Bruce Irons, night shoot with phosphorous flare, Mentawai Islands, Indonesia. Action by Jason Kenworthy. Portrait photo by Richard Freeman
(Covers at bottom of page)
Four photographers of various temperaments and body types battled for this issue’s cover. On a stilly Indonesian night, with six-foot waves still crashing on the reef at Lance’s Right, Brian Bielmann, his nephew Brent Bielmann, Ryan Miller and Jason Kenworthy, all sat in boats, equipment poised, waiting for the Bruce Irons/Stab show to begin.
Stab attached a phosphorous flare to Bruce’s deck-grip using a zip-tie and wax and drove the subject into the lineup. Red Bull’s marketing manager Pete Jasienski travelled on the ski’s mat, in an attempt to hold a second flare in the frame. If all went well, Bruce would step off into a set then flirt with the tube before getting thunderstruck on the shoulder.
This is Indonesia, of course, where the waves come from many miles away and therefore the lulls are long. After 45 minutes, a smooth mid-sized wave appeared. Bruce tore the head off the flare. It ignited with a startling bang. Bruce stepped off the ski, tail flaring, drove through the barrel pictured and completed the wave with his iconic cutback.
In the land camps, cheers and whistling filled the night. On the boats, the photographers barked their approval.
Somewhere in the water, in the darkness, the Red Bull marketing manger shrieked: “Man down! I’m blind! I’m blinded!”
Bruce returned to the mother vessel, accepting and giving high-fives while our pal from Red Bull kicked and shrieked somewhere out there in the black lineup. But, Stab leaves no man behind. He was found and taken to the boat where the patient Indonesian crew gently cradled his head and washed the eyeball. Their quick thinking meant permanent blindness was averted but given the success of the shoot, all admitted it was a price we would’ve happily paid.
Interestingly, the photographer who got the cover, was initially over the idea of shooting flares at night. Kenworthy had just finished Nike 6.0′s The Chosen (shot at night) and was telling (Kolohe’s pops) Dino Andino, ‘Dude, I’ve been shooting in the dark too much lately, I just wanna shoot some sunny fricken surf shoots.’ But, once he saw the first shoot go down, he had to get in on it. “It was one of the best photos I’ve ever been able to capture. It looks like he’s surfing in hell. At first, I definitely thought it was just another gimmick. But, in hindsight, it’s genius. After following people around the world, shooting photos for all these years, it’s one of my favourite photos ever I’ve ever seen.”
As for Bruce, Kenworthy found him the perfect subject for the flare shoot. “With him, you just gotta be ready to pull the trigger. He’s gonna do it when he wants to do it. You might be able to give your little two cents, but really, he’s gonna do whatever the fuck he wants to do. The whole flare thing really suits him – it has that rock star element and that’s what he’s been in surfing. He’s definitely not the choir boy of the sport.”