One of the godfathers of skateboard photography, that is also no stranger to setting up equipment to shoot in the snow, Bryce Kanights is a legendary lensman that has seen it all. Kanights has also done a ton, too. From life as a contest skater, to holding down a job at Thrasher for more than a decade as well as working in the snowboarding industry for a solid stint; his professional background is about as far-reaching as his well-worn passport from his various global expeditions.
What makes Kanights especially special to us, though, is that he has been capturing standout moments from more than twelve years of Dew Tour events. Over that time he has seen the changes in formats from when Ryan Sheckler and Bob Burnquist reigned supreme in park and vert competitions, to a new age of domination brought on by Pedro Barros in bowl events and Nyjah Huston on innovative street courses. He’s also shot everything in between from infamous event concerts like 50 Cent and Macklemore, and, of course, our snowboarding events to capture pros like Shaun White and Danny Davis during their Olympic qualifications.
But that’s just a small snippet of what he’s witnessed and recorded.
Read on below for our lengthy chat with Kanights to hear his own take on what’s been most memorable. Kanights goes in on topics ranging from past Dew Tour events to touching on today’s most critical situations—including COVID-19 and how to free your mind from it.
Bryce, thanks for the interview! Let’s start briefly at the beginning. How and when did skating and photography get started for you? I know you were a pro skater. Were you always taking photos, or did skating lead you in that direction?
Fortunately, skateboarding and photography intersected my life at a very young age. I was twelve years old when I first became very interested in photography. My father was a photographer, not by profession, but he regularly shot photos of his friends many of whom were jazz musicians, as well as photographs of me and my older brother as we were growing up. As a hobbyist, his photos hung on the walls of our home; I was also interested with the mechanics of his cameras and the magic moments that they preserved. During the summer of 1975 I picked up skateboarding and was given a used Nikon camera from my father nearly a year later upon graduation from middle school. From that point forward into the next couple of years, that camera traveled along with me to skate sessions with my friends and I would try my best to emulate the action photos that I studied in print on the pages of Skateboarder magazine each month. Somehow, those two important pieces to my pre-teen life stuck and have paved a path for me ever since.
Over the years you have taken so many iconic skate photos. Would you run through a few career highlights? Places you’ve worked, memorable photo shoots, places you’ve visited because of skating. Sorry in advance, I know this is a loaded question!
After so many decades of travel and events in my life it would take quite a bit of time to share it all with you. Perhaps I should compile these experiences in a photo book down the line?
I got my first break through from Kevin Thatcher who was one of the founders and the editor of Thrasher Magazine at a time when the magazine was new, fairly unheard of, and yet it was growing. A couple of months after meeting him at a skate shop in San Francisco, he’d offered me to serve as their first paid intern. My responsibilities included the generation of production prints in the darkroom, paste up and layout of the magazine, sweeping floors, taking out the trash, screening tee shirts, photography, and assistance in several other duties around the office. Since those years in the early 80s, I’d continued to work at Thrasher for 13 years under several titles with the last four years as Photo Editor. Concurrently, I was also skating and competing professionally for Madrid, Schmitt Stix and then Dogtown Skateboards from 1987 through 1992.
In the mid 90s to early 00s, I worked in the snowboarding industry as both a photographer and marketing manager for Switch Mfg. which was a prominent step-in binding brand based in San Francisco. My work frequently took me along with a sick team of riders to the alpine regions of Europe, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and across the US including some phenomenal and gripping heli-assisted adventures in Alaska.
Okay, now I’d really like to talk to you about the many years of Dew Tour you have documented. How many years have you photographed Dew Tour events? Do you recall the first event you worked? Where was it? Who were some of the big names competing at that event?
I’ve been photographing summer and winter events for Dew Tour over the past 12 years. My first event was on August 22, 2008 at the AST Dew Tour – Wendy’s Invitational. It was held at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon which is now named as Moda Center. There were Vert and Park (street) competitions for both bmx and skateboarding. Some of the more recognizable names in the skateboarding line up of competitors were: Paul Rodriguez, Eric Koston, Greg Lutzka, Paul Machnau, Jeremy Rogers, Chaz Ortiz, Sandro Dias, Andy Macdonald, Bucky Lasek, and Pierre Luc Gagnon, amongst others.
Ryan Sheckler won the Skateboard Park comp outdoor in the sunshine to a packed crowd. It was the first time in the then four-year history of the Dew Tour that the course featured street-style obstacles such as concrete ledges, jersey barriers, stairs and a picnic table.
Bob Burnquist nailed down the win for the vert competition inside of the Rose Garden. Looking back, it was such a different time and experience where social media hadn’t yet taken hold of our daily lives or businesses and affiliated brand activations either.
“Since those years in the early 80s, I’d continued to work at Thrasher for 13 years under several titles with the last four years as Photo Editor. Concurrently, I was also skating and competing professionally for Madrid, Schmitt Stix and then Dogtown Skateboards from 1987 through 1992.” —Bryce Kanights
Over the years the Dew Tour has morphed to include tons of different events and disciplines, and you really embraced shooting everything from skating, to snowboarding, to live music, and everything in between. Did Dew Tour open new avenues of shooting for you, or had you always shot other sports on the side? Also, what sports have you shot over the years of Dew Tour?
Besides investing my time in skate photography since a very young age, I’ve shot plenty of snowboarding and music throughout my life. Dew Tour hasn’t necessarily opened up many other avenues for me per se. However, early this year at Copper Mountain I was assigned to shoot quite a bit of skiing events over the week. It’s not an area of my expertise and I’m not as familiar with many of the emerging athletes or the tricks like I am with with skateboarding, BMX, and snowboarding. But as a photographer, you nail the action with the creative skills that you possess and double check on those bibs and corresponding names as you edit your images in post.
Over my years of photographing the Dew Tour events I’ve shot all categories of competitions of action sports, as well as live music events, awards ceremonies, vendor booths, athlete autograph signings, and many awesome fan interactions. One of my favorites though was Dew Tour’s Skateboarding Street Style event in San Francisco. It was a creative downslope course along three blocks of downtown streets and the event delivered excitement for both the skateboarding and BMX competitors and fans on site and at home as well.
Obviously you are a welcomed face to all of the skateboarders at any event, but what’s it like at the snowboarding events, for example? I’ve seen snowboarders actually come up and introduce themselves to you because of their respect for skate imagery. How does shooting the two compare?
Well, although skateboarding and snowboarding are two very different activities and lifestyles, they often intersect in a realm where many snowboarders regularly skate or surf in addition to shredding the mountains and upon frozen urban terrain. Since the early 80s, there’ve been several well known skaters that enjoy getting down on snowboards in winter months as well.
In terms of event photography there aren’t many similarities between the two aside from composition of the action captured in the frame. Shooting snowboarding is much more difficult in terms of comfort (staying warm) while standing in the snow for hours on end, carrying around your cameras and lighting gear, and enduring the elements. I feel that in snowboard photography you really have to plan and pre-visualize your photos in terms of time of day along with lighting and composition. For example, when shooting skateboarding on a halfpipe it’s much easier to make moves, choose and changes your angles and switch from one deck to the other. In shooting snowboarding pipe you can’t quickly move to the opposite wall or capture more than three walls with just one camera and lens. The same goes for photographing other events on the snow; there’s a lot of pre-visualization and planning involved. Having access to a sled to get around between the competition courses definitely helps too.
What about the Dew Tour concerts? Do you recall shooting the music at past events thinking either ‘this is amazing to see them perform at Dew Tour’ or possibly later hearing songs on the radio that you heard for the first time at a Dew Tour event?
In all honesty, Dew Tour has done a great job to promote some of the most prolific and up-and-coming musical artists over the past decade. I’ve had the pleasure to photograph Ice Cube, Pharrell, Mac Miller, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, The Chainsmokers, Action Bronson, Fitz and The Tantrums, Phantogram and others performing at either summer or winter Dew Tour events. After witnessing Yelawolf, Macklemore, and The Motet perform live for the first time, I began following their social media feeds because I was so hyped on the vibe and energy that they put out. And of course, these artists surged in popularity in the weeks and months after those first gigs – Dew Tour included.
Like we mentioned before, the Dew Tour has changed a lot over the years. Do you have any thoughts on the way things have progressed? The last few years Dew Tour has incorporated the Team Challenge events, Has that been a welcomed addition in your eyes?
Change is inevitable to move forward, but I really enjoyed the years when the Dew Tour was comprised of three summer and three winter stops throughout the year. Shooting at different locations with changing courses and environments brought together a great vibe and energy by everyone involved.
In recent years, the Team Challenge events have been great for the fans and the competitors as well. It’s rad to see teams put out collective energy towards a common goal with plenty of fun thrown in the mix as well.
Is there anything currently going on in the skate industry that you’d like to comment on? Obviously the world is going through a lot, do you see any of that being reflected back into the skateboard community?
Well, clearly the world has become much closer in recent years with the advancements in digital technology, including the internet, gaming, and social media platforms. And now with the COVID situation people have become a bit unhinged. There’s one thing that has remained since we picked up our skateboards, bikes, surfboards, snowboards and skis for the first time – these activities free our minds and block out the noise. I would just share this whether or not you agree with me – Enjoy yourselves and look after one another. When required or needed wear a mask to protect each other, don’t be a dick or a the weak link in the chain. Together, we can slow the spread and get back to the life we love much sooner. Like it or not, science is our only way out of this predicament.
One more quick question before I let you go. Are you working on any cool personal projects at the moment? Earlier this year the skate community lost an incredible friend and filmer, Kurt Hayashi. I heard you were in the process of filming a project on one of his old cameras. Can you tell me a little bit about that and anything else you may have in the works?
I’ve been filming a video for Vans Park Series over the past 8 months that highlights the skateparks in the Pacific Northwest and the many talented skaters that have emerged since their construction. As a tribute to him, the entire project is being filmed with Kurt’s Panasonic HVX 200 that I purchased from him several years ago.
Alright Bryce, thank you for taking the time to go back and forth a bit with me! Any closing words for your friends in that skate and snow industries that may be reading this?
I’m very grateful for the life and experiences that I’ve shared with so many, many friends across this planet. Keep moving it forward and always greet others with meaningful eye contact and a firm handshake (pre COVID-19). Although it can take many years of worthy sacrifice and dedication, don’t give up on your goals and dreams.