How To Lose the Deep Summer Photo Challenge

By Seb Kemp

The Deep Summer Photo Challenge has been the highlight of Crankworx and indeed my whole summer since it was introduced in 2009. That year I helped legendary lensman, Mattias Fredriksson, with his show by being a location scout and human tripod, something that I'd like to have printed on my business card one day.

I had never met Mattias before and he had only a limited experience with the riding in Whistler but our team still took home first place thanks to Mattias' incredible eye for great action and moment, the amazing riding of his chosen athletes (which included Stevie Smith and Martin Soderstrom), and the slideshow editing magic of Dave Mossop.

But it wasn't the sweet smell of Canadian dollar bills and champagne splashes in Garf's nightclub that made it such a great event. It was being able to watch six photographers and their team interpret and present a consolidated image of mountain biking. It was that the creative and artistic side of mountain biking finally had its own coliseum to present itself to the people.

Crankworx, and indeed any mountain biking event, is usually focused on the athleticism of the elite. However, the organizers behind Deep Summer Photo Challenge (Michelle Leroux being the absolute high priestess of the event) saw that for most mountain bikers there is a deep connection with the imagery of our 'sport'.

Mountain bikers have a very close relationship with photographs and visual representations of the act of cycling in or around nature. Unlike, say, hockey or baseball, images really mean something to mountain bikers. Mountain bikers will often know the names of photographers as well as they know the name of cycling's MVPs. We have posters on our walls, images are forever burnt into our psyche, and we cherish things like the Bike Magazine Photo Annual. And that is why the Deep Summer Photo Challenge took place in front of a full-house of 1,200 people on its very first year with little or no marketing.

So, when Michelle Leroux asked me if I would mind showing Jonathon Hayward around Whistler this year I jumped at the chance. Sort of.

You see, Jonathon Hayward is not a name I recognized in the slightest. I tried doing research on him, but he has no website and no related images appear on Google Image search. All I knew was that he was a staff photographer for The Canadian Press, that he had being a judge the first year of Deep Summer and believed he could make a good go of it despite never taking a photo of mountain biking before.

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Crankworx-Deep-Summer-2012-Hayward from Identify Photo on Vimeo.

After a few emails and phone calls I agreed to meet with Jonathon face to face. At the time I had just broke my foot and faced a lengthy recovery so my assistance at the time would be limited to just finding him riders and giving advice on how previous entrants had either succeeded or suffered. However, after that first meeting I knew that I had to get well sooner rather than later because helping Jonathon would be a lot of fun and exactly the kind of meaty challenge I relish.

Over the next couple of months we had regular phone conversations, strings of emails, several hikes and rides to explore potential locations and I even had him over for a BBQ. All was going well despite myself being still injured, one of our riders (Paul Stevens) breaking his thumb just six weeks before the contest, a second (Dylan Sherrard) living too far away to come visit, and a third who didn't answer emails.

I could tell Jonathon was nervous, especially about the team of riders I had selected, but I kept reassuring him that all would be well. Paul would get better in time, Dylan would be there when we needed him and the third, well, we decided that a small and highly motivated team was what we needed anyway. At the same time I was becoming nervous about Jonathon's plans. He would not reveal the grand narrative or theme to the show. He was nervous that I or someone else would let it slip and I was nervous he had little or no plan. Apparently he had selected the song, the shots and the theme three years previous after driving home from the first Deep Summer contest. He had heard the song and knew immediately that it was the one. However, being told this was one thing, being told we could know no more was another.

It wasn't until the night before the contest started that he revealed his grand plan. And it just wasn't some half-baked idea, it was a complete vision. As the selected songs played on the hi-fi he read the story board to us. He danced about the room gesticulating wildly as he explained the kind of image he had in mind and how it would fit with the song. We were impressed. But then when his slideshow editor, Crista LaCraw, hit the space bar on her keyboard and the giant Mac screen lit up with the Final Cut Pro project timeline that had the song and place holders already teed in perfect synchronization we knew we had quite the team.

We weren't embarking on some fishing trip with luck as our only guide, we were systematically going to hunt out the very best images and already have the oven ready waiting to cook them in. More so, with Jonathon's wild dancing and infectious personality we knew we were going to have a lot of fun.

And so, once the Deep Summer 72-hour clock began ticking (one day is added for the purposes of editing) we headed out to get some bangers, nugs and keepers. We were approaching this contest a little differently than our peers, which explains why our first shot required that I climb into a bee costume and high five children in the middle of my hometown. The second shot required me to stand in the most dangerous place in the whole Bike Park and have Dylan Sherrard ride into the back of my head three times until I felt like I had drank several beers and needed to vomit all afternoon. The third shot required me to get into a bath of soapy water and tie three blow-up sex dolls to my legs while drinking a cocktail. The fourth required me to sit on the toilet while pretending to evacuate my bowels, wearing just a full-face helmet and a leopard print thong around my ankles. All of this went down beefore lunchtime on our first day of shooting.

That should give you an idea of where we were going with this slideshow.

You see, Jonathon, despite not being a full-fledged, paid-up member of the dirt wheel clan understood two things about mountain biking that are often overlooked. He could see that mountain biking is fun and that it is exciting. To present these ideas to a crowd (and judges) who should have first hand knowledge of these two things, he used humor, an exciting soundtrack, and had the show edited to elicit the feeling of speed, thrills, pleasure, elation and the obsession most riders feel after getting hooked on mountain biking.

On the big night, our show was fourth in-line, and followed Scott Markewitz's beautiful show, Mike Zinger's youthful creativeness and Justa Jeskova's show which pulled at heartstrings. The first three shows had been very serious and very fervent. The remaining two shows after ours were no different. I was nervous that ours wasn't going to be well received but as soon as it started playing our whole team began crying with laughter. It isn't a good sign when you laugh at your own jokes, but we couldn't help it. We had a bumble bee grabbing a Polish supermodel's boob. In my mind, that's grounds for rib replacement right there. Anyway, I can't remember if the crowd liked our show or not because I was too busy slapping my own thighs and high fiving our team. One thing I do know is that the panel of judges didn't collectively vote it highly enough to make the podium, which is as good as saying we came last.

We were shelled after the event. We had thought we had a barnburner of a show. A shoo-in for a podium place and a good chance at the win. While the other teams celebrated we regrouped at a quiet bar and drank whisky while trying to figure out what happened. This is what we came up with:

-Don't use blow up dolls, hot models or partial male nudity.

-Include pictures of kids at all costs. People love seeing their kids on the big screen.

-Use old people. There are not many old people in Whistler so seeing a picture of one is like seeing a mermaid brushing the hair of Sasquatch while E.T. rides on the back of a unicorn.

-Remember to act local and think local.

-Mountain biking is serious business. Emphasis should be placed on serious and business here, with a punchy F-word sandwiched in the middle.

I hope you don't think I am bitter about the experience. Certainly not. I enjoyed every one of the shows immensely. I am glad to see that most photographers have put their show on-line because I really do enjoy seeing six slightly different interpretations of mountain biking in Whistler. Most of all, I am glad to get an opportunity to watch (first-place finisher) Rueben Krabbe's show over and over again because it is so damned good.

More so, the Deep Summer Photo Challenge gave me the opportunity to spend the weekend with five of my new best buddies. The camaraderie of our team was incredible, our spirit was ebullient despite little sleep and lots of hard work, and the efficiency and professionalism of everyone on the team was nothing shy of remarkable.