2014 Wake Surf Nationals: Mark Payne's Lucky 7

Labor Day weekend wrapped up the second-to-last event of the 2014 wakesurf season.  The Nautique USA National Wakesurf Championship was held at Callaway Gardens in Georgia.  This is one of my favorite events of the year.  As an ex 3-event skier myself, it’s hard not to get excited about being on the water of the legendary Masters Water Ski Tournament.  The most famous names in water skiing have competed at this incredible venue for 55 years.  So it’s certainly apropos to bring phenomenal wakesurfers from the US, Canada and even Russia to this historic location for the USA Nationals.  And what a beautiful place to shoot photos!

I grew up in Dallas, TX and given the lack of mountains and beaches in Dallas we all went to the lake as kids for fun.  Growing up as a lake rat, I enjoyed slalom skiing, old-school stand-up jet skis and even barefooting.  And while in college at The University of Texas, I did 3-event skiing on the UT water ski team.  Boating has been a part of my life since my early teens but it wasn’t until my adult life that I picked up photography as a hobby.

I’m really just a self-taught hacker.  I’ve never had any formal training or classes but I embraced photography as a way to capture memories once our son Parker Payne was born.  And I’m also a huge gear head.   So when digital cameras hit the market it was a great opportunity to learn new technology and go buy some really sweet gear! 

When I’m not on the boat driving for Parker, or not on a surfboard myself, I buy and sell corporate jets for my “day job”.  Aircraft deals have taken me to every corner of the earth and it’s another great opportunity to shoot photos in very cool places.  In addition to being a lake rat, travel has been a huge part of my life.  I’ve lived in Mexico, Central America and traveled all over.  Wake surfing and traveling is a big part of what we do as a family today. 

Much like the friendly rivalry between Ford and Chevy owners, photographers have a lot of passion for the brand of cameras they shoot with.  There are a bunch of great camera manufacturers out there but I’m a Canon guy.  And given I’m “diseased” with always wanting really good gear I’m fortunate to have some of best that Canon makes.  The camera body I use is a Canon EOS 1D-C.  The 1D line of camera bodies are built for professional photographers in the most challenging photographic environments:  high speed action from the sidelines at an NFL football game, low light gymnastics events, snowstorms and other natural disasters or war coverage in the Middle East.  It’s an amazing camera that is capable of shooting 14 frames per second!  That’s fast.  And speaking of fast, it has one of the most advanced auto-focus system of any camera produced, which is perfect for tracking wakesurfers doing big aerials and other fast-moving tricks. 

Another feature of the Canon EOS 1D-C is its video capabilities.  The latest rage in the video world these days is shooting in 4K – which, in basic terms, means the video has nearly four times greater detail than HD video. It’s unbelievable stuff and is frequently used in full-length feature films, commercials and even YouTube channels like that of Devin SuperTramp.  Overall, the Canon 1D-C is a sport shooter’s dream; a great tool for shooting wakesurfers that ollie, spin and slash all over the wave. 

Canon makes an entire lineup of camera lenses to go with the body.  Depending on the venue, what the light will be like and how far away the subject is I will use various lenses such as the EF 24-70mm, f2.8L or the EF 70-200mm, f2.8L.  Armed with a few lenses, a flash for podium shots and a few other accessories I’m always well equipped to get a decent shot or two – it’s just up to me to actually get it!

Once I finish shooting pictures at an event I usually run through them quickly to delete the ones with missed focus points, wrong exposure or ones that just didn’t work out.  The ones remaining get post-processed in LightRoom and then are ready to send out to friends and family. 

Getting a chance to combine two great hobbies of mine is a thrill for me and I enjoy sharing the best shots with other competitors and families. It’s great to see my photos getting “likes” on Facebook and other social media sites.  And I always appreciate seeing photo credits when my pictures are used.

And that brings me back to Nationals last weekend!  With such a beautiful venue, good weather and really talented riders on the water it is hard not to end up with a few good shots.  Given the World Championships in Las Vegas are right around the corner, here are my favorite “Lucky 7” photos from Nationals:

This shot was taken during Aaron Witherell’s post-run interview and the person doing the interview is none other than 7-year-old Zoey Montgomery.  She regularly competes but in this case did a great job asking questions about Aaron’s run and even wanted to know what his favorite color was!  I like this picture because it exemplifies the family nature of wakesurfing.  Aaron was a champ and did a great job with Joey’s questions.

This is Taylor Dorey right after her skim run and I had planned to shoot a picture of her during the interview.  She noticed the camera pointing towards her and flashed that great smile.  I like this shot because, to me, it says anytime you’re on the water or in a boat with good friends and family life is good!!

This picture is Mike Viland, Scott Culp and Danny Biebricher on the podium for Men’s Masters.  This picture caught my eye because the guys and girls in the Masters division are often times the ones volunteering at events (or organizing the event in Scott’s case), buying gear, boat gas, plane tickets and hotels for their kids, and generally supporting the sport in a big way.  But they ALSO have some mad surfing skills and have a great time doing it! Love the positive vibes in this one!

This shot is Taylor Dorey during her skim run.  It’s a fantastic action shot and I like it because of what is going on with the water around her.  Aggressive style, power and the effects of the water make this one a keeper!

As Cyndi Lauper used to say, “Girls just want to have fun!”  And there is always plenty of that at a wakesurf competition.  I liked the framing of this shot with the girls in the right-hand third of the frame and Callaway Gardens as a great background.

This is Parker Payne midway through a surf style 360 Shuv-it.  I love this shot because it shows off the technical nature of the sport.  And heck, he’s my son!  You knew I would have one of him in here, didn’t you?  J  Parker is the reason I bought my first camera, so thanks.  And I’m super proud of what he has been able to accomplish in two quick seasons. Way to go Parker!

This shot is Keenan Flegel going huge during his second pass.  Keenan will make any photographer look good! But I liked this shot because you’ll notice he is surfing the regular side of the wave (port) – the opposite side that he normally surfs on!  Surfing on both sides of the wave and doing wave transfers on the course is now the next level in wakesurfing. That’s exciting stuff!

by Mark Payne