When I was first hired to work full time for Alliance Wakeboard Magazine back in 2005, one of the riders I was most excited to meet and photograph was Keith Lyman. I had seen almost all of the video sections featuring Keith and almost all of them were at the top of my “favorites” list. The guy was known for going huge and having a ton of style, and I couldn’t wait to point my camera at him. As fate would have it, Keith was actually one of the first pro riders I met upon my arrival in Orlando. Actually, he got stuck with picking me up at the airport. Former Alliance editor Tony Smith asked Keith if he could grab me when I landed so we could shoot a sequence of a trick for the instructional section of the magazine the very next morning. I remember sitting at the curb of MCO fairly excited about the fact that Keith Lyman was coming to pick me up, but also telling myself to stay cool and not look like a total dork. I also remember thinking to be extra gracious about the pickup, because I assumed the last thing a pro rider would want to do is drive to the airport to pickup a guy he’s never met or heard of before.
Keith was anything but bitter though. He was actually excited to pick me up, get to know me, and shoot the next morning. He even apologized for being a couple minutes late and for his little papillon Emma excitedly jumping in my lap during the ride to his house. I was just excited to get out on the water and photograph Keith riding. That next morning Keith blew my mind as to what the world of professional wakeboarding could look like through the viewfinder of a camera. He went huge — way bigger than anybody I’d ever seen before, by far. But it wasn’t just the insane amplitude of Keith’s riding that blew my mind, it was how controlled and stylish he was while going that big. Growing up and shooting on the Delta I was more than a bit partial to the “smooth, controlled style” aspect of wakeboarding. Riders from that area take a lot of pride in how their riding looks and feels, and it shows on camera. Keith took that attitude to a whole new level. He literally wanted every trick to not only look and feel exactly how he wanted, but he wanted to do each one as big as possible. And he was able to do that insanely well. I knew then and there that Keith was going to leave a big impact on the sport for years to come, and that I wanted to shoot with him a lot more down the road.
Over the next six years I was fortunate enough to shoot with Keith more times than I care to count. If I were to make a tally of all the riders I’ve shot with over the years and how many times I’ve shot each of them, my guess is that Keith would actually be somewhere close to the top of the list. But beyond shooting with Keith, I was also fortunate enough to be able to call him a good friend. Even before I could call Keith a true friend though, I’d long known of his fascination with and love for all things American Military. That first night at his house when he picked me up from the airport the Military Channel was on his TV. Later on I would see books on everything from handheld weaponry to aircraft carriers. Last fall when he confided in me that he was finally going to leave wakeboarding for real to join the military (he’d thought about it in the past, but never made the jump), I wasn’t surprised. The selfish wakeboarding photographer/editor in me was bummed because I knew I’d be losing one of the best riders in the sport to photograph (and that the sport would be losing one of its best and purest ambassadors). But the friend in me was proud, excited, and a little nervous for Keith. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who decide to make the sacrifice and commitment to serve in the armed forces. I know that it is something I could never do, so to see Keith make that decision and pursue a passion he has had for longer than what he knew wakeboarding was, was very special. At the time Keith was a little nervous as to what the reaction of the industry and fans might be, but I told him not to worry. I told him that for some people it would be a hard pill to swallow. They would say, “How can you walk away from something you’re so good at and that offers you such an amazing lifestyle to possibly sacrifice your life during a time of war?” But I also told him that other people’s expectations of him aren’t his responsibility. “Just because you are really good at something doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Just because people know you for a certain thing doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Wakeboarding fans are always going to relate to you as an awesome wakeboarder, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to wakeboard. This is your life, and if what you truly want to do with it is enlist and serve in the military, then by all means that is what you should do. Follow your heart and not other people’s expectations,” I told him. I was glad and grateful I got to talk to Keith early on in his decision process and I am even more proud of the decision he has made and the new dream he is pursuing. The decision to serve in the military isn’t an easy one, and I think we all owe Keith a tip of the cap and a round of applause for what he has decided to do.
As I said, over the years I’ve gotten the opportunity to shoot with Keith many times. Some of my favorite photos ever are from various sessions with Keith, whether they were just quick afternoon sets in Orlando or full editorial trips to a faraway place. Keith always managed to make me shake my head in awe while I photographed him. His style and approach to the sport were unmatched and I truly will miss photographing him on a wakeboard. Here are some of my favorite shots of Keith from 2005-2011. Enjoy and salute. Thanks for everything, Keith, hopefully our paths cross soon.
This piece was originally posted on Garrett Cortese’s personal blog. For more from his site, click here