Photography Student Relishes Opportunity From Red Bull

Chris in action

Academy of Art University School of Photography student Chris Dirker shooting Red Bull's Heavy Water event. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

The world’s best paddle-boarders tackled the Pacific Ocean’s most-challenging waves for the second annual Red Bull Heavy Water event and Chris Dirker was on the frontlines documenting it. A School of Photography student at the Academy of Art University, Dirker was selected out of 20 submitted portfolios to shoot the race alongside Red Bull’s own professional photographers.

Boarders started the race at the Cliffhouse, battling 15-20 foot swells across the 7.5-mile course, ending just past the Golden Gate Bridge. According to Dirker, he and the other photogs were supposed to follow the contestants on a boat to capture proper action shots and close-ups, he said he was notified the night before that the swells were too large and the boat was cancelled.

“That transition, that changes the entire equipment,” he said.

Dirker said when shooting any event, things can change in an instant. Shooting from the beach meant he had to switch to his telephoto, though it wouldn’t nearly be as close as the extreme long-range lens the Red Bull photographer brought along with him. So, he threw on his wide-angle lens, rolled up his jeans and waded out as far as he could. In his mind, the priority was to deliver what the company needed while also upholding his own creativity.

Chris Shooting

Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

“When you’re shooting sports, you can’t control the athlete or the conditions,” he said. “I think that’s what sets [sports photographers] farther apart from other genres of photography. You don’t have as much control over your situation -- you’re given what you’re given and you have to adapt to it.”

The bulk of Dirker’s photography career has been covering extreme sports, namely the arena dirt-biking championship races, Supercross. Red Bull Heavy Water was the first time he’s ever shot any kind of water sport, let alone one that took place at an ocean beach.

“With Supercross, there’s a track so you have a idea where everyone’s going,” he explained. “[This] was a lot of ground to cover. The level of uncertainty was completely different.”

A budding sports photographer since the age of 12, he shot his first ever Monster Energy AMA Supercross at 17. By that point, Dirker said, he had achieved his dream of shooting extreme sports.

He remembered, “I was there with all the ESPN photographers and at that point, I realized, ‘What do I do from here on out?’”

Dirker moved to New York to pursue portraiture and fashion photography before moving to San Francisco to enroll at the Academy. On top of having the option to pursue a fine art or commercial degree in photography, Dirker said the networking opportunities are bar none compared to where he’s originally from in Texas.

“I’m here to do things differently and I want to learn more in my field,” he claimed. “Being surrounded by people that know what they’re doing is very helpful and really big for me.”

The Academy can provide students with every opportunity available, but it’s truly up to them to take advantage and make the most of any situation. Although the tide shifted in his original game plan, Dirker’s work ethic, quick-thinking and can-do attitude made his first Red Bull shoot a success.

“What I take away from this event is an opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had this dream of being a sports photographer since I was a kid, and for awhile I started doing something else because I felt I reached my peak,” he said. “I guess this event rekindled that fire and threw that drive back in me.”