Working on Vacation: Ryan Taylor’s Kiteboarding Shoot in Grand Cayman

Photos and words by: Ryan Taylor

Vacations are a necessity. We all work hard and deserve some time off. While my non-photographer friends would tell me that it is a time to put down the camera, I see it as an opportunity to do the opposite. I often take vacations as not only a break from work but also a break from some of the creative “confinements” that I find myself in sometimes. Don’t get me wrong; I love the collaboration process between the client and me, but sometimes there isn't the free time to take photos for myself. I try not to overthink it and keep concepts or ideas light. For example, I might want to shoot more landscapes, explore different techniques such as panoramas, or play with my GoPro more. On this particular trip, I knew I wanted to shoot kiteboarding. I was traveling to Grand Cayman with my family and knew it was a hot spot for riding.


I called a few contacts through wakeboarding and eventually got in touch with a brand’s team manager. He was able to get me in touch with a couple pros in the area, and I lined up a couple shoots. The first night I shot with Brandon Bowe and Amy Stralko. Brandon is an up-and-coming rider, and his enthusiasm to shoot was awesome. He was able to help me out with anything I needed (a boat to get out to the reef, an extra set of hands to hold flashes, etc.). We shot a good couple hours into the sunset. It was Amy’s birthday that day, so she had to leave early to celebrate; we made plans to shoot the next morning.

Early the next day, my wife and I drove to the other side of the island where Amy lives. We met Amy on a beautiful sandy beach among some mangroves. She admittedly had a bit of a rough start due to the celebrations the night before, but after one hard fall she was back into it. From that moment on, we worked on a few different shots, and she even learned a couple new tricks within the session.

After that, the wind died down and we were able to enjoy some real time off. I got to spend time with my family, do some diving, and I even had the chance to get some riding in myself. In the end, I was able to get a few of the photos published, so all in all it was a very successful vacation. I left the trip feeling refreshed both physically and creatively, which was great considering the next job started immediately upon returning to the States.

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Exclusive: The Story Behind Robbie Maddison's Crazy Motorcycle Surfing "Pipe Dream" Video

Name: Garth Milan

Location: Tahiti

Years of photography experience: 18

See the Full Video


What is Pipe Dream? When did you hear about the project and what were your thoughts?

Pipe Dream was the brainchild of Robbie Maddison, and was also realized with the support of Jeff Taylor at DC Shoes. The pair actually conceived the idea together at a party after a few cocktails—no lie! I knew that Maddo was working on the water bike project for some time, but when I heard that he was actually going to try to ride his dirt bike on Teahupoo, the world's gnarliest and most well-known wave, I was blown away and almost didn't believe it. I expect nothing but insanity from Robbie Maddison...This was next-level even for him, though.

How long have you worked with Robbie Maddison a.k.a Maddo?

I have worked with this crazy guy for over a decade now, and like I said, at this point nearly nothing Maddo tries surprises me anymore. Robbie is a true legend and action sports hero, and one of my biggest inspirations in life thanks to his ability to brush off everything around him and focus on "the now," accomplishing the seemingly impossible while in this zone. He truly has no ego, is a world-class athlete, and is also a great family man. Nothing but respect for Robbie Maddison, and I am humbled and appreciative that he has me along on so many of his adventures.

As a Motorsports photographer, shooting in or around the water is something you don't have to do often; what were the challenges you faced?

We were challenged most by the Tahitian environment. That place nearly ate us alive! By the time we left, over half of the crew had staph Infection, and everyone there had been bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes and gotten at least one sunburn before leaving the island, at the very least. I wound up stepping on a sea urchin, as well as developing a nasty internal infection in my rectum from swimming in the water so much while shooting with the water housing. I was on six different prescriptions and had visited two different hospitals by the time I left Tahiti. As for shooting in the water, with the exception of the infection, I actually loved shooting in the water and felt like I adapted well to shooting with the Aquatech water housing that hooked me up with. It was really fun, and I hope to do more water-involved shoots soon!

Any crazy stories from the trip?

Well, besides the last one I just mentioned, I also learned quickly that you can't get out of the way of a speeding motorcycle as quickly while submerged in water. Maddo couldn't steer as precisely, either, and these two converged to create a scary situation at one point. I told Robbie to go ahead and get as close to me as possible while speeding by at over 30 mph, but once he got a little too close and ran directly over me. Luckily, I was able to duck just in time, before his spinning knobbies hit me or my water housing. But it was close!

Gear List


  • Custom SLR camera strap system
  • F-Stop backpack
  • Canon EOS 1-Dx body
  • Canon EOS 1-D Mark IV body
  • Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye
  • Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro
  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8  
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Canon 70/200mm f/2.8
  • Canon 300mm f/2.8
  • Aquatech water housing from
  • Hoya HD2 Circular Polarizer
  • SanDisk Extreme 32 Gig memory cards

Anything else you would like to share? Shout outs?

I just want to thank both DC Shoes and Robbie Maddison Entertainment for having me out to shoot this amazing project. As always, these guys made me feel like a genuine part of the crew, and they were a pleasure to travel with. Jeff, Nate, EJ, Deven, both Chrises, Bobby, Sam, Martin, and the rest of the boys from DC are such an amazing group of talented people. I also really want to thank for the Aquatech water housing rental, as well as Sun Bum sunscreen for keeping the crew from frying too badly out there. My awesome F-Stop backpack and Custom SLR straps also helped me through the shoot. And thanks to the doctors out there for helping me out! What a crazy trip...

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Behind the Scenes Interview With Carlo Cruz on Red Bull’s “Breaking Water”

Name: Carlo Cruz

Location: Long Beach, CA

Years of photography experience: 15

Picture Credit: Ian Paredes

Tell us about the Breaking Water project. How did the idea come about?

I have been a b-boy (breakdancing) photographer for a very long time now, so when Red Bull Photography gave me the opportunity to do a project for them, it was clear that it would definitely be about b-boys. I have seen all sorts of dance photos taken underwater—like jazz or ballet—but I have never seen one of a b-boy. I think it’s often overlooked how fluid breaking moves are, and this was the perfect opportunity to showcase that.

Though it seems to be an aggressive dance in comparison to others, breaking in juxtaposition with water highlights the movements and brings out that visual gracefulness that’s often overlooked.

What challenges did you face during the shoot?

There were a lot of challenges for this project. Shooting underwater is tricky since you are literally taken out of your element. You’re working with water, which you don’t have full control over, and the best you can do is find a way to work along with it. A simple portrait that would normally take you a few minutes will take you sometimes hours to do underwater when you consider all factors. I have the utmost respect for underwater photographers who do this every day.

My top priority for the shoot was making sure it was safe. This was a first-time experience for most of us, including the artists, and we made sure to have a master diver and a lifeguard present to oversee the shoot and help us. Everyone was briefed on safety and all possible scenarios were discussed. We had trusses running across the pool, ladders and tables placed underwater, floaters everywhere, and the pool in the studio was heated.

My next priority was authenticity. We were very aware of each frame we took, and we discussed with everyone how we would approach each concept, so everyone had a cohesive idea. We tried to stick with what we initially envisioned and made minor adjustments as necessary. We were very lucky to have b-boys Kid David, b-girl LadieOne, and VillN to help us with the shoot and make sure we kept the “breaking” feel to it.

What kind of planning went into this? What gear did you use?

For the technical aspects, I did a lot of planning and research leading up to this shoot. Using the right equipment is very important. Lighting was very critical to achieve what we were looking for. I DIYed a couple of pieces of equipment using optical cables and fire strobes. I also experimented on different cables and triggers for us to potentially use.

I scoured a lot of thrift stores trying to look for an authentic boombox. For the graffiti shoot, we experimented with various materials to simulate spray paint such as fire proofing spray, extinguishers, toy smoke grenades, bathroom cleaners, face mists, starch sprays, and canned airs. We tried almost all canned air options, but ended up with spray powders and food coloring paint spray mainly because it’s the safest for the models and the easiest to clean without wasting or harming the water.

Gear list:

  • Custom SLR Glide Strap
  • F-Stop Gear, 5D Mark III
  • Canon 16-35 II
  • Pocket Wizards
  • Einstein Flash Unit
  • Aquatica Water Housings and Cables
  • Underwater strobes
  • Canon and Yongnuo
  • Flashes, Pelican Cases (for the flashes)
  • SanDisk CF cards


Anything else you’d like to add?

Going into this project was really nerve-racking. All I had was a concept and this picture in my head without any clear understanding of how to pull it off. Even after doing all the research and experimentation, you just hope that everything goes according to plan because things can go either way.

But at the end of the day, I think this is what it’s all about: trying to learn something new and pushing yourself. With a shoot like this that has so many things that could go wrong, I’m just thankful everyone went home safe and has a new story to tell.

Breaking Water from Red Bull Photography on Vimeo.

When California-based photographer Carlo Cruz set out in search of an alternative angle for his photography of b-boy dancers, his journey took him out of his comfort zone, and below the waves for a unique underwater view of street culture.

To explore all content, visit:

Subject: Kid David, LadieOne, VillN
Photography Assistant: Dennis Baloy, Ian Paredes, Katsi Del Rosario
Videographers: Daniel Zhu, Lee Chesley – Stance
BTS Photographer: Ian Paredes
Post Production: Carlo Cruz, Erwin Raif

Special thanks to:

Red Bull Photography

Artists: Kid David, LadieOne, VillN

Videographer: Daniel Zhu, Lee Chesley – Stance Set and Fabric Consultant: Karla Roble and team (Alfonso, Genevieve, Charisse, Abraham)

BTS Photographers/Production Assistants: Dennis Baloy, Ian Paredes, Katsi Del Rosario

Post production: Carlo Cruz, Erwin Raif

See the full Breaking Water project here.

*All images are available for commercial license.

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