For this blog I decided to make it personal. Sports have always played a major role in my life, which could explain why I love shooting with athletes. Read all about the insane range of sports I’ve practiced and perhaps I’ll sneak in a little confession or two.
It all started with football – a lot of it
First off, let’s establish that football in that sport you practice with your feet mainly, hands are off limits. Hence the name football. Why American football is sometimes called football is beyond me. In my opinion the word soccer has no use in the English language.
With that out of the way: football is where it all started for me in sports. I realise that isn’t something very special, but it’s just the way sports work in The Netherlands. I use to go out and play football after school every single day. Our house has a parking lot next to it, and we’d use the brick wall as our goal. Thing is, my parents heard a loud bang every single time we hit the ball against the wall. They tried hard not to complain and appreciate the fact that their sons went out to play sports though. I also played football at a local club, but never quite went all in for it. I keep thinking I would’ve made a great midfielder, giving the clever passes, but I guess we’ll never know.
Fit without training
Looking back on this period I keep thinking about how insanely good my general fitness was, while I didn’t really train for it. I just played sports. In school, we had to take a cooper test at some point. I’d not trained for running before in my life, but came out best of class. I’m not saying this to brag, just to highlight how mixing different sports can work wonders for general fitness. Mixing sports you ask? Yes, because come to think of it, I also played tennis for some time, and played street hockey on inline skates regularly. Every afternoon we’d just pick between tennis, football and hockey. If the weather was cold we’d play ice hockey on a frozen pond. Tiny confession: I may at some point have tried my hand at modern dance when I was in elementary school. Can’t say it worked any wonders for my rhythm.
Cycling on holidays
Pretty much paralel to playing these different sports after school, my parents took my brother and myself on cycling trips. We’d started with 30k per day two weeks trips through Belgium. This slowly evolved into longer trips, going further each day. I grew up unfamiliar with staying in hotels for vacations. I may actually have been 20 years old or so the first time I stayed in an actual hotel room. The liberating feeling of traveling, being on the road and camping in a tent is something that grew on me and is still my preferred option for vacations. Seeing new places, engaging in physical activity and being out in nature. At some point my parents bought their first car and we dropped the bike, opting for slightly more conventional car + camping holidays. I went off to study at university and went on some holidays with friends. I guess somewhere deep inside I missed that feeling of being on the road though, so I thought up the idea of cycling to the south coast of France from home. Spoiler alert: this didn’t quite work out. I got as far as Lyon or so before one of my knees really started giving me trouble. I then phoned my parents who happened to be staying close by. Well, close by is how I remember it. My mum told me it was actually a three hour drive…
That particular holiday didn’t end as a total disaster though. My parents were staying near Mont Ventoux, the infamous mountain often included in the Tour de France. My father and my brother had already cycled up to the top, so I figured I could as well give it a try. For some people this is supposedly a somewhat spiritual experience they train for for a long time. That week of sucking it up trying to get to the coast seemed to have paid off for me though. Wearing my swimming shorts and Teva sandals I made it to the top without shedding a tear.
That failed trip to Lyon must’ve planted a seed in my mind somewhere, because at some point about six years ago I set my sights on another cycling goal. Santiago de Compostela is a city near Spain’s west coast famous as a destination for pilgrims. Catholics from around Europe spend weeks, months even walking there from home or the border between France and Spain. Dutch being Dutch they usually tackle this quest on their bikes. For me personally, this voyage wasn’t religious or even spiritual, instead I was merely interested in the adventure and athletic challenge. In slightly under a month, I cycled from my home in Eindhoven to Spain’s outer extremity, Finisterre. Yes, that translates to end of earth pretty much, a relic from the pre-Columbus time.
At some point during high school I started getting into aggressive inline skating. Nope, this sport doesn’t usually involve fighting, instead it is like skateboarding but on inline skates. I was mostly into street sessions, where you try to do a range of tricks using only what you find in a typical city center. This means stairs, handrails, benches and the like. I don’t think I was ever really any good at this, but I loved just hanging out with friends.
More recently, quite possibly a major turning point in my life so far happened. A housemate asked me if I wanted to come along and try this up and coming sport: bouldering. This sport is a spectacular form of climbing, where you climb a short (4 meter high or so) route and jump back down on a safety mat. No ropes or harnesses are involved, making it an extremely accessible sport. Bouldering has grown immensely in just a few years time, a development I’ve witnessed first hand. My local boulder gym (Monk Eindhoven) is also where I first photographed sports, and discovered I really loved shooting with athletes. Indoor climbing evolved to the occasional outdoor climbing trip in Fontainebleau or Spain. It also led me to shooting world class climbers for brands like adidas.
Though this isn’t quite an alternative sport, I thought I should also mention I have some decent experience at skiing. Even though I only tried it in university for the first time, taking a very deliberate approach to learning the technique seem to have worked for me. I wouldn’t consider myself great at skiing, but I think I don’t stand out in a negative sense on the slope at least.
Alpinism: back to basics
What’s interesting is that even though I played a little football when I was still in university, I hardly practiced any endurance sports ever since I graduated from high school. I actually sufferd a pretty major injury to my ankle while routesetting at my local gym a couple of years ago. The ankle was wrapped in a cast for a couple of weeks, but the issue somehow transitioned to my knee. I couldn’t run for two minutes straight without it hurting like hell. Together with my physical therapist, I worked out some exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knee to allow the knee to recover. This worked out like a charm. Then last year, I somehow thought it’d be interesting to have a go at some alpinism. I hadn’t really had any prior experiences in proper mountains, but the thought of pushing my limits there and shooting photos in this unique environment suddenly held an irresistible promise. I signed up for an introductory course which I offered to shoot photos of at the same time.
Read all about my first experiences with alpinism.
What really appealed to me about alpinism (mountaineering) was how incredibly broad the training it involves is. Climbing mountains requires one to be in a very good shape overall. It also involves some actually climbing skills, power endurance in your legs and can wreak havoc on your knees when descending. Working out how to best prepare for these many factors is like solving a complicated puzzle and fine-tuning your own body. In practice, training for alpinism means going for long and slow runs and taking long hikes with a heavy pack. It also takes running stairs, climbing in my local gym and doing strength training for my legs, core and arms. In addition, I try to do a short ten minute general fitness workout and stretching every single morning. My next goal will be to climb Mont Blanc this summer, which I’m currently training hard for.
How practising all these sports helped me photograph athletes
In retrospect, practicing this many different sports comes in ever so handy when I’m shooting the characters and hard work of athletes. Even though I’ve never practiced any sport at an absolutely top level, I feel that I easily understand the dynamics of pretty much any sport. Having tried many sports, it’s like I can see what will happen, and which moments will look good in photos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I have some sort of wizardry sixth sense. However, I feel that I can critically judge the moment and know when a photo authentically shows the peak of the action.
I also like to think having tried this many sports helps me better communicate with athletes. It helps to know the slang associated with sports, to be able to explain what the athlete should do to help create a specific photo and to just get along better with them in general.
For now, I feel that training for alpinism has helped me achieve a great balance between climbing, running, hiking and strength training. Whether alpinism is the end all be all I couldn’t tell just yet. I have no desire to climb dangerous peaks like Mount Everest or K2. I just like getting out there and seeing some amazing views, and training to be at my personal best when I’m out there.