Winter wakeboarding from above

Commercial filmmaker and photographer Struan Purdie had a specific shot in mind for close to two years. This mid-Canterbury winter, he finally set out to achieve his goal…

Cold is a funny thing. We work pretty hard to stay out of it but sometimes it creates the best adventures. It was early June and the season’s first snowfall had just hit the Canterbury high
country. The boat slid off the trailer at Lake Lyndon and the fish-finder displayed a cool 2.9C water temperature. The plan was to throw a mate on a single ski and take some cool photos but it wasn’t looking promising.

Three years earlier, my wife and I had stopped off at the Lake after a similar snowfall. The water was like a mirror, the reflections close to perfect. I had visions of a lone boat cutting up the centre of the lake with a skier crisscrossing behind. From above I pictured the shot, full of contrast as the boat and skier painted their wakes on the glassy reflections like an artist filling in a blank canvas. Today was a different story. It was 10am and the nor’westerly was already starting to chop up the lake. We sped across to the far side where there was a slither of calm water in the lee of the hillside. It was now or never.

Kyle, a good friend I had met while filming for a local hunting guide, climbed into my new 5/4 wetsuit. We lit a fire on the shore so he could thaw out afterwards then we were into it. Since the lake was not exactly mirror calm, we ditched the ski and opted for the wakeboard instead. Jeremy got the boat started and I put the drone in the air. The plan was to stick close to the edge so I could capture the contrasting blue water and white snowy shore. With a carefully timed beach start, Kyle was up without hardly touching the water. Now for the tricky bit.

We headed down the lake to suss out a good spot. The drone was working hard to keep up but it soon revealed a stunning feature of the lake that was only evident from above. In the shallows on the edge of the lake there was a narrow section of sediment before it dropped off into the deep. Looking straight down from the drone it created this brilliant orange strip which ran the length of the shoreline. Maybe our luck was beginning to change after all.

We found a section of shoreline with a big rock jutting out. This was to be Kyle’s target. I hovered the drone over top as Jeremy swung the boat around and lined up parallel to the beach. On my tiny screen, I saw our boat enter the frame, followed by the tiny figure being dragged behind. As Kyle carved towards the rock, I started hitting the shutter. We repeated the shot a few times until the low-battery warning started beeping wildly at me, threatening to land the drone in the lake. It was hard to tell if we had nailed it completely from the tiny iPhone screen that attaches to the drone remote but I was reasonably confident.

We cranked up the BBQ while Kyle stripped off the precious rubber that had kept him alive for the last 40 minutes. By this time the wind had pushed into our sheltered side of the lake and was really starting to bite. After devouring a couple of venison sausages we packed up and headed for the ute. On the trip home, I wondered what I’d find once I plugged the memory card into the computer. I had been planning this shot for close to two years. You can’t be too idealistic when working with nature because everything is constantly changing. One day the light and your subject might line up just right for that perfect shot; the next day everything seems to be working against you. At least with this shoot, we’d had a bit of an adventure.

Two months later I received an email from New Zealand Geographic saying I’d been selected as a finalist in the Photographer Of The Year awards. I was pretty chuffed with how the selected image from that day turned out and certainly couldn’t have pulled it off without the help of my two crazy mates. Just goes to show I guess, sometimes the best adventures don’t turn out quite the way you envisioned them.

Struan Purdie is a commercial filmmaker and photographer based in Christchurch. You can see more of his work on Facebook or Instagram under the name @earlybirdmedia.

To vote for Struan’s photo, head to the photographer of the year page at nzgeo.com. The Photographer of the Year finalists are selected from nearly 6000 entries – each a new expression of the environment and society we live in. Struan’s image is also on display at the New Zealand Geographic exhibit at the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland.