Publish date:


Shooting a stretch of rapids in a canoe or a kayak is tricky enough in itself; shooting good pictures of it is even trickier. Which is why, to get the photographs for the vivid picture essay on white-water canoe racing that begins on page 26, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED went to a top photographer who is also a kayak nut.

A resident of Europe (Paris mostly) since 1958, Del Mulkey has long been punctuating his career as a free-lance photo journalist with kayak trips down some of the world's most ebullient rivers. A member of the French Canoe Club, he holds the distinction ("Well," he says, "it's a little enough thing") of being the first American to run the rapids of the Véz√®re near Limoges, a frightening stretch of water that the French can bring to a boil simply by opening the floodgates on a nearby dam. On stretches of water like that, Mulkey figures, it's handy to know how to do the Eskimo roll, that fancy bit of boatmanship illustrated at the top of this page where one (in this case Mulkey) rolls over in his kayak, thrashes deftly with his paddle while totally submerged and comes up again on the other side apparently no worse for the experience.

The chief problem Mulkey faced when he started his essay was the very basic one of how to hold, focus and lire a camera in the midst of a boiling stream. One solution was to hide a motorized, prefocused Nikon inside a glass-fronted plywood box and fasten the box to a kayak in such a way that the kayaker himself could trip the shutter by remote control. Good idea. Except that a kayaker's hands are not free to take snapshots—even if he has the time.

When he first tried it on the Isère, Mulkey says, "I ran the cord back from the box so the guy in the kayak could fire the camera with the seat of his pants by bouncing on the release. Fine. He climbed into the kayak, sat down on the switch and fired off the entire roll of film. I didn't hear it because the rapids were making so much noise."

Scratch one.

Further efforts in which the stern man in a two-piece kayak could trigger a self-portrait with the side of his knee were more successful, however, as were shots triggered by Mulkey himself as he ran along the edge of the churning stream beside the kayakers. And the end result, as all our readers can see, is a collection of photographs as drenched with spray and excitement as the sport they depict.