Just What Are Squirt Boaters Doing Down There Anyways?
This was the mystery photographer Gabe DeWitt set out to solve when he dove beneath the surface at Fascination Alley on the Cheat River in West Virginia. Following world-famous kayak designer and paddle maker Jim Snyder beneath the waves, DeWitt discovered an emerald-tinged underworld and caught Snyder’s mystery moves on camera. He turned his footage into a debut short film, titled Charging Arc.
At the time, DeWitt was experimenting with new photography techniques while recovering from a shoulder injury. “I’d been taking to the squirt boating realm,” says DeWitt. “You don’t have to park and run shuttle, it’s paddling in localized zones. It’s specialized and very unique to take photos of.”
Specialized is an understatement. “Within the outdoor sports world, paddling is specialized. Within boating there’s the niche of whitewater, and within whitewater is trick boating, and within that is squirt boating. It doesn’t get much more obscure,” says DeWitt.
For The Uninitiated, Squirt Boaters—Affectionately Known As Zombies—Use Underwater Currents, As Well As Surface Currents, To Perform Tricks
They’ve traded PFDs for goggles and use radically low-volume boat designs to maneuver underwater.
Rock climbing skills helped DeWitt find strong handholds underwater to grasp while filming. He could remain stationary in current, holding his breath for up to two minutes at a time. “Sometimes the current would pin me down to the bottom,” he says. “I braced the camera against my chest, and when Jim passed, I released and drifted with the flow. It gives the film a fluid feel. Everything is moving in the same relative motion, the viewer is drifting with leaves and fish and Jim at the same velocity.”
To Get Footage For The Film And Capture This Photo, DeWitt Housed His Nikon D800 In Underwater Housing By Outex
Outex’s kits start at $250, a far more beginner-friendly option than pro units which tend to retail well over the price of a new carbon kayak. Filming took place over several days—Snyder is out there almost everyday anyways, so DeWitt chose his filming days based on water clarity.
He likens Snyder to a Jedi master.
“Jim’s got these crazy words of wisdom—he’ll relate something to fourth dimensional geometry, or tell you about some history from 1985. He knows everyone’s name and he’s so connected with the community. A worldly guy in the middle of Appalachia,” says DeWitt.
On the day this particular shot was taken—August 21, 2017—DeWitt was taking more stills than video. It was the day of the total solar eclipse in America and DeWitt wanted to celebrate in a unique way.
“This was my way of capturing the solar eclipse—Jim eclipsing the eclipse,” says DeWitt.
Charging Arc and Jim Snyder’s radical underwater moves won the best short film award at the Paddling Film Festival. Find a World Tour screening near you at www.paddlingfilmfestival.com.