After shooting The Underwater Project for the past three years we wanted to work in the tropics. Mike and I both knew the Cook Islands and knew that we could get the job done with minimal effort (the island road is only 30kms long), with the ease of clear water and favorable weather we left the comfort of beach breaks in Australia and headed to the reefs.
When I shoot I only ask people I know can handle the waves, in 2009 we shot in triple overhead waves which were out of our league beating us all the way to the shore – lesson learned that day. Even with the increased risk of sharp reef we were confident in the water, maybe a little too confident.
On the first day the tide dropped out faster than we had anticipated, and Mike came off second best. A wave picked him up and bounced him over the reef for a good 20 meters, over sharp coral heads and urchins, leaving every limb to bleed and seep yellow goo as soon as he left the water.
With the shoot put on hold until Mike’s wounds healed over I looked for something else to shoot underwater, when fish didn’t hold my interest I changed the settings on the camera, and found something I haven’t seen before.
I’m done bro, I’m done.”
With those few words Mike rose to his feet in ankle deep water and began the 10 minute walk towards shore, dodging thick back urchins and sharp reef outcrops while assessing his wounds. Even from behind the waves I could see a stream of blood run down his arm, and t-shirt turn red across his shoulders.
This was in the first hour of a 10 day shoot.
We both knew the reefs on the island were shallow; we’d been there before and surfed the waves, but shooting The Underwater Project dictates no boards and definitely no wetsuits – meaning the danger of losing skin was increased tenfold. With a wary eye watching for rogue waves I watched as Mike left the water, he stumbled on a few urchin spines adding insult to injury; and I wondered if there was something else that I could shoot underwater.
After a few technical adjustments (read : complete confusion with new gear); the Mare Vida series found me.
By Mark Tipple