere, but it has always been a favorite of mine.
In April of 2005 I was still working as an intern photographer at the Muskegon Chronicle on the shores of Lake Michigan, but had already agreed to move to Orlando and work full time for Alliance once the internship was over. Bill and Tony both wanted me to shoot the Toe Jam that year to start getting involved more with the Orlando scene, so we made sure it was cool with the folks at the Chronicle and I flew down. I had a blast shooting the contest, but was pretty bummed when it came time for the winch rail jam in the evening. I didn’t have a way to set up my flash as a remote at the time, so my options for shooting were pretty limited. I decided to post up in one of the high-reaches on the site, open my shutter for about 1/2 second every shot, and “steal” the flashes being fired off by other photographers. The light from the flash will freeze a rider’s motion, but the slow shutter speed causes everything else to blur (especially if you don’t have a tripod, ’cause there’s no way you’re keeping the camera perfectly still for 1/2 second with just your hands). I just tried to make the best photo with what I had to work with and I thought this back lip of Aaron Reed turned out pretty cool. I think we contemplated running it as a cover of Alliance at the time, but the “no vest” debate was raging pretty hard back then, so it just ran in the article about Toe Jam instead.
In 2006 I had the idea to take four riders who were featured in the “Coming Up” section of Alliance and take them out to Mike Schwenne’s houseboat on Lake McClure to do nothing but ride together, have fun, and maybe learn a thing or two from me about shooting and a thing or two from Schwenne about riding and dealing with sponsors. Jeff House was just a young buck back then and stoked to be on the trip. This shot was taken one morning in a canyon on the lake that connects the two larger open bodies of water. The tow boat went pretty close to the cliffs that were totally in shadow and I remember thinking to myself as I looked through the camera, “Come on Jeff, do something, anything, this background is insane!” Fortunately, right then, Jeff just did a little carve away from the wake and put up some spray. The water lit up and I snapped this photo. Definitely not the craziest action, or even a trick for that matter, but the picture remains one of my favorites.
This photo of Trevor came from what I’ve jokingly come to call my most productive shoot of all time. We were out on Lake Minnehaha with Ben Greenwood and Aaron Reed. During the shoot I got a sequence of Benny G’s signature swith mute ole 7 that ran as a spread, a shot of Aaron doing one of his signature poked out wake jumps that ran as an intro to the annual “The List” article, a cover of Aaron doing a melan poked grab while riding in front of some cypress trees, and this shot of Trevor, which ran as the opening spread to the Photo Annual section that year. The sky was insane that evening, mainly because there was a bunch of smoke on the horizon from a nearby brushfire. I’ve always been a sucker for silhouette photos, especially of wakeboarding (or any water-related sport) and this picture of Trevor just sealed the deal that much more. These days I’m a full-fledged addict.
Another “non-action” photo, but one of the coolest mornings I’ve ever witnessed. There was a ton of fog on the lake that morning in Clermont and I was supposed to shoot with Ben Greenwood, Shane Bonifay, Corey Bradley and Bob Sichel. It was actually too foggy to ride at first because we couldn’t see anything on the water. As the sun rose and the fog started to burn off, the guys started getting ready and were gonna head out to the boat. I noticed the light was getting through the fog just enough to start lighting up Benny’s boat, but it was still so thick on the lake you couldn’t see across it – the horizon was non-existent. I bumped the white balance on my camera down a little knowing it would make the fog and water a little more blue. I snapped a couple pics and then we headed out to ride. Benny was the first in the water and I got one really cool photo of him doing a backside 180 where he was totally lit up and the fog still killed the horizon, but the shot of his boat floating by itself was my favorite of the day by far.
Don’t let the sunny sky fool you, the water and the air that March night in Florida were pretty darn cold (yes, Florida can get cold – below freezing overnight and into the mornings sometimes). Manzari was rocking the thickest fullsuit I’ve ever seen. He really wanted to shoot while riding behind the PWC, which we had been using to chase the boat earlier, so I hopped in the boat and we parked it up against some reeds on shore. Matt did a trick every time he passed the boat and this inside-out ollie turned out the best. Matt was charging that day and this ollie was huge, it ended up being one of my favorite photos from the year – as I said earlier, I’m a sucker for silhouettes.
In the spring of 2010 I shot with Reed a bunch for an interview we were doing with him in Alliance. He had a PVC rail set up close to shore in his backyard and one night I set up a couple strobes to light it up. The results were awesome and I knew we could get a cover out of it. We shot on that rail a couple more times and got cool stuff, including a cover and this one, which eventually ran inside the interview.
If you’ve seen the most recent issue of Alliance (August/September issue with Matt Manzari on the cover) you undoubtedly saw the Fox ad on the back cover. Featured in the ad is a monster 60-foot-long floating spine. I had the pleasure of documenting the making of and initial riding sessions of the top-secret spine in Reed Hansen’s backyard. The thing is totally insane and one-of-a-kind, right up Fox’s alley. Watching the guys build it, test it out, then start shredding it was a lot of fun. The guys are still actively riding it and learning all kinds of crazy new things on it regularly. Dieter Humpsch is one of the most naturally talented and smoothest wakeskaters on the planet. I wanted to shoot of photo of him sliding over the coping on top of the spine that showed just how big the thing was. Fortunately there were some cool Florida clouds in the sky to add to the background of the photo. One of my favorite things about being involved in the wakeboarding industry for the past decade has been the front row seat I’ve had to the progression and growth. Being able to watch the riders push things to new levels and into new areas is a ton of fun and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next ten years.
This article was originally posted in Garrett Cortese’s personal blog. To see more of his work check out his site http://www.garrettcortese.com