As part of my season-long partnership with Comet Skateboards, I recently headed up to Canada for the eleventh annual Giants Head Freeride, a downhill skateboarding event in British Columbia. The agenda was simple and straightforward: I was there to skate, shoot photos, and deliver my first workshop on downhill skate photography.
This year I decided to fly straight to Penticton, a small town about 20 minutes from Summerland, on Sunday afternoon. Having done the road trip from LA in previous years, I find that flying allows me to show up fresh, rested, and ready for three full days of skating and shooting.
My good friend Aaron Breetwor picked me up from the airport and we made our way to the campsite, where a small mini ramp had been set up. I watched someone drunkenly attempt to drop in on it using a camp chair in lieu of a skateboard, then headed off to bed.
I had spent the week before the event trying to plan out my workshop, which I was both very excited for and deeply nervous about. Who would have suspected that explaining my entire creative process to a non-photographer crowd would difficult?
Fortunately, Aaron helped me organize my thoughts and the workshop went smoothly. I had a large, engaged audience who asked intelligent questions and several people approached me afterward to express their appreciation for the talk.
In an attempt to demonstrate the effects of different shutter speeds, apertures, focal lengths, and shooting angles, I spent all of Monday afternoon shooting Big Picnic, a wide-open right hand corner about 2/3 of the way down the hill.
While I didn’t end up using these photos in my presentation that night—it’s hard to sort and process 3,000 photos in 3 hours while trying finish a slide show—I will be using them in future talks and posting them to my Flickr account, where curious skate photographers can look at the EXIF data.
The City of Summerland is in the middle of a major overhaul of Giants Head Park that includes intimidating new split-rail fencing to protect the sensitive trails from dirt bikes and a generous application of fine sand and gravel at the edges of the road, presumably to prevent erosion. This sand makes for highly theatrical crash photos.
In addition to my usual goal of getting at least one or two good shots of every rider, this year I wanted to really show the unique way Giants Head forces people to navigate this technical downhill road while avoiding other riders; so I shot angles that emphasized the “traffic jam” aspect of the Freeride.
The Tightrope straightaway is the fastest, narrowest section of Giants Head. It ends with a long, bending uphill right kink that dumps you into the Hairpin, a flat, rough 180º left that requires braking almost to a stop. Most people two-slide that corner, braking hard through the right and doing a smaller slide to the apex of the left.
Some brave souls like Bradley Cameron do a bank-shot one slide heelside line, skillfully backing their uphill left slide around the right bend.
The tension between different approaches to this corner set, combined with the speed and narrow road, makes the tightrope the most challenging section of Giants Head.
We had great weather this year, with almost no rain during skating and convenient early-evening thunderstorms to wash the urethane dust off the road. Here’s Api Ihaia outrunning the rain showers with Byron Essert, Kevin Reimer, and Lars Troutwine.
There was no Wednesday afternoon race this year. Instead, the organizers handed out special GHF poker chips on Monday morning and announced a $500 prize for whoever had the most chips on Wednesday at noon, which resulted in all kinds of gambling and silliness while maximizing skating and preventing boredom.
Giants Head is surprisingly difficult to shoot on sunny days. The tree shadows and north/south orientation of the hill, combined with the overhead sun (GHF is always scheduled within a week of the summer solstice so the sun rises at 5am and sets at 9pm), make almost every corner backlit with patchy shadows.
Shout out to the Adobe Creative Suite for helping me bring up those dark shadows.
The event went smoothly and wrapped up with only one minor injury. While most people left Wednesday, Aaron and I hung out at the camp site with the organizers Wednesday night before heading up to the legendary King Brian’s folks’ property for the Thursday night after-party.
The Elderkins fed us two delicious meals, showed off their badass knife collection and impressive off-the-grid technology, let us camp on their land, and were generally delightful folks to hang around.
The highlight of the night came when Brian decided to burn a big chunk of magnesium, which lit up the wooded clearing we were hanging out in as brightly as the sun.
I was tired from five days of skating, camping, and shooting; so I crawled off to bed by 1am.
I finished out the trip with a long drive on the gravel-paved back way to Vancouver, some disc golf with Kevin Reimer, a local drag show, and a good night’s sleep at Tim Smith’s place in Burnaby. Thanks to everyone who made the trip possible, and I hope to see everyone next year.