Posts Tagged ‘ocean safety’

Risk Perception

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Risk Perception

The image above was shot during the 2010 Maverick’s Challenge where I worked as support and Photographer for K38 Rescue, who ran Event Ocean Safety and in process was in charge of training a cadre of local watermen to be a Rescue team. That local team was headed up by Vince Broglio. It was a big and perfect day. Possibly the biggest, best surf, ever paddled into for a competitive event.

The quote is something Shawn said in one of our project groups this week. And I immediately turned it into an Oceanlovers Blue Note. Blue Notes are wisdom gleaned from the Sea, basically. You can find them here on Oceanlovers’ site, and you should be able to right click grab them. They are meant to be shared.

I study risk. Have for a long time now. As someone with a background in high risk competitive sports as well as a depth of Ocean experience, if I were not risk aware, I would not be sitting here typing on a Saturday morning. But this week has prompted me to want to expound a little on Risk Perception. You see, Risk is always there. But it is our understanding and awareness of it which allows us to potentially manage some of that potential threat to our own and other’s life and limb, with our choices and actions, and hopefully, to come away unscathed.

This is a very complex and layered subject. I have written a little bit about Shawn and I’s affiliation and relationship here in this regard in Peaking in Seconds and Feet. The people I work with via K38 Rescue and in my other various affiliations, are world leaders in various aspects of emergency response. We all support each other, mentor, and yes hold ourselves accountable, as members of a large Community. Accountability is everything when managing risk.

Understanding is what we strive for, as responsibility for our own safety and that of our subjects as professional imagers, needs to underpin our life. Without that you would see a pattern develop in and around your work which would include injuries-damage  to yourself, equipment and subjects. So we study to learn the risk, safeguard ourselves, and push for a more pleasant experience and to set an appropriate example for others.

Let me underscore something, speaking of accountability. I have never been hurt filming or shooting. With the exception of smacking Sean Tully, one of my long term collaborators in the head, when a lip grabbed an overly large waterhousing, I have never hurt or lost anyone. (I repaired Sean’s scalp wound. Being able to do that is another story) So in almost 15 years of filming all over the world, that means no bad cuts, head injuries, sprained or broken anything. Zilch. Nada. Zip.

I believe it is possible for anyone to have that track record. But Risk Perception, it is multi-layered, and I want to share one of the layers here.

This week has been full of Kite board filming and stills shooting. I consider this subject and utilizing a water POV to be exceptionally high risk for a number of reasons. A photographer could suffer instantaneous death from a variety of means. I am not going to go into the details, but this week it went smoothly. Here is one of many images collected and a part of a film I am developing. And yes, another Blue Note.

Blue Note: Kite

I always watch the Ocean. My connection to it is so involved and intimate, I am not going to endeavor to explain the relationship in a technical manner. But I will share some precepts.

My wife has been surprised to see the large volume of very high bar water work I have generated this Summer along our coast. That is unusual, as it is rare for the large combination of variables I require to attain my image quality bar, to happen in Summer. She sees the commitment and struggle, some of it anyway, as we talk about managing the vast array of details which comprise a career. Nevertheless, she has been remarking on what has wandered in the pixel door lately.

Two days ago things lined up for a special evening. I had been watching a break for some time now. Studied it, learned the parameters of tide swell, current, conditions etc. I thought it had potential to provide for some great work. But I had not yet swum it.  Eventually understanding risk comes down to going. You must go and challenge your understanding at some point, in order to convert the experience into knowledge.

Driving down Coast on a hot, blue, placid day I was inexplicably unsettled inside. When I got to the break I had thought we would be filming at, perfect little shoulder to head high peaks threw out in hollow top lit blue cylinders, in an idyllic California-esque  beach day. Woo hoo! But inside was a voice.

Looking down coast at that spot I had been watching, I saw a few waves break and recognized that today was likely as good a day as ever to swim the place. Lars Rathje arrived, who is one of my close collaborators. His younger brother Hans was on the way. With increasing excitement we watched a few well overhead sets roll through and I carefully loaded my SPL waterhousing, placing the Canon 5DM2 with wide angle zoom into the case, setting everything and then buttoning up and prepping the port. It is a routine and process which I have done literally thousands of times.

I tugged my wetsuit on, grabbed my housing and fins and we picked our way down the cliff to a narrowing sandy beach strewn with the odd big rock. Neither of us was 100 percent on what the bottom looked like. We suspected it would be soft sand as we had seen the break shifting a bit over the course of a year, and that shift usually indicates sandbar movement related to littoral flow.

As we got to the water’s edge I turned to Lars and said this on the most perfect beautiful risk absent day one could ever imagine. “Pay close attention out here today. Really close attention. There is something not right about this.

And we swum out. Below are the first and last frames I shot that night. Easy, perfect, brilliant, fun. Right?

First Frame

Last Frame

Here is what happened.

The lineup features two peaks, one a left and one primarily a right. On high tide (tide was filling in) a side wave pushes across the lineup creating an explosive and dramatic backwash condition. Part of what we were there to experience was the water morph. The first wave Lars barely got into it via the back door and as the side wave hit it kicked open. That dry hair shot above was the first one of the evening .

We had to play everything very close due to the combination of conditions, so frequently we were in touching distance. That is not so unusual for water work. I actually call this type of shooting “contact work” as one is generally within touching distance when one shoots. You endeavor to have the ocean and your approach create a near miss scenario. We both laughed that in the first 5 minutes we had nailed it. That does not happen too often. Perfection is complex. It takes some effort.

An hour later a wave double concussed and as I came back to the surface I saw that my housing had leaked. The dreaded Death all Water Photographers seek to avoid was in process. Due to the design of SPL’s system, the camera sits on a plate which keeps it elevated. You can technically semi flood a housing and not lose the camera if you are careful. “Hey Lars, I am out. Housing leak. Going to the beach and see if I can fix it. Camera is still alive.” Hans had just paddled out to join us.

I swum in, managing to keep the housing out of the water and in the shore pound saw I would need to take a wave to the body. In spite of backing in to the beach, I was very aware of my position. I knew that one big rock was nearby and where it was. The wave slapped me ashore and housing held high, I was swept up the beach right past that rock. Hmm. An hour down and several high risk potential things had gone down.

I climbed up the cliff, went to the back of my car, and disassembled, dried, cleaned and re assembled my gear. A half hour later I was back at water’s edge. The boys had moved back up the beach. The lineup was empty. I normally love that. But inside the voice was an alarm bell still. I had a close look, nothing apparent, dipping my housing, it was holding the seal and all seemed fine, so into the blue I plunged, and in 50 yards I was in perfect position for a beautiful backwash blast. The loud crack as the two waves blasted into oblivion made for a great capture. We all sort of live our lives in the impact zone, those of us that do this, and we truly love being there. So we mind the blasts. That is part of our innate risk management

Popping up I saw a sea lion gliding by. He was acting skittish. Not unusual. They tend to be a lot like dogs and are sometimes very friendly and at others, stand offish or aggressive. He disappeared. I noticed that I was the only thing on the surface. Then came that voice and something new: a tap on the shoulder. Something was out there with me. That never alarms me believe it or not. I just watch the water, keep my housing down around my legs and pay attention. It is not uncommon for sharks to come up and take a look at me and the sun was getting low on the horizon. It was nearing dinner time for the Sea.

I saw nothing. It had been awhile and the long period Southern hemi swell seemed to be lulling out so I worked my way into the shorepound, wishing that the boys would come back so we could shoot a bit more surf stuff. Near shore my inner alarm went off. It is this imminent collision intuition one has that was saying “Do not be here”. So I swam back out. Yep. As a blue wave danced onto the sandbar I saw the shadow and profile of the shark. Looked like a 6-8 footer.¬† I could not tell what type but assumed it to be a Thresher. Sort of reminded me of a Tiger though, by it’s movement. But that would be odd. He was headed away. The “alarm” went off. My inner voice was still alert.

I set about capturing and creating the images I was after, and in a bit Hans swam out to join me sans board. Bodysurfing the warm, slabby wedges. We connected a few times and were both laughing. In a bit we saw Lars wander back down the beach with  a stunning looking woman with him. They chatted a few minutes and he joined us, and began to work some difficult angles.

An hour later as the sun began to drop behind a coastal mountain to our West, I had bait rise flash all around me, and fish flew out of the water, encircling me in a silvery rainbow. I laughed. But I knew something caused that. I had seen it before swimming a remote wave in Mexico right before a very large Tiger had appeared mid wave and shown me the door.

Swimming back out, a wave doubled up and I eased under it. Uh oh. Shallow spot in the sand bar. The lip bounced me off the bottom, rag dolled me and as I surfaced, I saw some scratches on my housing port. Shoots. Damage. Repairable and the marks were not in the lens’ line of sight. Whew. Next wave was perfect. Nailed it. Then Lars, who was sitting further outside said “Hey David, check it out, we have a bait ball just offshore. Wow, did you see that? Two dolphins, a baby and an older one!”

We worked the last half hour alone as Hans had gone in and was watching us as the light ebbed. Then Lars went in, and I was out alone in the stillness of evening, light waning and realized that all was quiet inside of me. I swam to the outside shot a couple more frames and began to work shoreward. A set missed the outside sandbar and doubled up just as a backwash wave hit and I shot a final last frame, that beautiful one above.

So I dragged you along on this tale to explain that though what I do looks easy, and I make it out as such, one of the primary reasons is that I know the risks, yes, but that my perception is highly trained and tuned. That part is not so special nor as arrogant as it may at first read. It is how we all should be, who have a grasp on what it means to be human, living in a body, designed to walk the land, but composed largely of salt water, and wedded to the Sea.

Below are a few more of the 24 A list images from the evening.

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K38 Rescue: Precept and Example

Thursday, March 8th, 2012
Shawn aboard "Jay"

Shawn aboard "Jay"

I sent Shawn Alladio a note yesterday afternoon. Here it is.

At least TRY to have a good time tonight, will ya? This is important.

Here is her response.

Shut up! LOL

 

USCG STAN Team training. Columbia River.

USCG STAN Team training. Columbia River.

 

That pretty much sums up what many of us feel, who are on the back end of rendering service, when accolades come our way.

Shawn was headed to an awards ceremony. I knew about it. Barely. It is not what we talk about. But a friend had reminded me, and I knew that Dr Andrea Neal, was down to see her in the midst of what for all of us, was an impossible week. And we all keep track of each other. Teams and families are like that. And it was Shawn actually, who taught me to always be watching, everything. Apex Predators. It is how anyone who is under her authority is taught to be.

Here is a basic element of K38 philosophy, that is an embed in our psychology. One of thousands. But an important one.

“Think like a victim. But act like a rescuer.” I am going to let that sink in. Volumes have been spoken and written on this.

Learning Flow

Learning Flow

 

Even now as I type this, I know that Shawn is headed up to Washington for work. I wish I was with her. We were up last year working with the STAN team at  the USCG Base at Tongue Point, and out on the Columbia River Bar. I liked it, and the Advance Helo Rescue Swimmer guys. It was good to us all, the time together.

Shawn Alladio, Serious instructions with K38 Mavericks Team

Shawn Alladio, Serious instructions with K38 Mavericks Team

I appreciate that Shawn invited me into her world so many years ago. With all the controversy of late, regarding the marginalization of women, and commentary surrounding a radio personality, who intentionally verbally degraded a female Law student on air, and a bunch of decrepit, corrupt politicians doing what they do, I was a bit taken aback, and had to figure out what the uproar was about.

I have an entirely different baseline about service, and women.

I have never had an issue placing myself under the command of a woman. Maybe because I have been under Shawn’s for so long, and her’s is efficient. So well run in fact, that she somehow finds herself in the unenviable process of having to deal with accolades from time to time. We ALL hate them. Any of us in service positions do them to serve. Though gratitude is great. (It is wonderful being appreciated) What we all aspire to do, is to educate, inspire and push OTHERS forward.

Here is the tricky part. When one leads by both precept and example, people lock onto the example first, and precept last. That is why frequently, our culture lends itself to the development of a cult of personality. But leaders, real ones, (politicians by their job description, are not leaders per se) know to actively resist iconization.

Precept and Example

Precept and Example

Why?

It weakens your team. You want a strong team, a vital community, that by it’s diversity and understanding and respect of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, you may grow. That is our precept. Get it?

I learned a heck of a lot as a professional athlete (what I was, prior to being a businessman and a photographer-film maker). If one wants to be successful, you hone your strengths, refine those, but you train your weaknesses. Weakness is what kills your performance, and jeopardizes your goals long term. Shawn and I have been discussing this. I know she is writing on the subject. I look forward to the read.

Onboard Instruction

Onboard Instruction

In recent years, K38 Rescue, headed by Shawn Alladio, and a global collective of Rescue Professionals  trained by her, has raised a standard that did not formerly exist. This standard follows the design evolutionary process of the Personal Watercraft, PWC, or RWC (Rescue Watercraft), as we are now beginning to call these boats. A new generation of craft is about to come into our watery arena.

Shawn has applied her company assets as a civilian contractor, and as what I would call a Patriot, thrown everything into training with various branches of our Military and aiding in the development of the usage of the RWC in Military Rescue and various other ops. In a world full of bullshit artists who try to attach themselves and brand by association with the elite of our armed services who are water based, Shawn refuses to talk about it.

So I am.

Why?

Because Shawn by her service, has literally changed the course of History, in the usage of the personal watercraft for Rescue, and developed a detailed training modus that builds warriors out of boys who just liked fast toys. I know. I am one of them. Her understanding of, and education on Rescue theory, can revolutionize a life.

Shawn Alladio, Colombia River Bar

Shawn Alladio, Colombia River Bar

It has made a huge difference in mine. I have learned how to better, do no harm, as I go forward into a production. For eight plus years she has tolerated me, my lens and my Hawaiian hard headedness. I think she sort of fixed me. I needed that. I became a Rescue Boat Operator.  Never my plan, it is just what occurred over the years. I highly recommend it, in spite of the boot camp nature and long cold wet nights K38 training involves. In fact, after awhile you really begin to look forward to dark and inclement conditions. Tougher. More challenge.

Training is Living, Living is Training

Training is Living, Living is Training

So last night, this is what happened.

Shawn received an award, presented by the NSBC. Shawn Alladio was inducted into the National Safe Boating Council Hall of Fame on March 7th 2012. To illustrate how remarkable this is, understand that much older men with decades at the helm of other types of craft under their belts, would be typical inductees. Shawn, a female, and private contractor, and a PWC proponent, was being congratulated and honored on her command and the success of her vision. Important thing.

In her world, there really is no such thing as equality. Equality will drown and kill you. It is all about service and strength.

Here is the K38 Rescue blog. She is a member of NASBLA, and a woman whose love of the Sea and Ocean experiences are vast. I am really grateful for what she has done for my Community, the tribe of people who live in and around the water. The skills she mentors  in not only save lives, but enable us to set higher standards, in all that we do.

Headed down to Camp Pendleton

Headed down to Camp Pendleton

 

The only real reward for that, is in seeing others thrive, and coming home at the end of the day, to those who love us. But no matter how hard we train or how diligent we are, each of us acknowledges that it is grace that leads us home. I know someone who regularly falls asleep to this song.  The source of Grace is praise. I use it a lot. We all should.

Golden Reward

Golden Reward

GMAC

Saturday, April 16th, 2011
GMAC

GMAC

 

Garrett MacNamara and I have been perpetually bumping into each other for over a decade now.¬† He and I for many years, just seemed to always be in the same place and time to see the ocean and weather coincide to produce some remarkable moments. He surfed. I shot. AFterwards we both laughed. “Wow, you were there”.

We finally exchanged phone numbers a few years back. I will not say that having the digits made things any easier to connect, but it sure makes for an extra few moments to share our very unique lives together.

I doubt that there are many watermen alive who have the good natured acumen which Garret does. Probably under 2 dozen in the world which embody the skill level, strength and aloha I have seen him demonstrate repeatedly at Jaws, Cortes Bank, Pipeline, Wiamea, Mavericks and points beyond.

He and I are team mates on K38 Rescue, a global group of ocean safety oriented rescue boat operators headed up by Shawn Alladio.

GMAC Mavs

GMAC Mavs

Garrett rang me the other day. He was passing through with Nicole and needed to borrow a wetsuit for her. He let me know he would be paddling out at the Pipe a break which I can actually see from my bedroom window. I toodled down in time to see him stroke an 8’6″ SUP into a couple.

Garrett, Afternoon Drive

Garrett, Afternoon Drive

Garrett rides every kind of board imaginable. It was funny seeing him manage the chop and confluence of a late afternoon session on such a tiny SUP. No small feat.

GMAC, Ventura

GMAC, Ventura

 

The Chase

Sunday, July 26th, 2009
Siren's Serenade

Siren's Serenade

Surfing is not a sport. Not in any conventional sense. It falls into the genre of life’s laundry list of activities,¬† better described as a life style. So broad in scope, it permeates all facets of a participant’s cognitive and subconscious thought processes, to the extent that you are surfing, even when not actually riding a wave.

One of the reasons for this life style moniker is The Chase. This facet of surfing dictates that the participants be die hard, or more accurately: die never, optimists. Finding waves, developing technique,  expanding performance range, and increasing the difficulty level of ocean conditions in which a surfer feels comfy, impregnates every nook and cranny of an ocean imbued life. So when not actually eying the hook, as cool, blue-green, salty deliciousness pulls at your arms, and  the shoreward rush lifts your board aloft,  you are still surfing.

The Chase requires a level of mastery in life skills that make the average rocket scientist’s skill set look rather short. Surfing involves a subconscious management of the variables.¬† The surfer develops an ability to put them self in a precise place and instant of time, that will occur, somewhere in the future. Being good at this requires¬† prescience, self knowledge, study and faith.

Yes, faith. Possibly one of the most miss understood terms in the Western world, it is often mistaken for hope. That gaffe can be an expensive one. Simply put, Faith is when one possesses a knowledge and in turn a confidence that cannot be swayed by anything. Not wind, wave, danger, death. It is when one knows in their heart of hearts what will occur.  It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. It positions you on the cosmic GPS.  Surfers have faith.

Great surfers exhibit faith when they show up at the right beach,  on the correct tide, with perfect wind and weather and have the best swell for the break pouring in. They paddle out, place themselves in the saddle, turn and glide into that chronological apex and moment of truth called the takeoff.  My photography career was not made by my ability as a Photographer, but by my exhibition of Faith which continually places me at various points in time to experience the take off. The Chase fulfilled, ad infinitum.

Some day it will place me in the precise cross hairs for a more grand take off. I have Faith. I know this.

This week had started out with the rumor of a swell arriving from out of the distant Southern Hemisphere.¬† On the Southern ice cap, a storm had howled out into the ocean and made it’s way past the reaches of New Zealand, where in what we call the “swell window” for the Northern Hemisphere, it generated a significant energy pulse.

When that pulse hits California beaches, the waves come to shore in sets that mirror the storm’s wind gusts. The better events have long periods of flat water, with sets containing a lot of waves in them when they arrive. This creates issues for the un initiated, who may have been lured to the ocean by News reports based on what surfers call the “rumor mill”. They see flat water and think: “Oh someone has made a mistake.” They had been unwittingly set up for a lemming call of sorts. It is sad hearing the news of their struggle or death later, that the news media had helped to create.

In surf culture some  surf forecasting concerns have a history of  crying wolf, that has grown legendary among the faithful. This process keeps lifeguards in business. It also fans The Chase, among the faithless.

This last swell forecast, was accompanied by news hysteria, doing what they do: fan fear and hysteria. (White shark sighting, dangerous waves coming) This caused my voice and e mail to fill with questions about what headed our way. Funny thing fear, it is energetically diametrically opposed to creativity.

My answer was : “I did not look at the storm or do the forecast, so I do not know. But the shark, that is sort of typical. They are always there.” I was faithless on the swell. I simply had no knowledge. But when I saw the swell begin to show on the near shore Southern California weather buoys, hope dawned, that something could happen.

After three successive days of lackluster waves, in spite of a decent pulse on the buoys, I began to think that maybe this was another failed event. But then things changed. I have a large number of indicators which I learned to examine in a lifetime of engaging The Chase and approximately 12 years of freelance swell and weather forecasting, that saw me mis-cast approximately  five percent of the time in my ocean history. So I am generally faith full when I head out.

So I set out under a set of variables that I remember gave me one of my first large usage surfing images which occurred in year two of my mentorship by Surfing magazine’s Larry “Flame Moore”. In my hand was the same focal length lens I had used then, but in modern form, the Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS and the revolutionary¬† 5D Mark 2.

Standing in the exact same spot as that first image occured, now 12 years older, I mimed the crabs which scuttled about the rocks in which I lingered, and stalked what I KNEW was going to occur. A few surfers which I had called, showed up as well.

Danny Moa, had hopped out into the lineup which was foreign to him, and caught two waves before the intimidation the break creates, sent him scampering to shore. All before what I knew would happen could occur. The other two surfers, well they had no faith either. This image above is a moment foretold captured. Faith knows where to stand, how to proceed and allows us to capture and not just chase, our vision.

Have Faith. Play that card. Start now.

I love U2. They have a habit of telling you just what you need to know in their music. But it requires faith to hear it.

Seth Godin writes about the application of Faith for business.

Below are a few images from what turned out to be a moderate to strong swell. It was three energy pulses actually, but in reading the telemetry from all three swell sources, I found a little Faith. Doesn’t take much. Someone great once said it could be as large as a mustard seed. They were right. The prospective faithful are Danny Moa and Lars and Hans Rathje, who I met while helping film the wonderful story Goofyfoot, by Jeff McElroy .

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Faith

Faith

Perception

Perception

Chase

Chase

Power Surge

Power Surge

Lars: Hope

Lars: Hope

Hans: Faith

Hans: Faith

Lars, Hans: Hope Deferred

Peace

Peace

© 2009 David Pu'u. All rights reserved.

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