During these early years of Hydroflight everything from the products to the competitions and the business landscape that encompasses it all is evolving and battling many different growing pains along the way. Everyone involved has likely felt part of something huge and very special and at the same time isolated and alone in certain fights as they work to carve out their own successful space. One individual who has experienced being in and out of this dynamic environment is Randy Borrell. Many in the vertical water sports community know of Randy’s photography and video work and it was a few months ago that we connected just as he was beginning another chapter in his professional career. We spoke about the industry, his work, what he’s focusing on now and I thought many who follow H2RO would find it an interesting read.
H2RO MAGAZINE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – RANDY BORRELL
H2RO) Randy share with us your professional background and how you first got introduced to Hydroflight Sports?
Blaine, first let me say thank you to you and your magazine for taking the time to do this interview. I wanted to let everyone know where I stand in the correct professional forum and I thought social media was not the way to go so thank you.
My professional background has various twists and turns, after high school I was fortunate enough to go to Parson’s School of Design in New York City. Those who don’t know that is the best art school in the world and last time I checked it takes about 14% of the applicants. I studied Fine Art, Communication Design and minored in photography but I had to stop early due to financial stresses my parents where taking on due to the tuition, which at the time was $32,000 not including housing so I decided to do something for myself and then I joined the US Marine Corps. That was suppose to be a four year deal which turned into 18 years and 10 days. I am about to retire on October 2nd, 2015 early for various reasons. In the course of those 18 years I have always been active in fine art and photography, I have sold paintings to individual clients as well as galleries. I am getting ready to have my own show in the local area for my Italian photographs so I am excited about that.
How did I get introduced to the Hydroflight scene? When I came back from Afghanistan the second time I had to deal with some issues, I experienced and saw things no person should ever have to witness in their life, it just happened that I was at the wrong place and at the wrong time for most of that deployment. My best friend called me up and said “check out this video”. I believe it was one of Mr. Zapata flying and my initial reaction to him was “what special effects are those?” I did not really believe what I was seeing at first, so he invited me down to Destin, FL and I went to Ben Merrell’s place where I flew and fell in love with it. Then I think it was Gretchen that posted on Facebook that she needed a photographer for the Miami movie shoot in Miami Beach, FL. I contacted her and at the last minute drove to meet Bobby, Damon, Chris and Tony and that was my first job per say with the Hydroflight scene. I then just kept going back to Ben’s place in Destin and Sam Pannier Place in Charleston and started getting more photos and studying the process of working in water with cameras.
H2RO) What are some of the unique challenges that Hydroflight Sports bring to the table when filming or photographing?
I think filming and photographing hydroflight are essentially two different things. Photography is the easier of the two in that you only need good light, a great camera and great zoom lenses to get the shot you need and a great location.
Video and film is a beast, we are talking hours and hours of preparation, coordination, logistics, scheduling, permits, boats, it can be very intense if you want to get the video you want. Videos I spend at least 90 days prepping, calling and designing story boards, shots. I have to sometimes break down shots to the second with movement and it has to be done at the right time of the day too.
Overall the main hazard for both…WATER…lol. Oxymoron right? The main part is communication and ensuring that everyone knows where I am, how close they can get and DO NOT SPRAY THE CAMERA(S)…unless its a GOPRO, spray them all you want.
H2RO) Please share with us some of the highlights from your time shooting our sports. Events, Athletes, the cool projects and what made them so?
Highlights…I can write a book on this. To keep it short I will give you my top three highlights. The main highlight was meeting and becoming friends with Dean Lavelle and Kevin Delaney. Two legends in board sports I grew up watching and following them in Magazines etc. I now do work for Dean helping him promote his wakeboard school and through that I have meet some very cool people. Second, I would say is becoming friends with Ben and his family. We have developed what I would call a loving/abusive friendship and we support each other. I had spoken to him about my exit and they have been nothing but supportive. Third, I would say is that I am happy to claim the title of creator and publisher of the first multi-hydro device video for RipFly Watersports. It was a unique undertaking and although I am not 100% happy with the outcome of the footage (long story) overall it was a success and I am happy to put my name on it.
H2RO) Let’s get technical for a second and talk about the equipment you use to shoot, edit, and promote with?
Do you have an additional 100 pages to print all of this on? LOL. My main camera is the Nikon D810 with various lenses, filters, flashes etc. Typical pro set up. Now my computer is a beast. I have the new Apple iMac 5k, so I can edit up to 5k footage in real time. I have the capability of holding up to 50 terabytes of data. Software I have the latest and greatest every adobe application known to man along with software you cannot buy on the market because I have the Parsons hook up and I am lucky that I have friends that work in Hollywood. I have special effects software, animation programs, I have it all.
H2RO) Besides the exceptional body of work you’ve created one of the reasons for the timing of this interview was to share with our community the reasons why you’ve transitioned out of the Hydroflight world… for now… why did that transition occur?
Well, I have stated a few things here and there on Social Media but I wanted to say these things for a long time and with people knowing that I have the utmost respect for 99% of the Hydroflight industry. I am in this weird transitional stage in my life where for the first time in 18 years I will be unemployed without a steady paycheck besides my retirement and disability that I will eventually get. Overall as an artist and photographer I am simply not happy with the hydroflight scene and how I was being perceived by some. Hydroflight has been good to me but there was this odd notion that I would work for free or do free work for exposure. I run a business, licensed, have an accountant and a lawyer I have on standby in case I need legal advice, on top of that the usual overhead of equipment, software and I just bought a drone. I think part of me did not feel appreciated when people called me and asked me to do photographs for free. It really bothered me and at first I questioned my body of work, was it good enough? Did I not edit it the right way? I am not saying I am Ansel Adams nowhere close but my work has improved drastically over the course of the last year. I would get calls for trade. As a business I only trade for photos when I begin the process of learning a new sport. This allows me to learn the sport, anticipate movements and to know what is actually a good photo and what is not. Example, I think I take a great wakeboard photo and I show it off in the camera, the wakeboarders critique it there on the spot teaching me about the style, movement, judging etc. I then know what I need to do and change the angle. Same thing applies to Hydroflight I did my time in trade and I can now anticipate movements, tricks and get the proper angle based on the set routine, track followed and more importantly the sun. It got to the point where I was loosing so much money that I had to stop it. The one thing artist and photographers cannot stand is when someone promises us “exposure”. I really do appreciate the offer but please make sure that you have at least 25,000 followers on Facebook or other social media platforms before that line is used. It is not that I am being ungrateful, but I know when someone is trying to get free stuff. Photography is a very tedious job in a good way. One photograph can take me hours or days to complete while some merely take a few pushes of sliders and I am done. One photograph can make the difference between a product sold or a brand made. It is a very powerful tool and should not be underestimated. Point being I felt as though I was unappreciated on a whole.
Another big factor overall I would say is the social media negativity that has transpired over the last year or so. I try to keep positive people and influences around me at all times and I got way to involved in Hydroflight in my professional opinion. The constant arguing and back and forth it really made no sense to me seeing all of that. There would be a photograph I had done and a post away from it was a Flyboard vs. Jetblade debate. I was still dealing with issues from Afghanistan and here are grown adults fighting over boards, remotes and hoses and I try to be compassionate but at the same time I can’t help but get angry that merely a few months ago I was witnessing the most horrific things on earth and adults are fighting over essentially toys. My advice, stop the badgering ladies and gents please!
As a Marine I have a set of values and morals that are engrained in me overall. I will bend over backward IF I believe it is the right thing to do and I am helping someone out to better themselves. When Derek had his accident I was very upset that people did not contribute to the fund that was set up for him. I raised over $500 and it made me feel as though I failed because at the time I had thought the industry would come together and help out a fellow flyer. That event was manipulated and used in a negative manner I feel. that is when I started pulling back from the whole thing. At the end of the day Derek is healthy and back on his feet something he should be very proud of.
Lastly, I was being pegged as this “Hydro-Flight Photographer” and more specifically “The Jet Blade Guy”. Somewhere somehow that was being passed around and I took it very personally. I love the guys at Jet-Blade they have been one of a handful of paying clients of mine and I will support them in everything they do. I spoke to them about doing jobs for other companies and they understand the business aspect of it all. I was simply hired to do a job, freelanced as well, no contract. I never work for a specific company under contract unless there is an absolute amazing pay check in it. What that means is I am free to take on as many clients as I wish but not at the same time. I was pegged in a corner and I did not like it. I noticed that when I did Flyboard photos, everyone was cool with them and liked them etc. Once the videos came out I felt shunned, I went from an average of 30-50 likes to 5 and I am not counting the one from my Mother. It really put things in perspective for me.
So I took a vacation and went to Italy for two weeks and I thought very long and hard about it. I spoke to my good friend who is a Model in Milan and talked to him about it and he said something that resonated with me and will stay with me for the rest of my life. He said “Fools continue to go to the same people who only take from them and never give them anything in return.” I needed that and I am grateful for that.
Those are my decisions and factors of why I am pulling back and moving on to better things per say. I want everyone to know that I do appreciate everything and I may come back full time again once the time is right. I don’t want to be just the Hydro flight photographer I want to be one of the best sports and action photographers in the world. This is only a small piece of the puzzle in a long adventure called life.
H2RO) If you had a crystal ball and could see the future of our industry what do you think you’d see and why?
How far does this Crystal ball see into the future? LOL. Well I see good and bad overall on two very different planes.
Want I want to see is everyone getting along in a very family oriented loving way. I do understand and respect what Mr. Zapata has created and how passionate he is and to some level the fear and anxiety he may feel with new comers especially after being sued. I witnessed and have been through a few lawsuits as a child. I witnessed my family sue each other and I can relate to a point and sympathize with certain behavior. There is this very unique opportunity in front of every single flyer out there, right now, they have two choices. They can continue the status quo and continue SLOWLY building their own brand OR they can let the past go and join together to create a great SPORT that not only will revolutionize the world but influence a new generation of athletes. This is what I mean by that statement. The facts are clear and present. There can never be just ONE hydroflight device, Flyboard and Jet-Blade will be for a long time the two main brands out there and along with various other boards. I have done immense research in other sports and events and studied the patterns that are involved in those sports. This is my advice to the Hydroflight community and I was going to keep this to myself and try to lead this venture but hopefully this will spark something in someone.
1. There needs to be a league established. A no kidding league that governs the rules and regulations of Hydroflight. This body is responsible for the competitions, marketing and overall ensuring that fairness is established across the board. Each Brand has to pay this league a figure enough to cover say 50% of the competition costs. A great example is the WWA (World Wakeboard League) it is not perfect but it is a good example of what to tailor it to. The fact is the public has no idea the difference between the boards, they call a Flyboard a Jet blade and a Jet blade a Flyboard so it’s better to unite as one.
2. Athletes need to pay the league $XXXX to compete in all the events. I think wakeboarders pay in the realm of a few thousand dollars to be recognized as a athlete. My advice to the flyers, stay off social media! Sponsors, people who you are asking to represent look at social media and they track it!
3. Unity, basically agreeing to disagree – The days of negative comments, putting other brands down in such a way not only hurt the sport but hurt individuals progression and ability to help and influence others. All the brands, Flyboard, Jet-Blade, Defy, Dolphin Board, even the guys from Poland and Italy. Sit down, talk out the differences and come to a mutually beneficial plan that will unite the sport and still leave room for competition that is healthy and productive.
4. Build an audience. There are reasons why Flyers are not sponsored. AUDIENCE. I have spoken many times to many different companies about sponsorship. Put the shoe on the other foot. If you had $50,000 a month to give to athletes would you give it to the wakeboarders and snowboarders who have a total combined followers of 500,000 and events where 10,000 are at each event or the Hydro guy who has 350 and 20 are his family and the events have 10-1000 people show up. There is no return on investment, at that level who is going to see anyone promoting that product. I highly advise the brands to join together and all chip in for a marketing firm to come in and help. I am always here to help individual flyers build up their audience too. I can give them tips on how to do it.
So that is what I see, a choice needs to be made by all. Grow slow and become irrelevant or join together and let the past go and build what can be the best sport in the world. I hope that motivates someone 🙂
H2RO) You and your friends are hilarious on Facebook always ripping on each other and having fun. Can you share with us some funny stories that happened while on the job?
HAHA yeah we rip on each other pretty bad all of the time. Well the best story is with Ben Merrell, I went down to Power Up and we did a photoshoot when the Hooverboard first came out. This guy decides to wear shorts that had some sort of “stains” on them. I did not notice at the time so when I got home I put all the cards into the computer and started to notice something. It appeared he had “pooped” his pants, the color and lighting was just right and so I spent hours coloring and fixing that, by the end I was so irritated and mad that I just started calling him poop pants. He is poop pants in my phone too. No excuse for that Ben! Wear clean clothes when you shoot photos and video. LOL it was not that bad but I still harass him to this day about it.
I would say since I do harass Ben Merrell like 96% of the time and he simply smiles and nods I would ask him his version of things to see what he thinks. I still can’t tell if he is afraid of what I may sell or do to him online or if he is just creating this plot to take me down.
Ben, Derek, Patrick and I really harass each other because we are or were in the Military. I always win these battles because lets face it, Marines are the best. Army…..not so much and poor poor Patrick in the Airforce. He takes the brunt of it all. Over all it is healthy and we have a good time doing it.
I make fun of everyone equally, Shaw from Jet-Blade apparently is my twin, both bald headed, sexy just like me. Ben Merrell looks like a Caveman hence the name Hydro-Caveman…just look at him his forehead slopes at an off angle, Derek Crespi is the Hydro-Mummy because he was in a upper body cast, was not funny at the time but we laugh at it now. Damon Rippy is pretty much Justin Beibers twin, you have to make fun of him for that. Let’s see…. Tony Bertucci, he is my main midget, love that guy although to date Tony is the only one that got me back good… Don’t worry Tony I have a plan for you soon. Jeffrey Lee Elkins is the Hydro-Pimp, I am pretty sure he is like 96 years old with good genes, that fool is bat shit crazy and I love screwing with him… Ronnie Feise is the Hydro-Ginger, I often fear for his skin because he is out in the sun so long. Cooper Riggs I am pretty sure lives under a bridge somewhere and is homeless… and David comes along and just picks him up on a jet ski. Derek Crespi can tell you about the time I sold his Jet-Skis on craigslist for $200 with a trailer LOL. He got calls and texts all night long it was great. The list goes on and on really. I love trying to make people laugh and bringing that element of humor to any shoot. At the end of the day you have to get along and make fun of each other.
H2RO) You’ve seen some awesome Pros fly up close like Ben Merrell, who would you say impressed you the most with their skills and why?
In person, Damone Rippy, true athlete right there. I don’t only judge them based on what they do on the water but off as well. Damone is a true professional and he is fast, elegant and his flying has a unique style to it. I respect Damone because no matter what is said on social media he keeps his composure and very rarely gets involved in anything. Damone will go far and with the right Public Relations and Marketing I can see him being the first ambassador for the Hydroflight scene. (Update: Damone can be seen currently competing on America’s Got Talent)
I would say second would be Ben Merrell: Ben has this graceful flying style that is fluid and complete. Very entertaining and fun to watch. Off the water he is always trying to improve the scene and Hydroflight, a true innovator and risk taker and I respect him for that. We have all seen and been part of the “remote battle” no matter what though he stuck to his guns and is now producing competition which is great overall.
Not in person from the videos: Aaron Gould, hands down one of the best flyers. He has a unique ability and strength to make it look easy. Athletic and able to be professional off the water as well. I noticed that he left the Hydro/Flyboard world so to speak and I respect his decision and wish him the best of luck. Lars as well is a good flyer but that is me being a Marine and giving him props. With the right Media and Marketing those two would have the world in their hands.
Suksan Tongthai -Again I have not seen him fly in person but from the videos one of the best. He is also a true athlete always promoting and making videos. He has a bright future in the hydro scene as well. He is humble and well grounded, qualities that attract sponsors.
I am going to go out and say this now. Watch out for Ronnie Feise. He is quiet, humble and an impressive athlete. He does not get involved with the drama, stays in his lane and has a focus that when applied that man can do anything. I saw him fly in Miami, he is doing good things and I am proud of him. I think in the next year you will see a top 5 spot for him.
H2RO) Randy what’s it going to take to get your skills back in the Hydroflight game?
LOL I just left Blaine LOL. Paying jobs would be nice to start! Overall I think I have done all I can do for Hydroflight at this point in my life. I will always support it and say good things about it but I need to move on and broaden my scope and abilities. I am not against ever working in the Hydroworld as I think every good relationship needs a time out. This is the time out for now.
H2RO) Finally, share with us what you’re working on now, why we should check it out and how we can follow your work online?
This I am really excited about and can’t wait to get to do this full time.
I am now working with professional wakeboarder Julian Cohen. I met Julian at Deans Lavelle’s house a few months ago and we hit it off, we are both funny, we both like to have fun and overall he is a true professional. His skills on the wakeboard are incredible both cable and boat, I have never seen anything like it before. On top of that his personality is always positive and a true entertainer. Watch for him soon on TV. So I am putting my living in Italy deal on hold for a bit and when I retire I am basically roaming the earth with him and helping him manage and define a brand to help him break into TV, Movies and other paid gigs. In the last few weeks we have been talking to some big companies that want to support him and I will be his main photo/video/manager/PR agent/marketing manager. His future is bright and I am happy to work with him. Everyone can see Julian’s instagram and you will see amazing videos and content there, also check out his Facebook page as well. (Julian on Twitter)
I am also working on a few other items such as a Hydro School of sorts and trying to get investment funding for that, some things need to get invented and seeking out cost analyst to see if there will be a ROI to investors. Also looking into opening a cable park somewhere but that is in the far future. That is all I will say about that.
My personal work you can visit www.borrellphoto.com I have a slew of photographs for sale, I set my prices so everyone can enjoy some fine art. I am not about making a lot of money rather I am about making people happy and connecting with them in some fashion. I do have to charge to eat! LOL.
Check out Randy’s videos on YouTube
Randy, thank you for taking the time to share your story and for giving us all a lot to think about as we work to help Hydroflight reach its full potential. Your talent is undeniable and I look forward to continuing to follow your work closely. I promise I’ll never message you offering ‘exposure’ until H2RO hits 25K on Facebook lol.
UPDATE: Randy’s final Hydroflight project: Hydroflight Athlete: The Ben Merrell Documentary
H2RO was proud to contribute video content to the project. Check out the teaser and we look forward to seeing the film once it’s released.