To get the perfect shot, John Webster and his friends parked their car on a road near the backside of Brundage Mountain Resort. On May 23, they paddled their kayaks a mile across the lake, camped overnight, carried their kayaks and gear four miles on another road, then bushwhacked down a mountainside with no trail and roped their kayaks down a cliff. They arrived at their goal: a 50-foot waterfall on Hard Creek.
All that for about 15 seconds of kayaking. Webster snapped the perfect picture of local paddler Seth Stoenner launching off the waterfall. They returned to the car exactly 24 hours later.
Webster's photo will be one of eight displayed at this year's Melt Awards, a kayak film and photography festival held at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday, June 11 at 7 p.m.
"The beautiful thing about the Melt Awards is, you're talking to people you really look up to," Webster said. "Then a lot of people come up to you and tell you they look up to your work. It's kind of surreal."
The Melt Awards showcases 16 photographs and films made by producers around the world. The festival kicks off the fourth annual North Fork Championship, a kayak race down the North Fork of the Payette River June 11-13.
Webster started shooting the race two years ago. Since then his photographs have appeared in Kayak Session Magazine, Rapid Magazine, and Canoe and Kayak Magazine's website. His work has also been published in Boise Weekly and one of his photos graces cases of Payette Brewing's North Fork Lager.
"I love displaying Idaho, showing it off," Webster said. "It's a state I have a lot of feelings for."
Webster is also a kayaker, which gives him a competitive edge when it comes to photographing the sport. He can better predict how a paddler will navigate a rapid and get a better shot based on his own understanding of the river.
"As soon as you get the motion and the lines and what the person is experiencing, it's so advantageous," he said.
While Webster's photo showcases kayakers in Idaho's backcountry, Fred Norquist and Evan Garcia film kayakers all over the world for their production company, Substantial Media House. They've filmed—and paddled with—some of the best kayakers in the world, traveling to Norway, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Peru.
Their 30-minute episodes are captivating regardless of whether audience members are kayakers. The footage is high quality with lots of slow-motion edits to show viewers the power of the river. They use aerial shots and drones, coupled with GoPro point-of-view footage, to capture paddlers navigating rapids that have to be seen to be believed.
He said the films help people who have never held a paddle experience the extreme lifestyle.
"A huge part of [producing kayak films] is incorporating the lifestyle," Norquist said. "Everyone wants to live a life of travel and adventure."
Norquist's own lifestyle revolves around producing his films. He wakes up at 8 a.m., edits all day, goes to bed around 2 a.m., then does it again the next day—for weeks until the video is done.
The Melt Awards reach beyond hardcore kayakers. The cinematography is as impressive as the rivers they run. Like a miniature, tailored Banff Mountain Film Festival, the energy is high and the audience leaves inspired. At the end of the night, viewers can vote on their favorite films and photographs.
(P.S. Float season on the Boise River starts Friday, June 12.)