Franko lent me his Nikon D70 camera and I put some effort into applying what I'd learnt with watching Caleb Smith, Graeme Murray, Franko and other professional photographers.
I was really pleased with the resulting photos and two of them made it into Issue 16 of Spoke Magazine along with the article below. However a bunch of the photos never made the light of day so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post up some of my favourites - check 'em out below.
Back in 2005 Tama wrote:I’m not writing this article to shatter anyone’s illusions, we all know that behind every photo or video clip jaw-dropping stunt is hours of preparation. I’m writing this article to illustrate just how much thought, time and sweat is used, and to give you a slight insight into how Darren Berrecloth - one of the world’s most famous mountainbikers – goes about his job.
As part of the Drop In New Zealand tour we found ourselves in the small hydro town of Twizel, just down the road from the mighty Pukaki Dam. The entire crew had a day to kill while we assessed the feasibility of a heli-drop, and Darren wanted to scope the dam for lines. For the uninitiated a “line” consists of anywhere a mountainbike can be ridden - the more interesting, the better.
Spotting lines is a talent possessed by most top riders, photographers, and cinematographers – they spend their lives scanning the surrounding area like meerkats, looking for the ideal combination of terrain, light and backdrop for the next magazine covershot or memorable movie segment. Until this day in Twizel I had no idea about how far the concept of lines could be taken.
For the scouting mission Darren was joined by Ambrose Weingart, the cinematographer behind the “Back in the Saddle” movies, and Derek Frankowski, a professional mountainbike photographer whose work has graced the cover of Bike Magazine. My main role was driver and shovel monkey, but Derek also kindly lent me his Nikon D70 so I could try my hand at capturing the moment.
The area around Pukaki Dam had caught their eye on the drive into Twizel and I swung the Hearse into the badlands downstream of the dam. This desert like area consists of cliffs, rocks, scrub and grass so dry it could be dead for all I know. The white soil does a top job of reflecting back the baking late Summer sun and the whole ambience screamed “desert”. The cliffs and rocks that littered the area were assessed, and dismissed - Darren was after something different – and attention turned to the dam.
If you’re like me you’ve probably only paid passing attention to hydro dams. They make pretty lakes, but generally register as large slabs of concrete to the uninitiated. Capering around at the bottom of Pukaki Dam quickly dismissed this idea. Those cunning civil engineers had installed all manner of sluice gates, tunnels, pools, outlets, and concrete things that probably have weird technical names.
Being new to this lark all my newbie eyes could see were lots of concrete ramps with the occasional skinny to ride down. Darren, Ambrose and Derek were on constant alert – scanning for the next big hit as we clambered through dry gullies and rockfields. Jackpot – what we could only guess to be an overflow outlet gave Darren what he was looking for.
A blue green pool of water lay nestled in a deep gully at the bottom of the dam, backed by a long dark tunnel and sided by high concrete walls that curved inwards towards the top. The feature that caught Darren’s eye was a collection of large concrete wedges in and beside the pool, presumably positioned to break up the torrent of water if the outlet gates were opened wide.
The wedges formed perfect take-offs for a jump that would deliver the rider into water of unknown depth and quality. Darren’s solution was building a dirt lip onto one of the wedges that would help him turn and deliver him to a safe landing on another of the wedges. The technical term for this is to “hip” a jump. Of course, for someone like Darren Berrecloth just jumping from wedge to wedge across water just isn’t enough – his call “I want to tailwhip it.” For the more earthbound of you a tailwhip involves kicking the bike forwards in midair, while still holding onto the bars. If all goes to plan the back of the bike will spin 360 degrees around the handlebars and fork, and you’ll step back onto the pedals and land the jump – easy, huh?
Setting up a trick like this takes a number of steps – first up, the run-in. Obviously if Darren doesn’t have enough speed he’s going to get very wet, or slam into the side of a concrete wedge. The first outcome would be humorous, but the second outcome would mean we’d have to take him to hospital. So to avoid the long tedious drive Derek, Ambrose and I got to work digging a run-in into the side of the gully, while Darren put his attention towards creating a dirt lip on the takeoff wedge.
Problem number one didn’t take long to rear it’s head, the run-in wasn’t steep or smooth enough to guarantee Darren enough speed not too end up in hospital. So we went back to building a far steeper run-in in the baking hot sun. Meanwhile Darren had been piling and shaping dirt onto the takeoff wedge, occasionally he’d roll his bike up the ramp and stand at the takeoff position getting a feel for it.
As previously mentioned his landing choices are either concrete downramp, water, or the side of the downramp. Even worse he could come down on the edge of the downramp – guaranteed to break bike and body. Interestingly Darren’s bike of choice for this move was his trusty Specialized P3, with a pair of Shermans on it. The P3 had already had a hard life and represented the sort of bike that your average hardtail riding grom would use – apart from the frotty Raceface Diablo parts.
A good hour and a half went into the construction of the run-in and ramp, with great attention put into making it as smooth and fast as possible. Finally it was the moment of truth – after selecting a red riding shirt to contrast against the grey concrete and blue water Darren pushed his bike to the top of the run-in. His first attempt was a straight jump and made it look all too easy as he cleared water to touch down on the landing unscathed.
With the tailwhip in his sights Darren continued to session the jump, gradually upping the ante in terms of tricks – from straight jump, to table, to another table... to crash. It’s a humbling experience to watch a rider come down hard on concrete, slide 3 metres on his kneepads (tearing his jeans in the process) get up, dust themselves off and try it again.
Length of airtime is important for pulling tricks and the takeoff was constantly tweaked to give the right amount of “pop” whilst still giving Darren enough distance to touchdown unharmed. The ability of riders like Darren to take in a complex three dimensional landscape and visualize how to ride it to the maximum of their ability goes a long way in keeping mountainbiking from getting stuck in a metaphorical rut. It stops being about “How far can I go” and becomes a question of “How far can I push it?”
Even with the refinement Darren took two hard spills before executing a perfect tailwhip for the cameras. One saw him slide backwards onto a piece of steel re-inforcing, another saw his bike clip the edge of the landing. But at the end of all the digging, sculpting, pedalling, and crashing there we have it – a number of photos and an incredible segment for Drop In.