My Photo Shoot with Up-and-Coming Young Gun Surfer, Eva Woodland

A couple of months ago, I contacted my buddy, John "Woody" Woodland, about doing a photo shoot with his daughter Eva Woodland.  Over time, keeping up with his facebook posts, I noticed how Eva was really starting to come on strong with her surfing. Being a former surfboard shaper and manufacturer myself, I couldn't help but recognize what a gift she has and how natural surfing seems to be for her. I thought since I have been in need of, and wanting to shoot some new personal work for my portfolio, why not see if they would be interested in having some photos shot of Eva. Needless to say, I was really excited when they agreed to come and hang out with me for the day. It was great to work with Eva. Not only is she a talent in the water, but she is also a natural in front of the camera.

Thank you Eva! and good luck with all of your future endeavors. I would also like to thank her dad, and longtime friend Woody, along with his wife IIeana, for giving me this opportunity. It was a lot of fun!  Here are some of the images I would like to share from the shoot.  Hope you enjoy!

Photographing Legendary Pro Bass Fisherman Bill Dance.

A little over a month ago, I had the privilege of being hired to do a behind the scenes photo shoot with the legendary pro bass fisherman, Bill Dance, during the taping of the Bill Dance Outdoors fishing show. Behind the scenes shoots are not normally the kind of photography work I do, but I gotta say, I was pretty excited to do this.

As a kid growing up in central Florida, it would seem like one of the first things you learn to do in life is fish, and that also included watching the Bill Dance Outdoors fishing show. I have so many memories of my friends and I waking up early, just before sunrise, and heading out to see what we could catch. Then, we would scavenge for old soda bottles so we could turn them in for money at the store to get a candy bar and coke. Yes, there was a time you could actually turn bottles in for money. Once we got something to eat, we would rush to get home just in time to watch the show. Afterwards, we would head back out to see if we could do better than Bill Dance himself, usually failing. Nowadays, that would be considered in the Twitter world a “#fail”. 

It was Friday afternoon. I drove up to Richmond Hill, Georgia, to meet with my client from WaterWay's Township for the shoot. Originally, I was told I would be shooting a meet and greet with Bill that evening and shooting the behind the scenes stuff for the television taping the following morning. Well, when I arrived, the schedule had changed. I was told that Bill just wanted to go fishing and they were going to start taping for the show that afternoon. Usually, when schedules change, they don’t work in your favor, but in this case, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

I arrived at the location where I was to meet with my client, along with Bill Dance, and his production crew. At this time, I’m expecting to see several people when I show up, like a producer, camera crews, grips, caterers; you know, anyone and everyone that would usually be involved with filming a TV show, but, when I arrived, there were only a couple of guys sitting in a boat along the shore. I thought to myself, “Am I at the right location?” I proceeded over to them and introduced myself. I told them I was there to shoot some behind the scenes photos of the Bill Dance show and they replied, “that’s us!”. It turns out there are only three people that travel from location to location to film the show and that’s two camera men and Bill himself. Once they get their footage, they send it off to the video editing company to put it all together and wallah! You have the Bill Dance Outdoors Show.

As I was preparing and getting my gear together for the shoot, I saw my client pulling up at the location. Along with him, was none other than Bill Dance himself. Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect when meeting Bill. Was he going to be nice and easy going like he appears on television? Well, that question was answered right away. Bill stepped out of the truck, walked right over to me, shook my hand as if we had been friends for years and said, “Are you ready? Let’s go fishing!”. 

We were soon out on the water, and let me tell you, this was a fun experience. Bill was in one boat along with his camera man and long time friend Pete McClure, while his other camera man Timmy Gooden, and myself, positioned ourselves in another boat next to Bill as he fished. They work out of two boats in order to get different camera angles for the show. Now you might think photographing someone fishing for several hours over the next two days would be kind of like watching paint dry. It might have been had it not been Bill Dance, Bill is very much a conversationalist. We talked about everything from the people he’s fished with over the years to cameras. We even talked about where I grew up which was Winter Haven, Florida, home to the Chain of Lakes. He said he had just fished Bartow the week prior. Bartow, Florida is just the next town over southeast of Winter Haven. Bill was also a great storyteller as well. He was so good, you almost forgot he was filming a fishing show until, all of a sudden, the story is interrupted and you hear, “There it is!” as he sets into a bass. One might think, after all these years, his passion for fishing might have faded a bit, but I’m here to tell you, not for Bill Dance. That man has just as much passion for fishing now as ever. He also doesn’t hesitate to, occasionally, have a little fun; like throwing a cast at me and laughing as I shot a quick video of him with my iphone.

After the two days of shooting were over, we began wrapping everything up. As I started to pack up my gear, Bill invited me over to get a photo taken with him. He told me it was a pleasure and thanked me for coming. I’ve got to tell you, Bill Dance is probably one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Not only was It a thrill to meet him and his camera crew, but an honor to photograph him as well. 

God bless you Bill!

Surfboards to Photography (a look into my past with Black Pearl Creations), Part 2

(Continued from part 1)

It’s about a year later now. I had finally finished with graphic design school and our three-man company had once again taken a hit. Tom had decided to move to Gainesville with his girlfriend so it was now down to two of us. Mike Schemmel and myself. Holding my newly acquired degree in hand, it was also time for me to make a decision. Like “The Clash” once sang, “Should I stay or should I go”. Without any hesitation I decided to push on with Black Pearl. I felt like we had come too far to quit now, as did Mike.

Above: Original Founders; Stephen Walcott and Mike Schemmel

It was now around the summer of 1993. Two years had past since we decided to start a surfboard company and after a ton of trial and error, Mike and I decided it was time to become a legitament business. So we applied for a business license and got an accountant to make it official. We were still operating on cash-only sales. It was a long time coming, but Black Pearl Creations was now legit. No turning back. Over time, we developed a good working strategy and had a real good dynamic between the two of us. I became a full-time shaper and airbrusher, Mike would fiberglass and sand. Everything was really starting to fall into place. We moved into a slightly larger warehouse and built up a consistent clientele. Kevin, remember him? Well he moved away to St. Augustine, Fl. but for good reasons. While living there, he was going to represent our boards. Yes, another first for Kevin. He was now our official surfboard rep. which ended up paying off sooner rather than later. We found ourselves selling boards to a surf shop there named “FA’s” and soon developed a “following” with several of the locals. Our business was starting to move in the right direction. Speaking of move, with all the success we were having, we found ourselves starting to discuss business loans and the potential move to the beach. That was just a no brainer right? Manufacturing and selling surfboards at the beach? But where? Well, why not St. Augustine? We have a following there. Not a lot of competition in comparison to other places along the East Coast of Florida and oh yeah!, let’s not forget Kevin. So it was settled. We knew where we were going to move, but how were we going to move? We had equipment and supplies to deal with and we were going to need to find a warehouse, not to mention a place to live. That all requires money. So with the grace of God and the help of my parents, we were able to take out a business loan to get us going. The rest was up to us.

Above: These are photos of what a typical day at the factory looked like

Several years had past and there were many changes along the way. Kevin transitioned from being our rep to working in the factory sanding boards. We expanded our facility, and FA’s Surf shop closed it’s doors, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because we had finally talked Tory Strange, owner of the Surf Station , into giving our boards a shot. The Surf Station was a far more reputable surf shop, and whom I give a huge amount of credit for taking our business to the next level. Thank you Tory for believing in us and giving us a chance. We had also picked up several new accounts all around the state, from Jacksonville to the panhandle in Panama City, down to Southeast Florida in Stuart.

Above: Photos of the different rooms and workstations throughout the factory as well as the board room at the Surf Station

Things were really going well. Orders were coming in left and right. It was hard to keep up. We were on top of the world! Then, something we weren’t expecting happened. Something unimaginable. Mike Schemmel, my good friend and business partner, was diagnosed with Leukemia. I’ll never forget that day. I can’t even describe the feeling I had when his wife Mia, also a long time friend, told me the news. So many thoughts were spinning in my head. First and foremost, is this curable? How severe is this? Is my friend going to die? I didn't know much about Leukemia. I couldn’t even wrap my head around this. I can’t imagine what he was feeling. Then, other thoughts starting entering my mind. What’s going to happen with the business? Who’s going to replace Mike until he comes back? Is he coming back? Well, over the next several months some of those questions were answered. Thankfully, the biggest question of all was answered. It was curable and Mike was going to make it through this, but it was going to be a long process. He would need a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, his brother was a compatible donor. MIke and his wife Mia soon found themselves moving to Gainesville, Florida where they would live for the next several months while he received treatment.

Above: Mike Schemmel throwin' up the "shaka" sign while laminating some boards

Meanwhile, I had to keep pushing on with the business, after all that's what Mike would want. Changes had to be made and made quickly. The orders didn’t stop coming in just because of this tragedy. I needed to find a laminator and that wasn’t going to be easy. It’s not just a job you post in the local paper. It’s an extremely difficult skill, and there was no way I could keep up with shaping, airbrushing and add laminating to my list of jobs, not to mention, I wasn't very good at it. Luckily Kevin, once again, stepped up and took over as the laminator, which was a blessing. He already had a little knowledge about laming because of his experience working on his personal boards. You see, Kevin was one of those guys that wanted to learn every part of board building, not  just one aspect, and to have a guy like that around when all hell breaks loose is a good thing. It was much easier to find, and train someone to sand boards, rather than to glass them,  and Kevin developed quite a skill for laminating, and slowly, but surely things started get somewhat back to normal. I hired a new sander named Charlie and we were back running in full capacity.

Above: Kevin Mileski setting fins and putting on a fresh hot coat

Fast forward, it was now 2003. It has been three years since Mike found out he had Leukemia and unfortunately was unable to return to BPC due to the constant exposure of resin and chemicals used to build surfboards. Kevin and I continued to pump out as many boards as we could. Eventually, even doing a lot of contract work, building and manufacturing other companies’ boards, but over time, things started to wear on me. The place I loved so much was slowly tearing me down. I just couldn’t do it anymore. This feeling kept coming over me that it was time to stop. It was time to move on. I just got married and started a family, and it was time to make a change in my life. One that would benefit not only my family, but satisfy this feeling inside. It was time to sell Black Pearl. Something I thought about long and hard for quite sometime. So I went to the one person who had been with us from nearly the beginning. The one person who stuck with Mike and I through thick and thin, and quite frankly, the only person I would trust to take over what Mike and I had worked so hard to build. I asked Kevin if he was interested in taking over BPC. Thankfully, he said yes.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Black Pearl Creations and the whole reason for sharing this story with you. Recently, to celebrate this exciting time, I did a photo shoot with Kevin to commemorate him for all his hard work and commitment to BPC. I’m extremely proud of him and all his accomplishments and happy to say that Kevin and BPC are still going strong to this day. Thank you Kevin, for all that you did and continue to do. I am truly blessed to be able to call you my friend.

Above: Kevin Mileski photo shoot, 2013

As far as Mike and I, well Mike is doing great. He is cured and well past his remission state, and is clean and clear from any and all cancer. He is still living back home in Winter Haven with his wife Mia where this story all began. As far as myself, I still live in St. Augustine, Florida with my beautiful wife, Vanessa, and my two awesome children, Christopher and Alexa. Having spent the past several years as a graphic designer, I have since redirected my creativity and career to photography, which has opened the door to a myriad of possibilities.

Let’s just say, God is good. 

Surfboards to Photography (a look into my past with Black Pearl Creations), Part 1

It was the summer of 1991, just a couple of years out of high school, I was attending graphic design school at the time, commuting back and forth to Tampa four nights a week when my three buddies and I discussed this idea. We thought, wouldn't it be cool if we started our own surfboard company? Now, this might not sound crazy to most people, but keep in mind, we were four surfers, living in Central Florida, about two hours from the nearest ocean. We were what you would call “landlocked” for lack of a better term. Plain and simple, we were just “Weekend Warriors” who spent more time in the car driving, just to get to the beach, than actually surfing. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it sure felt that way most of the time. Already with a direction and career path chosen for myself, building surfboards was certainly not in the plans. We proceeded with our idea, the odds certainly not in our favor. Especially, since none of us had any prior business experience or any idea how to build a foundation for a successful company, let alone a surfboard. We decided, the first thing we should do was come up with a name; that would be simple right? After several ideas were tossed around, my good friend Mike Schemmel (one of the partners in this venture) came up with “Black Pearl”. I think at that moment we all looked at each other and just knew that was it! We now had our name. We had accomplished our first task as a business, and on that day, Black Pearl Creations was born (aka BPC).

Above: Original Founders; Tom White, Mike Schemmel, Stephen Walcott and Mike Curling (Mike Curling not pictured) Bethune Beach, 1992

The next step toward implementing our plan was to actually be able to produce and manufacture a product. Oh yeah! we kind of needed to learn how to build a board to actually be a surfboard manufacturer, don’t ya think? That might help. So, we did a lot of research, made some phone calls and soon hooked up with a shaper named Doug Wright, owner of Rainbow Surfboards in Melbourne Beach, Florida. What a great guy; with 30 years of shaping experience under his belt, not only did he sell us the supplies we needed to build a surfboard but he also took us under his wing and helped us out from time to time, showing us techniques and little tricks. Now Doug was one of a kind; not many shapers would do that. Unlike photography, where everyone, including seasoned professionals, are so willing to help and teach each other tips and tricks, we were learning quickly how cut throat and secretive the surfboard industry can be. No one wanted to give away their secrets or any other information for that matter. Especially to four kids they barely knew. Doug has since moved on from shaping surfboards, to designing and engineering high end composites, molds and 5-axis Milling for offshore racing boats. You can check him out at Doug Wright Designs.

So, now we were set. We had everything needed to build our surfboards. We had our tools, we had our “blanks”, which is what you call the foam the board is shaped from and the resin and cloth to fiberglass the finished shape. There was only one thing we didn’t take into account. Where in the heck were we going to build these things? We decided to rent a couple of small storage units to get us started. Fairly inexpensive, and quite frankly, all we could afford at the time. We needed one unit to shape, airbrush and sand the boards, and the other unit to glass the boards. Next, we decided on what type of board each of us wanted to build. I decided to go with a 6ft shortboard, simply because that’s what I surfed at the time and I felt like I could evaluate it’s performance better once it was time to test it out. Using every bit of knowledge and information Doug from Rainbow surfboards had given us, I proceeded to build my first surfboard, as did the others. After a couple of days went by, I had done it! I shaped my first surfboard. What a feeling of accomplishment. I just wanted to sit and stare at it. I couldn’t believe I had actually shaped a surfboard, but it wasn’t finished. My next task was to airbrush a design which is done right on the foam before it is fiberglassed. Being that I had always been the artist and creative one out of the group, I was soon nominated to airbrush not only mine but everyone else’s boards as well. I went with a simple black rail color. I believe Tom White, my other good friend and partner in this venture, had shaped a longboard so he wanted a crazy looking sun airbrushed on his board. Once all the artwork was complete, it was time to move on to the next step, fiberglassing. I found out quickly that glassing a surfboard was definitely not my strong suit. Mike, on the other hand, seemed to pick it up fairly quick. He just seemed to have a knack for it. So much so, he would soon be named the official laminator of the company. Once the boards were laminated or fiberglassed and the fins were attached, the final step was to then sand the boards down and wait a couple of days for cure time. When you first glass a board, it's soft and has a green tint to it. Once it becomes cured it hardens up and turns clear. Then it's ready to ride. 

Above: Some early photos of our original surfboard factory (Storage units, Winter Haven, FL)

The time had finally come. After a couple of weeks of hard work and determination, it was time to give our surfboards their first test ride. We loaded the boards on the car, so proud of what we had accomplished, and headed out. We were off to Sebastian Inlet to a surf break everyone called "Spanish House". When we got there, we couldn’t get the boards off the car fast enough. Quickly running through the wooded trail to get to the beach, we were soon in the water. Ahhhhh!, By the way, we weren’t only running from excitement but you kind of had to move quickly through the trail because the mosquitos were the size of small birds and would carry you away. Now, I won’t go into detail about our first test run, but let’s just say we had a lot of work ahead of us. Quite a bit of trial and error so to speak.

After a few months had past, our four-man operation had soon turned into three but that didn’t slow us down. We were now building boards for friends and using them as guinea pigs. Hey, what are friends for right? We also started advertising at the mall in the next town over in Lakeland, FL. We would post flyers with our BPC information on it in hopes of gaining some new customers. It was, what I guess you could call a small surf shop and about the closest thing locally we were going to find at the time. We soon met up with a Lakeland “local” named, Kevin Mileski. He had seen one of our flyers and gave us a call. He wanted to try out one of our boards. We were extremely nervous, excited, scared, you name it. You could say it was all the above, but we were ready for the challenge. He soon officially became our first customer. Yeah, we had built boards for other people but they were all friends. Kevin was our first paying customer. I guess you could say everything worked out because he soon was inquiring about becoming a team rider as well and after checking out his surfing skills, we thought this would be a great opportunity. Another first for Kevin in the Black Pearl Creations history books.

Surfboards to Photography (a look into my past with Black Pearl Creations), Part 2 coming next week.

Photo shoot "Physique"

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, Chris Nelson facebooked me about doing a photo shoot. He informed me he was training for the NPC Men’s Physique Competition and wanted to get some photos taken to show off all of the hard work and discipline he endured to get his body to it’s peak level. It was his first time ever competing in an event like this and has worked extremely hard to get to this point. I believe it! Take a look at this guy.

Above: This image is a composite photo shot with a two light set up against a white backdrop

Above: This photo was also shot with the same two light set up

Knowing Chris for only a short time. I asked him what his motivation was? What was his goal? He told me that in high school he was always the skinny kid, weighing 112 pounds soaking wet. When he got to college he started lifting but didn't have the proper knowledge about nutrition and ate whatever he wanted because he had a fast metabolism.

Above: This was a two light set up shot against a black backdrop (One main light and one edge light)

Although his knowledge of training and nutrition grew over time, he still lacked information he was not going to get just by Googling it. Over the past 2-3 years his body has been the same, hovering around 175-178 pounds. In January of 2013, he decided to follow a program called HIIT 100, by fitness expert Jim Stoppani. When he started the program he was 178 pounds at 22% body fat, which really surprised him. He had considered himself in shape, however, looking back at pictures, he had accumulated the dreaded love handles. So, he was determined to set a new goal for himself.

Above: These images were also shot with the same two light set up as the previous image

The goal was to build a better physique than he had when he was in his 20's, and compete in an NPC Men’s Physique Competition, Masters Division. To Inspire and motivate others through his personal transformation. By April of 2013, he completed a 6-week program and dropped his body fat down to 11-12%. It was at this time he started to think about competing in a show, but he knew he couldn't do one by himself so he started looking for a coach. He considered himself advanced when it came to working out, however, competition diet is another story. He looked online for coaches, but was unsuccessful. As he researched further, he soon found someone local to him. A man by the name of Lee Banks, who just happened to be an IFBB Pro. One phone call to Lee, on a Sunday afternoon in May of 2013, set him on his next journey. Since his time training with Lee, he has shed even more body fat as well as looking and feeling better than ever. The result blew him away and was still 3 weeks out from his first competition, which was “The 2013 Dexter Jackson Classic”. Needless to say, his journey began not knowing where he would end up, but knowing what he wanted, a better physique. I believe he accomplished that and more.