Off to the Canoe Races

 © Nathaniel Knobel

    2pm, and cold. Really cold. I’m standing in a swimsuit at the edge of a very questionably murky lake holding a camera and watching the opposite shore where canoes are being prepared to be pushed in. As soon as I decide I’ve braced myself to wade in, it starts to rain.

    The reason I’m braving the 55 degree water is the annual canoe race held at Doane College. On the other side of the small lake is a reporter sitting on his camera bag, but I’ve elected to get as close to the action as possible, which means getting wet, and probably doing some dodging.

 Had to jump out of the way of this one.  They were pretty close.

Had to jump out of the way of this one.  They were pretty close.

    So there I am, floating above what is rumored to be a graveyard of bicycles, couches, and failed art projects, hoping that my water shoes keep me from a slow death from whatever disease I’d contract if I impaled my foot on a rusty spoke. I’m armed with my late grandfathers Nikonos III, a dive camera from the film era. I had no way to be sure if my photos would be exposed correctly until a week later, and I had to focus by estimating how far away I was from the aluminum boats barreling past me. I worked around this by setting the focus to be around the easiest measuring stick I had: my arm, or about 3 feet. This meant that I knew exactly how far away I needed to be, but that was pretty close, and these competitors weren’t slowing down.

 The racers had as many near collisions with each other as they did with me.

The racers had as many near collisions with each other as they did with me.

    The goal of the canoes were to barrel across the lake, squirt a target with a water gun, then make it back to switch to the second half of their team who would do the same, all while racing another canoe in a tournament-style knockout competition that produced capsized boats more often than not. I wanted to get closer to these mishaps and contestants than I could from the shore. I was determined to get a new angle on an event that had been photographed the same way every single year.

 © Nathaniel Knobel

    By the end of the day, I had dodged quite a few canoes. The paddlers were there to win, and weren’t afraid to get run me over.  When I got my film back from the lab, it was clear that it was well worth the freezing cold water and odd looks when my friends saw a camera in a pitcher filled with water (I was testing the seals. I wanted to be sure that the camera was still water proof). I didn’t get any leeches or weird disease, but I did get a lot of good frames. I also had a lot of fun.

 © Nathaniel Knobel
 © Nathaniel Knobel
 For fun, the final two teams decided to race across the lake length-wise, which meant I had a ways to swim to get ahead.

For fun, the final two teams decided to race across the lake length-wise, which meant I had a ways to swim to get ahead.

FlashbackNathaniel Knobel