The Kahuku Red Raiders

The Kahuku Red Raiders

I had a great job fall in my lap to shoot the Kahuku Red Raider’s football team at Hell Week, a preseason conditioning camp where the kids spend the entire week eating and sleeping football.

The job was for Sports Illustrated and I spend a few days with writer Austin Murphy who was spending several months following the team around.  The mag had me show up to document the training camp for a few days.

I arrived Monday afternoon at Kahuku high school to document their afternoon training camp.  Their training, in my opinion, was brutal.  The kids, many of them clearly out sizing me in height and weight, were akin to gladiators smashing and crashing into each other with great fury.  I sat stunned watching these 15, 16, and 17 year old boys hurdle at each other with such power like waves crashing on the rocks.

These kids, and coaches, meant business as the training was pushing everyone to their limits.  Navy Seals liken their Hell Week to pushing recruits beyond their breaking point wedding out those who break.  The Red Raiders apparently took a page from that book.

I saw a kid crumble and cry out in pain like a child.  He rolled on the ground clutching his ankle while the team and coaching staff slowly moved away from him.  As the medical trainers rushed to the boy’s side, one coach looked down with little sympathy as pain was something that needed to be tolerated if the team, and individuals, wanted to win.

After the afternoon training, the kids had a dinner in the cafeteria and then attended classes where coaches taught about plays and reviewed past footage of games and training.

A bit past 10pm, the kids then bedded down for the night in the grimy gym next to the football field.  Dirty shoes, mattresses, clothes, and football helmets cluttered around the many shirtless kids having none of this sleep business.  Hip hop music played loudly with some dancing, others playing games, and wrestling with each other.   I spotted a few giving each other Sharpie tattoos with Polynesian designs popular among many in the mostly Samoan community.

As I had to arrive at dawn the next morning for the training class, I opted to sleep in my car as Kahuku is more than an hour away from town.  I saw no purpose of getting a hotel room as I left campus around close to midnight and I found sleeping in my car part of the excitement of this job.  Once I got comfortable and dozed off, I would awaken to the sounds of howls and grunts from the kids who clearly were not sleeping in the middle of the night.

Around 6am, rain poured on the early morning training session making it a tough morning for the sleep-depraved kids but they managed to get through their tough training.

I went home for a bit only to return later that evening to cover and witness a lesson in the haka dance.  A cultural practitioner not only taught them the dance moves but more importantly, he guided them through the language used as they plotted out their movements.

While most consider the haka dance to be a war chant, the performance sends a message to those viewing it the violent and brutish dance.  It sings of who they are, what their intentions are, and what they will do to defend their homes and families.

I went on and covered a home game a few weeks later and got to see how their training was paying off.  Kahuku is undefeated and have only one loss and that was to a team from the mainland.  They will likely reign once again as State Champs.  They are a fantastic team and I hope many will achieve their dreams of success.

Friday Night Lights OUT!

Friday Night Lights OUT!

What I thought would be a typical Friday Night Lights, rather Saturday Night Lights college football game  turned into something more exciting, and painful.

Last Saturday at the Western Carolina Hawaii game, an unexpected force crashed into my 400mm lens thrusting my camera straight into my face.  The massive blow tore my forehead open and cost me a trip to the ER.  Luckily, the cut, although deep, was relatively small and required no stitches but the doctor glued my wound shut with Dermabond.

Before the start of the game, I was trying to photograph Hawaii’s head coach on the field.  I stood on the sidelines and was waiting for him to walk from behind a few players.

Marco Garcia at the Straub Hospital ER as a nurse wipes my laceration above my right eye.
Friday Night Light Out. A selfie at the Straub ER as a nurse wipes my laceration above my right eye.

I could see Hawaii’s QB making passes a few yards in front of me but I had tunnel vision as I was staring through my long lens at action on the other side of the field.  Either the QB threw an errant pass or a player running knocked into me but I never saw it coming.

The blow was quick and sharp and was more startling than anything else.  My ears popped, my jaw clenched, and I saw stars for about a second.  I then felt my right hand squeezing tight around my monopod and then began to curse that my glasses fell of my face.

What I thought was sweat was blood quickly filling my eye socket and spilling on my shirt and ground.  I stood there stunned for a bit not knowing what to do and worried whether my camera was busted and whether I could work through the game.  Then someone from the visiting team came to see if I was alright and he ran off to find someone to help me.

Christina, a student trainer from UH, walked over and helped me control the bleeding.  She cleaned my face off and applied pressure to my head wound.  I didn’t think it hurt but it did.  I sat on a bench with her attending to me while fans cheered as the marching band played along.

She then put a bandage on me and went to grab the team doctor, Dr. Inoue.  I told her to meet me at the end of the field as I had to grab some different gear.  When Dr. Inoue and another medical person arrived, they asked me how I felt and I got on my knees for her to take a look at the cut. They immediately said I needed a trip to the ER for a stitch or two.  I argued that I had to work the game and they said to go straight after the game and not wait til the next day.

Throughout the game I had a dull headache and a mild throbbing at the wound site.  I changed my bandage several times as it was soaked with a bit of blood but mostly sweat.  I never really felt that bad but had a bruised pride and a dedication to finish up the football game as I knew someone, somewhere was expecting my images for the night.

During the game, I saw Dr. Nick Crawford who operated on my torn meniscus several years back.  He served as the team orthopedic doctor and I saw him at most of the UH games.  He heard about someone being injured and was surprised to see it was me.  He quickly pulled me aside and looked at the wound and said it would be best to go to the ER as well.

I continued to photograph the game and got laughs and sympathy from most of my colleagues but didn’t let them get the best of me.  Jamm Aquino was overly concerned for me and worried I had a mild concussion.  I didn’t think the hit was bad enough to worry about it but the ER confirmed all was ok.

(Jamm took the photo of me walking at the game.)

After the game, Jamm, whom I shared a ride with to the stadium, took me straight to the Straub and offered to stay with me but I told him to go home and not to worry about me.  I checked myself into the ER but was treated very quickly as my friend Aaron, who lives in my building, is like a head nurse at Straub and he hooked me up.  He called ahead and told them I would be at the ER that night.

The ERs was a mix of drunks, real medical conditions, and one really attractive hooker.  A nurse shuffled me in where I was asked a bunch of questions then led to a bed where another nurse doused my wound with ice cold saline then another came in and sealed my cut with Dermabond.

Dermabond is basically skin glue and when applied, it burns like a dozen fire ants are biting the same spot for about 15 seconds.  It was horribly painful. Another nurse came in to administer a tetanus shot (which still hurts) followed by the ER doctor who checked me out and released me from their care.

All in all it was an eventful night, full of pain, dedication, care, and laughs.  Before I left the stadium I sought out Christina and gave her a hug thanking her for her warmth and care.  She was probably about 20 years old but cared for me like a mother.

Thanks Jamm for the kindness.  Thanks Dr. C for your advice.  And many thanks to everyone else who laughed and poked at me making the night fun.  Oh and thanks Courtney for the Advil as it made the night bearable.


Turn on a dime.

Turn on a dime.

So after my two weeks golf week hell, I had a week off to recover, pay the bills, and storm the football field for the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  We don’t get to cover sports much in Hawaii on the national level.  Hawaii doesn’t have any professional teams  nor is there much national interest in college or high school sports unless they win big.  Yet with two major PGA Tour golf tournaments and the Pro Bowl…all within the span of three weeks in January…I’m sported out!

Sport photography is a tough business.  Your career is based on capturing that winning moment.  Photographer (and mentor if you ask me) Nathaniel Welch once told me about sports photographers.  “Your livelihood depends on whether or not the athlete or team you are following makes the big play and wins,” or something like that.   If that team or athlete fails, you fail.  If you have to depend on someone else to make a living, it isn’t a good career.

I once wanted to be a sports photographer back in the day of film and manual focus cameras.  It was in college and the University of Texas had top notch athletic programs and athletes.  I spent much of my college days at football fields, basketball courts, and swimming pools.

UT vs Houston BB
UT vs Houston men’s basketball 1991-1992


Luckily I avoided that career path but do wish I had dabbled in the professional sports photo world a bit in my younger days.  I would have been special times to have gone to a Super Bowl, a World Cup or an Olympics yet I don’t regret the path I have taken.  Although I heard Nathaniel’s words much later in life, I clearly understood them years before.

But back to the Pro Bowl, the NFL event that brings the best of the best players who currently are not playing in the following week’s Super Bowl.  Not too far back, the Pro Bowl used to be held after the Super Bowl but the Pro Bowl began to lose relevance and the NFL had to update and remake the event to keep people interested.  For too many years, the Pro Bowl was a powder puff game where teams played hard the first quarter and cruised the rest of the time.  I recall many times hearing boos and catcalls  from fans as QB’s would take knees to run down the clock or tacklers would gently grab a runningback so as to avoid injuries.  The last two years have changed quite a bit as players are actually out there to win.  There’s still some powder puffiness going on but this last game proved to be a nail biter.

With minutes left in the game, Team Sanders scored only to have Team Rice quickly score soon after and take the lead with a two-point conversion.  Team Sanders then drove midway down the field only to have Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles sacked by Dallas Cowboys DT Jason Hatcher forcing TS into an impossible 67-yard field goal.  With virtually no time left on the clock, the kick went wide but New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie caught the kick and ran towards the opposite end zone.  The media and the side line had rushed the field as we thought the game had ended but clock had not completely zeroed out.  Cromartie ran down field in hopes of making a touch down and headed straight towards me.  I aimed my camera and fired thinking he’s stop but he kept coming.  I didn’t have time to move and wondered if my cameras would break on impact.

Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.
Antonio Cromartie almost runs me over.

Cromartie looked forward then back and rushed towards me only to turn on a dime to avoid running me over.  He clipped the lens of my second camera on my shoulder which rocked back and forth after he shot by.  Most of you who know me know I’m not a small guy but Cromartie would have knocking the hell out of me.  It would have made a funny top ten plays of the day on Sports Center but it would have been an expensive trip to Canon repair…if not the doctor as well.

If you are not on the field and only watch it on television, its really hard to understand the athleticism of these men.  I’ve seen 300 lb plus linemen move like ballet dancers and watched wide receivers make impossible catches…and this is only the powder puff Pro Bowl!  My current and recent experience photographing football is the University of Hawaii and many of the players if not most will never see the professional side of the sport.  There is no comparison.  The Pro Bowl brings the best of the best to the field.  I can only imagine if it had been a stumbling local college kid and what might have happened.  Thanks Antonio for not breaking my back or bank.

*Note–The 2o14 Pro Bowl teams were drafted from both the NFC and AFC and teammates had the possibility of playing each other.  The teams were headed by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.


Friday Night Lights, no wait…Birds? Ho, brah…

Friday Night Lights, no wait...Birds?  Ho, brah...

Audrey and I went to Kauai a few weeks to work on a story about Friday night football games and how an endangered species of birds has threatened a traditional and community way of life.

The story appeared all over the country and you can read it here or from hereThe New York Times ran it on their web page but you have to sign up to see the story.

I won’t repeat what Audrey wrote about but I will mention something she did not.  In my opinion, much of the community in Kauai seems split on how outsiders, namely mainlanders and haoles, have come to the Islands pushing their (righteous) ideas of what is good for the state with little regard to what the citizens of the state want.  Yet, we surely can’t allow the peoples to just get whatever the majority wants.  The birds are endangered and do need some protection from us; however, how far will environmentalist go to ensure we protect the earth from ourselves?  Many would advocate such radical policies that we’d go back to the stone age so there has to be a balance.  All in all, the County dropped the ball on not placing proper lighting into the existing stadium (the County can’t get a guarantee that the lights will be a solid solution so why spend the money on what might not work–and still be responsible for dead birds) but the county disregarded the feelings of the community.

You sometimes have to wonder who has the smaller brains, us or the birds…


Not about photography…

Not about photography...

Every so often, I have to blog about something non photo related.

Today’s subject…futbol and the world cup!

Nationalism is good.

And its even better when you follow the World Cup!  Only a global event event like this can bring dark feelings of patriotic song, memories of past wars, and historic games in which your country revenged a past debt from decades ago.  As for the US, our collective soccer history really starts in the 1990’s when the US held the ’94 World Cup but it still gives many Americans the chance to paint the flag on the face, drink loads of beer early in the afternoon, and hoot the ol’ war chant U-S-A! U-S-A!  We really can’t lay claim to a North vs South game where slavery is on the line or even a USA vs whom every we’ve gone to war with in the past.  Imagine the game strategy against Vietnam…carpet bomb the backfield, bomb the neighbors, try to win the hearts-and-minds of the opposing fans, and then have the US soccer federation tell the team to lose the game because the rating are low on ESPN.  We have played games like US vs Iran (or as I recall the Great Satan vs the Ayatollah’s rock and rollahs) but they just don’t have that historical feeling like watching England vs Argentina where memories of the Faulkland Islands ring clear.  Yet US soccer is still fun to watch regardless of their historic shortcomings and past.  No I take that back, that Iran game at the ’98 WC was pretty heavy.  I recall all the Iranians having heavy mustaches.

For the past few weeks, I’ve drank loads of coffee as the games start as early as 4 AM in HNL, and I have wrapped myself in the feel good Americanism of Team USA.  Forget about our failing financial woes, our pointless war in Afghanistan, our leaderless nation not doing enough to clean up the Gulf oil spill…ITS WORLD CUP TIME!  Its time to wave the flag!  Sing at the top of our lungs:  WE ARE PROUD TO BE AMERICANS! (where at least we know we’re free at this point from VAT taxes, a forced national health care, etc…)  We are free right NOW and we should paint our faces in red-white-and blue and sing the joys of the athletic nationalism.

I can’t say most Americans are always proud to be American.  Hell, Michelle Obama stated not too long ago…” For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m proud of my country.”  I guess she’s not watching enough soccer.  But we should all feel proud when our national athletes take the field and do battle for our collective pride.  Billy Clinton was down at one of the USA games and when interviewed after the game, he was hoarse and teary eyed.  Bill did America proud!

Sadly, the US is out.  The mediocre Americans lost to a slightly stronger Ghana whose many players all work in the top leagues in Europe.  Only a few Americans play near the pinnacle of top flight European football but most still play for second and third tier teams or work in the MLS in the States.  By far the best and brightest (?) athletes converge at the big three sports in the US leaving soccer for moms, SUV’s and suburban white kids.  We can’t say the US is out for a lack of trying.  I mean some of the best games were played by the US. Just listen to Spanish announcer Andres Cantor call the game for the US against Algeria in the first round.  Landon Donovan scored an overtime winner that still puts chills down my spine where I see that last second golazo.  You can listen to it here in espanol from

But the US team just isn’t good enough to compete beyond the first round and knock out stages.  Criticism has come from all sides stating we have a average domestic coach, players are not good enough, etc.  I’m also reading the US soccer federation will now create better outreach programs to pull kids from the greater American gene pool.  What does that mean?  It means soccer will try to move into the ghetto and el barrio and pull kids who would normally go to football, basketball and baseball.  Good. Imagine if soccer were to steal an Eli Manning, a Kobe Bryant, or an Oscar Dela Hoya?  We’d, like most other sports, dominate.  My friend David has always said why not get a 6’6 center from a basketball team and train him just to stand in front of the opponent’s net and jump up and hit the ball with his head?  That’s more or less what Peter Crouch does for England?

And besides with all the immigration that floods legally and illegally into our country, we’re bound to have some Diego Milito from Argentina or a some other Latin, Eastern Europe or African star show up.

Alas, most of my teams are out.  From America, to the country of my heritage (Mexico) the the country of my language (England) and now the country of my wife (Japan.)  I’ve got nothing.  I could start to dwell in the roots of my background (Portugal and Spain) but now Portugal is out leaving Spain with the only thread to really cling.  I could never really pull myself to cheer for a national team that wasn’t mine or I didn’t have some connection to but at this point, the world cup is over.  I’ll still wake up and watch the Germany Argentina game or the Brazil Netherlands game but in reality, its no fun. The nationalism is gone.  No more chanting yes we can as we did and we found out we really couldn’t.

Besides, I miffed at the poor handling of major mistakes by FIFA for not allowing goal line technology to be employed.  England had a goal taken away and Argentina was clearly off sides against Mexico causing the Mexicans to return to a game where an obvious injustice had been done.  The US had a game winning goal taken away by a ref from Mali.  Did anyone ask if the ref might have anti US bias?  The US doesn’t have the best image in the third world.  And besides, might that ref have Al Qaida sympathies?

Either way, another World Cup is just about done and I’m feeling depressed and blue.  So much emotion goes into each game and it hurts to see “my” team loose.  Eh–enough of this because soon enough, English Premier League will start in August and the drama will begin all over at the club level.  All the big stars will go back to their multi-ethnic teams and makes loads of money again.  Christano Ronaldo, who did absolutely terrible in this Cup, will go back to his millions in Spain and loads of screaming fans.

One sad note, the English, who were absolutely terrible in this world cup, were missing Beckham.  What fun he would have brought to the atmosphere of a dying English side.