Who would've thought? Raph Derome, that's who.

When the staff at Alliance was discussing a vision, direction, and possible ideas for the cover of the 100th issue, two words kept popping up: legit and unique. We knew we needed something that would represent both the past 100 issues of the magazine, as well as the next 100 to come. Much like the first cover of Alliance with Brian Grubb hitting an insane rail on his wakeskate turned heads and pushed boundaries, the 100th cover needed to do the same, and then some. And, like with the first cover and Brian being an up-and-coming rider we believed would push the sport for years to come, we wanted a similar rider for the 100th. Enter, Raph Derome. Raph has established himself as not only one of the world’s premier rail riders, but one of the best all-around wakeboarders period, and we knew if given the task of doing something for the 100th cover, he would find a way to deliver.

After talking to Raph briefly and bringing up the topic of the cover for the 100th issue, we knew we had the right rider. Without being prompted he told us he wanted to do something really special that nobody had seen before. The only problem was that due to Raph’s schedule and a couple hiccups with design ideas, the actual cover shoot came down to three days before the deadline. Enter the current Alliance Rider of the Year, Reed Hansen. Raph was in need of a place to try something that would live up to his vision and the magazine’s for the cover, and I knew Reed Hansen had a place that would allow us to do that. I also knew that Reed is always down to help out however he can, even if it’s for a cover shoot with a wakeboarder whom he’d only met a couple times before. I sent Reed a semi-cryptic text that read, “Call me when you get up buddy, I have a mag emergency I think you might be able to help me out with.” Within an hour I was explaining to Reed that we were trying to shoot with Raph for a cover, but the first couple ideas he had didn’t work out and we needed to make something cool and fast and shoot it. Reed was in, no questions asked.

Reed and his Bobcat... there are always fun things to do at Reed's house

The next day I went out to Reed’s while Raph was filming for a Disney Channel Canada spot. I wanted to look around Reed’s parents’ property to see what we could find that could possibly be cool and unique enough for Raph to hit. The plan was for Raph to join us in the afternoon after his shoot and we would get to work. As soon as I got to Reed’s I immediately thought of using his Bobcat. I’d seen shots of guys at cable parks jibbing tractor buckets and other similar things by sticking them out over the water, but I figured we could do something with Reed’s Bobcat that would make it totally unique. We contemplated putting in pieces of pipe stacked as a pyramid or maybe even Reed’s old yellow jet ski upside down… and maybe we could get Raph to launch off a kicker and hit them. Reed and I were sure we’d thought of something magical, but as soon as Raph arrived he had a different idea. At first we were crushed because our creativity seemed smashed and we didn’t know what to do. Then Raph said, “I’ve always had this idea to somehow set up a piece of chain so I could grind it.” Reed immediately replied, “Well, I’ve got some chain.”

We grabbed the chain Reed has (which, coincidentally enough, he has to lock his Bobcat down to its trailer for towing), a couple old 4×4’s, and went to work. We pounded in the 4×4’s, along with cross braces, and used screw anchors to lock the chain down into the water (while using screws to screw it into the post and help “lock it in”). There was one problem though; just bouncing on the chain with a little weight would immediately loosen it because the posts would come loose. By this time it was getting dark and we knew we would have to try to finish building in the morning.

Raph and the chain, just prior to hitting it for the first time

Reed, Raph and myself met at Reed’s first thing the next morning and added tow straps and a couple more screw anchors to try to lock the posts in. Raph put some weight on the chain and decided to give it a go. The fact that he was vocally nervous about it made me even more so, and Reed was no different. We all knew the consequences could be pretty bad if this thing went bad. Face, body or legs into 4×4 post = no good. Chain to face, body, or legs = no good. All of the above at once = really, really no good at all.

Raph rode by the chain a couple times with Reed driving and gave it a couple test ollies, just to measure how high it was, where he’d have to get on, and the angle he’d need to take. The chain from post to post ended up being 19’, so Raph decided to ollie over the front post at just enough of an angle to land on the chain, ride it as far as possible, and come off just before the end post. We knew the chain was not tight enough for Raph to be able to ride it all the way up and over the end post. If he stayed on the chain the whole way it would give too much and his board would hit the post, sending him flying and potentially breaking bones. Needless to say, hitting this chain just right was going to take some serious precision. After a couple drive bys Raph ollied on and quickly came off. It was fast, but it was still insane; and more importantly the chain held. Reed pulled Raph back around and he came at the chain for a second hit. He ollied on again, but this time there was a loud pop and you could hear the chain clinking. Raph somehow managed to miss the end post, but still caught it with a piece of his board. I didn’t know if he’d been hit by the chain or not, and he still managed to get sent into an awkward fall from just his board clipping the post, so I ran over to see if he was alright. Fortunately he was, but it was obvious we needed to rethink the way we had the chain set up.

This could have been a disaster. We knew we needed a redesign.

Shortly after Raph’s crash we were at the local Ace Hardware Store to grab some new eight-foot 4x4s and a couple heavy duty eye bolts. This time around we used Reed’s Bobcat to anchor the posts. He filled the bucket with a bunch of sand to make it really heavy, and then as Raph and I positioned the posts, he lowered the bucket to drive the posts into the ground. It worked like a charm and the posts were solid, but this time we did two on each end and braced them together and from the side to give extra support. On top of that we stuck with our tow strap system going down to screw anchors to give extra support. We also employed the use of a second chain, connected to another two screw anchors on each end, and then connected to the chain Raph was grinding in the middle. To tighten the two chains together we used a loadbinder, which Reed also had to lock his Bobcat down to its trailer (see, I knew Reed was the right guy to call for help). This time the chain was tighter than we ever expected to get it, but probably still not safe enough for Raph to get end to end. Either way, Raph was more confident then ever, so when the light got good we got to work.

One of Raph's first attempts on the new design. It was sturdier, which was good for keeping the chain tight, but that also meant if something went wrong, Raph would be running right into a much more solid post at the end.

Getting it dialed

A couple hits later and a little more dialed. Watching Raph hit this chain over and over was one of the most insane things I've witnessed in my ten years of photographing wakeboarding.

Backlit attempt #1. I wanted to make sure I shot this chain from every angle with every lighting style possible. Fortunately for me Raph was more than willing to keep hitting it. I'm still not sure why...

Throughout the rest of the night Raph hit the chain more times than I can count. I was running around like a mad man trying to make sure I had all different kinds of shots from all different kinds of angles with all different kinds of lenses and lighting. I had no idea what was going to look best on something so crazy (yet so simple looking) as a wakeboarder grinding a chain, so I wanted to get it all. Fortunately for all of us Raph was more than willing to keep hitting it and our new design held up perfectly. As you can see from the photos in this article we got a lot of good shots. Part of me still looks at some of these and thinks, “What the hell were you thinking getting that close to a piece of tightened chain being jumped on by a wakeboarder going 19 MPH… and what the hell is a wakeboarder doing jumping onto a piece of tightened chain going 19 MPH?!?!”

Getting a little more comfortable with the idea that Raph was getting more comfortable

When the sun went behind some clouds as it was setting, thus killing the direct light, I knew it was time to try to work on some better silhouette shots. This frame eventually became the cover

One frame later in the sequence after the cover shot

Just to show Raph's insane consistency and ability. This is not the same photo as the cover. This is one attempt later on Raph's part. I stayed in the same spot to make sure I had a good silhouette image. He was so dialed that I was almost getting identical pictures.

As you can see Raph was ollieing over the front post (no small ollie at that) and staying on the chain as long as possible. The chain was between 19 and 20 feet long, so the only way for Raph to get on it and grind it for any significant amount of time was to get on as early as possible.

Up close and personal. Looking back, this might have been an unecessary risk, but Raph and I both really wanted to show the detail of the chain and how he was grinding it

Again, just to cover all the photo bases I could think of, I eventually turned on some strobes to light Raph and the chain up as the light got lower

Raph was so dialed that he was even (semi) comfortable with hitting the chain as dusk wore on and the light got lower

One more up close shot with the flashes for good measure. This was the last shot we took on the chain. The next day Raph had to fly out for a Red Bull event. I was confident we had a cover, but I just wasn't sure which one would work best for the 100th issue just yet.

Watching Raph hit the chain was truly awe-inspiring. Yes, it looks simple, but looks can be deceiving, and this is probably the most deceptive thing the sport has ever seen. The consequences were truly dire if something went wrong. Props to Raph for not only having the skill to hit something like this, but for also having the vision to do it and to help make a truly unique cover. Of course, none of this would have been possible without Reed, his backyard, his Bobcat, his chain, and his total willingness to help out in a time of need. Reed’s help in a project like this is just further evidence as to why he is the reigning Alliance ROTY, and the cover is proof that Raph really is a perfect representative for the future of wakeboarding.

In the end we felt this silhouetted shot of Raph just getting on the chain worked the best. The effect of seeing the chain in silhouette makes you think "what the heck?", plus the photo and colors really pop as a cover image. Huge props to Raph for coming up with the idea and having the balls and skill to make it happen. This is definitely unique and progressive.