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.

 

Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Mooo! Milk on Kauai

Last April, the New York Times had me document a controversial issue on Kauai.  eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s proposal to create a small dairy farm near Poipu, Kauai has made many sour in the nearby community.  I traveled to area to photograph the area, meet supporters and photographing opponents. I also got to fly in a helicopter over the land where the proposed dairy would sit.

Kauai has a history of fighting development fearing their already shrinking tropical paradise will disappear.  While many locals welcome jobs and the opportunities development brings, many newer arrivals to the Island fight tooth and nail to protect their newly purchased slice of heaven.

The controversy over the dairy stems from opponents fearing environmental damage from pollution and the environmental impact on tourist in the region.  Along with many other resorts and hotels, the Grand Hyatt sits not far from the farm area in Poipu and they fear smells and other issues will affect their high paying guests.

The Ulupono Initiative, Omidyar’s local investment firm, strives to create a more self-reliant Hawaii and a local dairy farm would likely bring Kauai’s infamously high milk prices down.  However, opponents argue the gains do not outweigh the losses.

Past industrial farming has wreaked havoc on Hawaii as plantations once diverted streams to their sugar cane and pineapple fields and waste has polluted once fertile land.  While many initiatives and technologies has improved farming overall, fears still exist over new farming projects.  A recent dairy farm on the Big Island was accused of illegally discharging animal waste polluting local water sources and this didn’t help Ulupono’s case for a new farm on Kauai.

While Ulupono are making great technological strides to protect the land and limit pollution, its not enough for some residents and lawsuits have been filed to stop the dairy from getting started.

While I was there, I met with a few of opponents who took me to Maha’ulepu Beach claiming the dairy’s waste would damage the pristine area.  Its the same beach I photographed from the helicopter that ran big on the front page of the business section.

front page of the business section August 14, 2017
front page of the business section August 14, 2017

At the mouth of the stream that feeds into the ocean, I clearly could smell something foul in the run off.  They said it was raw sewage flowing down from the above farm areas and little was being done to control the pollution.  Warning signs were posted around the stream stating to keep out of the water.

While the bad smells at the stream startled me, Hawaii’s future must create more sustainability.  We must be more independent and depend less on the monopolies that control the shipping of goods to and from the Islands.  The dairy farm is taking great strides to protect the environment and to keep the land in farming hands means it has less chance to be turned into homes by developers.

I believe Hawaii’s future is to be self reliant but at what costs?  If we allow a few to control the future of Hawaii because they fear bad smells, we will continue to be at the mercy of outsiders.  But we must ensure a new farm won’t pollute the environment.  While fresh milk won’t lower the cost of gasoline or other goods, it is a good start for a brighter future.  But we can’t allow sustainability to turn into sour milk.

The NYT article can be found here.

Hula dancer outtakes for the cover of Celebrated Life

Hula dancer outtakes for the cover of Celebrated Life

As I said in my last blog, sometimes the photographer doesn’t always get his favorite images chosen as a publication will see great differences in what is eventually chosen.  It is clearly the nature of photography…the endless battles between an editor and the artist.

Below are a few of my favorite images from the job.

hula, Hawaii, photography
Marco’s favorite images from the photo shoot with hula dancer Kayli Carr.

Thanks for the Memories, Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama greets a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

As Air Force One rumbles down the runway carrying away US President Barack Obama, the end has finally come to Barack Obama’s eight years of Honolulu holiday vacations.  We’ll no longer gather for ungodly call times at Safeway.  No longer will the house on Kailuana Place be the center of the holiday frat party.  And we’ll no longer sit on that media bus waiting for the President and friends to finish up a round of golf.

And as that plane lifts off and the jet wash rattle us on the riser, we photographers and writers are now realizing how lucky our small community was to have a sitting President holiday in Honolulu for so many years.  And for most of us, these times will never repeat themselves.

US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama wave to a gallery before departing from Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Honolulu.

Photo comrade Hugh Gentry said “this is essentially closing a chapter in my life,” as Hugh spent many a holiday inside a cramped van with other crusty journalists chasing Barack Obama around the Island.  He told me more than once about the stress it put on his family as they had to plan opening Christmas gifts around whether Obama wanted to go to gym early that morning or stay out late for dinner the night before. Many others who were part of the pool sacrificed large parts of their lives as well to report on Obama’s whereabouts.

Did Hugh or the others regret it?  Doubtful, as neither he, or myself, turned down the holiday work as we knew these coveted jobs would be hard to come by in the future.

But what made any of this Obama stuff so special to us? What’s so glamorous about spending more than 18 hours a day plus inside that stuffy bus waiting for hours on end to photograph and report on the elusive President on holiday?  Maybe it was the camaraderie among the equally bored journalists or the hodgepodge Asian furniture inside the media house.  Free government Doritos and Cutie oranges likely also played a roll but it’s hard to say why we chose to be with Barack Obama rather than our own families.  But it was the only time for many of us to be that close to the White House and a sitting President.

We made our early morning call times.  We downed predawn coffees to make sure our images were focused and our text was factual.  We reported, as meaningless as it may be, the truth.  And whether that truth was about the flavors Obama ordered on his shave ice or how long his putt was at The Kapolei Golf Course, the press pool was there and recorded it.

Fellow writer Kalani Takase stated on his Facebook page, “Despite the long days and being kept in the dark about pretty much everything, I’ve got to say, riding in the presidential motorcade never gets old.” And we all felt the same elation as we watched the passing Koolau Mountains, their peaks heavy with rain clouds, from inside the motorcade bubble ferrying us to wherever destination the President was heading.  There was something special about the motorcade but I guess when you consider how crappy traffic is on Oahu, rolling in the motorcade, as Kalani said, never got old.

We all had those long days struggling with the empty hours of boredom. We snored loudly in the bus, on the beach, or inside the clubhouse. We checked our phones endlessly and tried in vain to read books but failed.  Yet in the end, we cherished our White House press credentials and relished our time wrangled by the gaggle of the secretive, yet underpaid sorority of White House press agents.

So as the plane’s taillights become a twinkle in our collective memories, I sadly hear Bob Hope and Shirley Ross singing…

“Thanks for the memories…”

Bye-bye to Barack and Michelle.  Adios to the Secret Service and their dogs who sniffed through our gear. Au revoir to the media bus and those who snored through the waits. And sayonara to the cold banquet room at Mid Pac.  And when December 2017 comes around, and we’re not waiting for you outside of Titcomb’s or Nobu, we’re not going to miss it and surely, we will not miss you…but in a nostalgic way, we all probably will.

A hui hou…until we meet again.