By Gavin Butler
Posted Tuesday 26th February 2008
The Statue of Liberty is America's most well-known icon, not only for its massive size and location but also as a way of life, symbolizing the "American Dream" and the endless possibilities for those within its shores. Situated between the Jersey Shore and Downtown Manhattan on the Hudson River, the Statue was completed in 1886 as a gift from France to America in appreciation for America's success in defeating the English in the war some 100 years earlier. So much history surrounds the statue, with historic Ellis Island, the missing presence of the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge all nearby. So when the opportunity came for Joe Ruscito and Alvaro Onieva to attempt a photo shoot in front of it, they went for it.
The following few hours was a whirlwind of activity for the crew as they organized flights, boats, drivers, wind forecasts and new products to shoot after getting approval for the trip. The mad scramble continued until later that night as the team packed and got ready for a 6 AM flight up to New York City. The forecasts looked great for the trip, and with Joe's family having a boat to shoot, launch, and rescue from, it was time to go chase Liberty.
Joe and Alvaro
Leaving from Fort Lauderdale at 6 AM on the first flight of the day, Joe and Alvaro were excited to head north and ride. For Joe, it was a chance to visit his family after living and attending school in Florida. For Alvaro, it was his first time to NYC and a long-awaited dream. Months earlier, he had mentioned that it would be a dream trip if he could make it up to NYC and shoot in front of the Statue. Alvaro told Joe about this idea when they were kiting in Florida a few days earlier and now he was about to land at JFK airport.
After arriving at JFK airport and organizing a taxi, it was a one-and-a-half drive straight to the marina in Connecticut to meets Joe's father and trailer their boat. Shortly after, they were all heading to Liberty State Park to do some reconnaissance on the Statue and check out the wind conditions for the shoot, after a very American McDonald's lunch break.
One thing that goes along with one of the world busiest cities is the world's worst traffic, a problem that would become part of the process over the next few days as they shuttled back and forth from Connecticut to the park. An average two-hour drive saw the crew eventually arrive to see the 305 ft tall Lady Liberty standing proudly at the river's edge. The wind was blowing as Alvaro and Joe scoped out the conditions. Gusty but strong winds blew across the park towards the Statue in the middle of the river as helicopters buzzed in the sky, passenger ferries shuttled tourists to Liberty Island, and container ships transported goods through the channels. In short, it was a hive of activity as the decision was made to head out on the boat and have a closer look at the island and the currents that surround it.
With the gusty winds and a more promising forecast for the next two days it was decided to check out the coast guard and police presence in case they had problems with them riding close to the Statue. It was a tough call as there may only be one chance at getting the shot before it got cancelled but it was decided to come back the next day and ride the cleaner winds that were forecast. Back to Joe's house they went to unpack, set up the boards, and be looked after by Joe's awesome family.
Joe and his little brother Paul
The crew arrived the next day after another slow gridlock trip through New York, ready to shoot the afternoon light and steady winds. Unfortunately, the forecasted winds didn't really eventuate and the light for photos was patchy for most of the afternoon. Enzo Merluzzi, a local kiteboarder and friend of Joe's, offered to drive the boat as Alvaro and Joe boat-launched upwind from the Statue and away from any possible enemy combatant suspicion. Light and very gusty wind conditions greeted the riders as they entered the cold Hudson River. With the bad wind, it was hard for the riders to get close to the Statue in case they dropped their kites in a lull and entered the "no go" zone around the Statue's edge. After a good few hours of doing their best in the horrible conditions, the crew called it a day, hoping that the forecast would improve. The boat was pulled out and towed once again to Joe's house in Fairfield, ready for the next day's riding. Later that night, the boys traveled into the city so Alvaro could get a taste of the bright-lights -big-city for which New York is known.
On a few hours sleep, the crew rallied together for one last day of riding. With a 9 PM flight out of JFK back to Fort Lauderdale looming in the distance, the crew raced through the traffic to the launch site once again, hoping for improved riding conditions. The wind had picked up a little from the day before but it still had a lot of holes. With all the buildings and land mass around the river, there is only one wind direction that could offer clean wind at best, and it wasn't blowing from that direction! Vic Gubinski, another of Joe's kite mates, was nominated boat driver for day, along with the help of his daughter Alexa. The crew repeated their launch from the day before and headed straight to the Statue. The gusty winds and patchy light made it difficult, but it was the last day and the boys went for it and tried to get as close as possible for the shots. At one stage, the Coast Guard came flying over in their patrol boat towards Vic and his daughter (who were thinking that the shoot was going to come to an end) but they only came to explain that the riders were getting too far into the ferry channel and that they wouldn't be able to stop if the riders crashed in front of them. By this stage, the shots were taken as the boys raced to get in a few more, before having to pack up and race home and get ready for the night flight back to Florida.
Vic, Alexa, Joe, Alvaro
Planning a clean run through NY traffic was a bold assumption as the crew hit a walking pace of gridlock. With Alvaro having a 6:30AM flight out of Miami the next morning, there was no way we could miss the last flight out of JFK. A plan was put together to have Joe's mom pack all our bags at the house and intercept us along the highway in the other car to save some valuable time. On some random exit, the crew swapped cars, loaded the wet gear into the bags, and headed back to JFK so they could make the flight. All went well as Joe's mom supplied the car with sandwiches and drinks for the trip back to the airport. Eventually the crew made it on time, only to have the flight delayed a couple of hours. The crew arrived back in Fort Lauderdale at 3 AM, which left an hour for Alvaro to repack and head to Miami for his flight back to Spain. Shortly afterwards, Joe started his two-hour drive north, to make it in time for his morning classes.
It seemed like the crew had only started their trip moments earlier as so much happened so quickly over the three days. Next to no sleep, last minute plans, difficult conditions, hours in traffic jams and trying to guess the reaction of the Coast Guard kept everyone on their toes, but with the help of family and friends, the trip came together with some great shots in front of the Statue of Liberty. Alvaro's dream trip had come to an end and Lady Liberty was a successful mission.
Special thanks to Joe Ruscito's wonderful family for all their help in feeding, driving and supporting the crew. Also, a big thanks to Enzo Merluzzi, Michael Kirsh, and Vic and Alexa Gubinski for driving the boat and helping with the kites. And to France for building an awesome statue!