Extreme sports are undoubtedly fun – not to mention addictive – for those who are so inclined, but it’s an expensive habit to keep up. And a regular office job is unlikely to keep an adrenaline junkie amused for long.
The answer is often to make one’s passion into one’s job. One option is to teach whatever sport it might be, another is to photograph it.
Mike Minichiello, former ice hockey player, skydiver, base jumper, surfer and kiteboarder, does both. As manager of The Sweet Spot Watersports, which has locations in Cayman at Kaibo and East End, he splits his time between kitesurfing instruction and capturing the action on camera.
It’s something he has been doing in one form or another for more than 20 years. Not one to take the easy option, he started out as a sky diving videographer.
“Back then, that meant strapping a video camera to your head and jumping out of an airplane along with the people you were filming,” he said. “Nowadays there’s not much call for that kind of work as anyone can attach a Go Pro to their helmet and film their own adventure.”
His next foray was into the world of surf photography in Hawaii. Again, no easy task when waves of mythical proportions are crashing over you while you attempt to maneuver yourself into the right position to catch the surfer at the perfect moment.
“You’ve got all this water moving all around you so you’ve got to be a strong swimmer,” he said. “You’ve got to literally get into the breaking wave. Plus, you’re holding on to your camera in one hand – and cameras were not always as compact and affordable as they are now – and duck dive down to avoid the waves.”
As idyllic as it may sound to spend one’s days on the beach photographing surfers, Minichiello said it was generally novice surfers who wanted that “first time standing” shot, which is not as exciting for the photographer as it is for the surfer, and there were inevitably cloudy days when one couldn’t get great shots. This spurred him to begin teaching on his non-shooting days.
“If you want to travel and you can both teach and shoot, you’ve got a good chance of finding work,” he observed.
These days, he dedicates himself to kitesurfing. Although he spends the majority of his time teaching and testing instructors, he also shoots professional kiteboarders at “work” and also shoots for equipment manufacturer Cabrinha. Creating arresting images is all part of promoting the business, after all.
His shots of kitesurfers performing jumps, spins, loops and jaw-dropping aerial acrobatics are nothing if not dramatic, yet getting these shots, he says, is less challenging than it looks. He can get some of the best shots standing on a beach using a long lens or sitting in a boat in relative comfort. Nonetheless, it would be much harder if he was not a skilled kitesurfer himself.
“You need to understand how kitesurfing works in order to set up the shot, and also not to get in their way – although that can still happen. But if you can anticipate what the kiteboarder is going to do, you can get some special shots.”
The availability of reasonably priced underwater housings, digital cameras and Go Pros have all made the job of capturing the adrenaline of extreme sports easier in recent years, he said, so there are many more people shooting these activities than when he began. But the growth of the Internet, social media and digital magazines also mean there are many more outlets for photographers like him to show their work and inspire others to have a go.