This is a moment that never gets old, especially since it seems every year it is captured in more detail, in slower motion, with just enough explanation. It's a great white shark breaching in the waters off of South Africa to bite a seal dummy, which it spits out at least once after the realization that there's no juicy fat to be had. The footage was captured for the Discovery Channel with ITM's Phantom camera, which can record up to one million frames per second. It's a quick taste of what's to come.
Plying the Icicle River, Washington. Photo: Leah Ricketts
By Russ Ricketts
It all started innocently enough. My friend Matt told me about snorkeling with the salmon in our local rivers in the Cascade Mountains. His epic tales of huge fish, deep pools and fast currents held my attention. My wife and I had snorkeled in Hawaii—how could this be different?
Turns out, it is very different indeed. Sporting a mishmash of found and borrowed wetsuit items, I tentatively dove into the clear green water and was astonished. The currents pushed me over the rocky bottom effortlessly. Gentle rapids were suddenly an exhilarating roller coaster of bubbles. Long lazy drifts over cobbles and boulders revealed a world hidden under the familiar landscape of my local rivers. I was hooked.
Far from the vibrant colorful fish and coral of the usual tropical snorkeling experience, these mountain streams host much different underwater sights: migrating salmon patrolling the deep, playful trout snatching bugs, bedrock and boulders in fantastic shapes, bubbles and whirlpools. It’s a world Matt had first experienced on the job, performing snorkel surveys looking for bull trout for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The first time we went was at night and I was provided a heavy, olive-drab drysuit, hoodie, wading boots, mask, snorkel and an underwater flash light,” he says. “We had to swim up a steep, rocky canyon in the Cle Elum River. I definitely remember being impressed by how badass my fellow biologists were.”
But it’s not all fish and rocks down there, as I quickly discovered. Humans have left their mark in these underwater corridors. Much of this refuse dates back to times when rivers were widely viewed as convenient and logical receptacles for trash. Sadly, many people still view rivers this way.
Next week, tens of thousands of manufacturers, retailers, media and marketers of outdoor gear will convene in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer (OR) Summer Market. Among them will be many individuals to whom hawking gear designed for outdoor recreation is part and parcel of a larger mission to protect the wild places and natural playground in which those toys are used.
But as Greg Hanscom makes clear in the cover story of the current issue of High Country News, the influence that lobbying groups linked to the outdoor industry enjoyed during the early years of the Obama Administration is waning. Fast.
The story (available in full here, for HCN subscribers) revolves around Peter Metcalf, the CEO of Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Equipment and a firebrand who in the early 2000s successfully rallied the outdoor industry around the fight to preserve public lands. Metcalf and collaborators in the Outdoor Industry Association found that the outdoor industry held some sway. When former Utah Governor Michael Leavitt wanted to sacrifice public lands for development, they threatened to pull OR, and the many millions of dollars it brings with it, out of Salt Lake City. Leavitt not only backed off, he assembled a panel of outdoor industry types to advise him on land-use policies.
More victories followed, including the 2009 passage of public lands legislation that protects millions of acres of wilderness. Since then, however, progress has slowed and the OIA and the Conservation Alliance have had to fight harder for influence in Washington, D.C. The 2010 election "swept anti-government, anti-conservation Tea Party Republicans into power in the U.S. House of Representatives," wrote Hanscom in High Country News.
So what is the industry doing to regain Congressional attention?
Captain Don Voss, marine pollution from a diver's POV. Photos: Marine Cleanup Initiative, Inc.
When he returned, wounded, from serving in Vietnam, doctors told Don Voss he wouldn't walk again. But Voss, now a 64-year-old ship captain, turned to swimming as therapy. With more than 14,000 scuba dives under his belt, he walks just fine, thanks. He also heads an organization that has collected more than 300,000 pounds of debris from the inlets along Florida's central eastern coast. This work has earned Voss an Ocean Hero award from the ocean conservation group Oceana.
After an early retirement from instructing, Voss began filming debris in the Sebastian Inlet State Park. What he witnessed inspired him to begin removing the debris and, eventually, he found it impossible to dive without doing so. In 2009, Voss and others formed Marine Cleanup Initiative, Inc. as a non-profit whose mission is to work with volunteers to collect debris such as fishing line, nets, lures, anchors, litter and building material that covers much of the inlets along the coast.
Voss now trains and organizes volunteers to collect garbage in four inlets and four counties, along more than 90 miles of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary. This area is unique in that it ends up collecting not only the shore-based litter and cast-off gear of irresponsible fishermen, but also much of the wreckage that hurricanes leave behind.
"The inlets are where people like to fish, so we see a lot of fish line, nets and lead weights there. We lost 200 boats after the 2004 hurricane. Where do you think those end up?" he asks.
This past April, 33-year-old, Hampton, New Hampshire-based photographer Brian Nevins won the Telus Pro Photographer Showdown in Whistler, British Columbia. It’s one of the world’s biggest adventure photography awards. Any action sports lensman could point to it as a pivotal moment in their career. For Nevins, winning the award was a shock. It was also an affirmation that he was shooting the right way. It was not the pivotal moment in his career. He says that moment came six years ago, when he first visited a Nicaraguan dump called La Chureca.
Everything started for Nevins with surf photography. After high school, he and a friend planned to travel to California to be surf bums. His father, who was an airline pilot, told him he’d be cut off from free flights if he didn’t attend school. Nevins enrolled at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo as an easy way to take classes and surf. He stumbled into a photography class and latched onto a professor that inspired him, made him think, and, eventually, changed his life. “He said, ‘If you’re going to go surf and be a beach bum, you might as well take pictures and see what you can do with it,’” says Nevins. “And one thing led to another and it became my life’s passion.”
He attended the Brooks Institute and majored in photography, begged David Pu’u for a year until he got a job assisting as a surf photographer, and started shooting for Surfer magazine while still taking classes. He graduated and spent eight years shooting action sports, living off mac and cheese and crackers while traveling the world. “It’s not a lucrative job, but, you know, in my head, when I was younger, I thought, This is the most impossible dream.” he says. “So once I started making my $4 a year doing that, I didn’t care.”
Then he went to the dump for the first time. He saw parents scraping the meat off of rotting cow carcasses while children walked barefoot over exposed hypodermic needles. It changed the way he viewed the world. “I shoot for different reasons now,” he says. “The La Chureca shoot, the day that crept into my life, I kind of stopped seeing surfing for the sponsored shots and the action shots and it just became looking at life and surfing differently,” he says. “I think the only shots I take of surfing now remind me of the things that I love, rather than the things I know will be published.”