TWSP Transcripts

From convos to citable text

EP19: Ski Talk with Thomas Gustafson

Interviewer: Matteo Luzzeri
Published on The Water Ski Podcast
Released on February 25, 2020
Transcribed by Kevin Roundhill & Bill Thompson


Thomas Gustafson 0:00
Yeah the, 'One more' thing, I guess I'm famous for that. 'One more.' If you ask Will Asher, if you say my name, that's probably what he will think of - 'One more.' I'm a bit of a perfectionist. And there's times where I already have the shot. I don't tell the people but there was one time shooting for Radar and can't remember who the skier was, but I kept going, kept going. And then after that, Trent goes out and first turn I'm like, 'Okay, I got it.' Stopped. And Trent's like, looked at this other skier, 'See, that's how you do it.' But it's happened before but I have them just to be sure, maybe maybe I can get something better.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:11
All right, everyone. Welcome to episode number 19 of the water ski podcast. This is Matteo. And yeah, welcome to the podcast. If this is your first episode, I hope you enjoy. The whole purpose behind this is to grow the sport primarily through the voices of some of the people in the sport. So this episode is with Thomas Gustafson who is a Swedish skier. Very longtime coach. He has been coaching in Italy primarily but also around the world. And especially, he's pretty much considered one of the best watersports, towed sports industry photographers ever. So it was super cool to sit down with him and pick his brain on anything photography related. Thomas shared some stories, gave some advice, talks about some of the shots that he did and some of the challenges, some of the things he learned along the way. And since this was about photography, and a lot of you guys said you wanted another contest, we decided to do another Apple Podcast review contest. So basically, if you want to participate, you go on Apple Podcast, you leave a review, but it has to be a review about Thomas's episode. What you liked, what you didn't like, some of the things you took away from it. And make sure before you hit submit, to send me a screenshot of your review so that I know who you are. So you can send that screenshot before you hit submit to And, in about a week's time, we'll do another Instagram Live, akin to what we did we CP, and raffle the winner. The winner will win a print of one of Thomas's shots, autographed by him, shipped to your home that you can frame and put at ski school, put at your club or maybe put at your house. So stay tuned. You can find some more details about this contest on the show notes. But essentially, follow me on Instagram at "Luzzgram". And in about a week's time, we'll do a raffle and we'll see who wins the print by Thomas, signed by Thomas. And yeah, other than enjoy the episode. I think this was a very cool episode. Enjoy and see you for the next one.


Matteo Luzzeri 3:54
Shall we?
Thomas Gustafson 3:56
Ciao, Matteo!
Matteo Luzzeri 3:58
Ciao, Thomas! How are you doing?
Thomas Gustafson 4:00
I'm good!
Matteo Luzzeri 4:07
Well, thank you for sitting down with me.
Thomas Gustafson 4:02
Oh, I'm honored.
Matteo Luzzeri 4:06
It should be a good conversation.
Thomas Gustafson 4:09
I hope so. Well, I mean, we all have a story, I guess
Matteo Luzzeri 4:17
We all do, and I think yours is a very interesting one. So why don't we get started by getting to see how you got into skiing? How did you get exposed to the sport?
Thomas Gustafson 4:25
It was through my dad. He had a friend who was actually the team captain for the Swedish team, and his son was skiing and he basically said, 'Come out.' So I tried. And when I was there he was like, 'If you have to be good, you have to ski four or five times a day.' 'Yeah, okay.' I snow skied on a competitive level. I suck in soccer. So the training part wasn't strange to me. And after that I went to stay with them for a week and I started skiing four or five times a day. I haven't really slowed down, well I have now but that's how it started.
Matteo Luzzeri 5:14
What age?
Thomas Gustafson 5:16
I was pretty old. I was 11 I think, I was going to turn 12 that summer.
Matteo Luzzeri 5:23
Okay, so later on.
Thomas Gustafson 5:25
Matteo Luzzeri 5:28
Was this far from your hometown?
Thomas Gustafson 5:30
Yeah, about almost an hour. I actually can't remember if it was that summer, or if it was the summer afterwards, where we came and they kind of went ahead of me. And my mom, she kind of got upset because we drove that far. And then we had to wait and they made me wait. So we changed club. Oh, well this is kind of a neat story because I remember once coming there from the road seeing someone skiing and someone did a 360 off the wake I was like, 'Whoa, that's so cool.' And this was Anita Carlman and she later won US Masters and she got second in Worlds tricking. She was kind of my idol. I looked up to her and went skiing with her in America. She also dated Mike Hazelwood. I got off to a good start with some good people.
Matteo Luzzeri 6:45
So it might have started a little late, but certainly the inspiration and the influence was there.
Thomas Gustafson 6:48
For sure, for sure.
Matteo Luzzeri 6:51
And how was your progression? Because you said you were playing other sports. Obviously you were a competitive snow skier. Did you progress fast through all the hurdles of the sport?
Thomas Gustafson 7:03
Well, slalom has never been my event. Firstly, because I'm short, but I never really liked it. Tricking was my thing. I really liked building, learning new tricks. I didn't mind falling and once I changed ski club, this club was probably the best ski club in Sweden with the best skiers in Sweden and they had a driver who took me under his wings. He taught me so much in tricks. I mean, I learned so much trick skiing and I actually, that second year, I never slalomed.
Matteo Luzzeri 7:52
Okay, that's interesting. That's uncommon. You don't generally equate Scandinavian skiers, we good trickers, at least not nowadays. Right?
Thomas Gustafson 8:06
No, of course. I mean, we had Mike and Helena Kjellander and we've had some good slalom skiers in the past, some under 21 European champions. Mateus Ljungberg and also his sister, Cecilia Ljungbert. They're very good slalom skiers.
Matteo Luzzeri 8:26
Yeah. Generally, in my limited career I think of Sweden as like slalom and jump. Even more so just because of the weather. You said you don't mind falling, but it gets colder quicker than in the rest of Europe. So you know, falling starts to get a little cold.
Thomas Gustafson 8:42
Yeah, I've done my fair share of skiing in the cold. The latest I've skied in Sweden was December 4th. And I mean, we had the socks on our feet. I had bigger bindings just so I could have my feet in there. The head thing, gloves or dishwashing gloves. And I had, at that time, a guy who I trained with all the time, who's a very good skier, also Jonas Calmark, who actually won a lot of European titles as a dolphin and junior. Since I started late, I never really metaled. I think I got 5th jump, actually in Italy, in Cattedrale. I think it was '82 or '83.
Matteo Luzzeri 9:32
Oh, wow. Did you enjoy jumping?
Thomas Gustafson 9:35
Yeah, I liked it.
Matteo Luzzeri 9:38
Sweet. Did you go in your career through the change of the bigger skis? Were you still jumping at the time?
Thomas Gustafson 9:49
It's funny. So, 72's were big and well, Mike Kjellander, he had 74's. That was like, huge! I decided to buy 73's and I was a small guy. But then later when Exocet came out with jump skis, I had a pair of 78's but I didn't jump down much on them. And I never used a speed suit until very late and a few times. I had a few big jumps - not because of the speed suit. You couldn't tie your arms after you jump. You kind of re-tie your arm sling after each jump. But with the speed suit, you couldn't do it. And so it got a little looser, but that made my arms straighter. And so something that I learned too late, because I was always coming into the jump with my arms a little bent. So it's kind of funny how how you learn things from...
Matteo Luzzeri 10:57
...differences in equipment that you can't even Control.
Thomas Gustafson 11:03
Matteo Luzzeri 11:07
That's cool. What are some of your fondest memories in terms of competing at a tournament? It doesn't have to be a big score or anything like that, although it probably will be, but just some good memories you have from skiing tournaments.
Thomas Gustafson 11:19
Well, as you know, I worked in Italy since '91: coaching, working as a coach. And the whole summer (now I don't have much hair on my head - I didn't have much than either), blonde guy from Sweden, everybody kind of quickly knew who I was. And that year Worlds were in Austria. And so it's right it was very close to Italy and a lot of Italians went there to look and I made the jump finals.
Matteo Luzzeri
Oh, in Villach, oh man!
Thomas Gustafson
So I made the jump finals. And it was super cool because there's a lot of people from Italy who knew me and just egging me on. It was very cool. And then after that there was the Italian Masters in Marco Marlowe's memory - one of Italy's greatest skiers who died in an airplane crash. And so the Italian Masters in Castelgandolfo outside of Rome, and we got to meet the mayor of Rome, who was a skier at that time also or skied. And then we also got to meet the Pope. I have pictures of that so that's huge. That's kind of cool. Very cool, actually.
Matteo Luzzeri 12:55
Yeah. Those were the golden years of water skiing.
Thomas Gustafson 12:59
And actually, that tournament I set my PB in jump, and I got fifth. Most of the skiers from Worlds came down and it was just cool. Very cool.
Matteo Luzzeri 13:13
Nice. Yeah, I've heard great things about Castel Gandolfo, this natural lake. Yeah, next to the Papa residence...
Thomas Gustafson 13:19
I think they shut it down after that, maybe I don't know, but you can't ski it anymore.
Matteo Luzzeri 13:25
Yeah, not too long after that you couldn't ski there anymore. Sweet. I bet that's a good memory.
Thomas Gustafson 13:32
No, it's good. And then we had a jump tournament in Sweden called Sola Masters which was really famous also for a while. It was his kind of like Moomba - in a canal. I got third there and yeah, it was cool. Spanish Masters, very cool also. Night jumping and night finals.
Matteo Luzzeri 13:58
Where about?
Thomas Gustafson 14:03
Estella Magic, like an hour north of Barcelona. Very cool tournament. I mean the finals started maybe midnight.
Matteo Luzzeri
Oh my god, that's crazy.
Thomas Gustafson
It was so cool. Today when they night jump we have a lot of lights. I've seen night jumping - I remember in Milan - with one spotlight! I don't know how they do it. It was weird but it was cool. So many people, so many people.
Matteo Luzzeri 14:36
Yeah, it was a different experience to ski in those tournaments wasn't it?
Thomas Gustafson 14:41
I never skied the pro tour. I tried to qualify, but as I managed 175 was the limit and they raised the bar. And so that's what I wanted to but, yeah, I did the European tour a little bit. It was good fun.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah, I bet. It sounds like it. Jumping in front of hundreds of people?
Thomas Gustafson
I mean, Sola Masters, that was a big crowd. I'll show you a video later but I think I posted something on my Instagram and it's very cool, a very cool tournament. A lot of people because it's right in the city just like Moomba.
Matteo Luzzeri 15:20
Did you ski Moomba ever?
Thomas Gustafson 15:22
No, never. I've been there, in 2009. Because in '89 I worked at a ski school, Benzel Ski Center, and I met some Australians, Andrew and Grant Barnett. Grant is the team captain for the Australian team now. And so we became good friends and they wanted me to come to ski with them because they had their own Lake north of Brisbane. But money talks, so I ended up staying in America, in Florida, which - this is maybe the only thing I regret, decision wise. If I would have gone there, I think my skiing would have taken a different direction actually. Because they skied with Jeff Carrington, he became world champion. And he came out to ski with us when I worked at Benzel's, and it would have been a bit different.
Matteo Luzzeri 16:28
Yeah, and obviously, Australia has an insane tradition of jump skiing. So, I can see how maybe in retrospect, that could have been a bit different...
Thomas Gustafson 16:38
So coming back to 2009 I did a feature for Water Ski magazine. So obviously, I've done a lot of photos, and then, so I actually went to their site 20 years later. I was supposed to go in '89, but I ended up going there in 2009. So that's kind of cool to see what I missed.
Matteo Luzzeri 17:10
Yeah. Was it a sour experience or was it a good experience?.
Thomas Gustafson 17:15
No, no, no no. It was just neat to see it. It was fun.
Matteo Luzzeri 17:21
Cool. I've known you for a long time, but I've never seen you jump or trick competitively. So eventually, those sort of faded away. What happened?
Thomas Gustafson 17:38
Well jumping after '91 worlds, I decided that I wanted to... Well, it was kind of because in '91, I started working in Italy. And that decision was I wanted to take my skin to another level. I wasn't happy to be the best in Sweden. So moving to Italy and I remember getting that job where my biggest concern was if I could ski well there. And I didn't even think about the fact that I didn't speak Italian. That was the least on my mind, funny enough. So, going to Italy after the '91 worlds, I did well. And then I went to America. And I already back then I had hip problems. So I remember spring in '91, no '92, we had a team training at Mike Kjellander's. So we were there for two weeks and I skied six times a day. Two slalom, two tricks and two jumps. And I could hardly walk down to the dock but I still put my jump skis on and I jumped. And coming into the jump I just didn't have pressure on my right ski and hyperextended the knee on the jump. I didn't tear my ACL all the way, but tore it partially. After that, I stopped for a while, got a CTI knee brace. Then I think after maybe, I don't think it was that year or the year after, I started jumping again with the knee brace. It was at a tournament in Italy, in Sperlonga, where I jumped, and then I had to jump again and my knee brace was wet and I didn't get to tighten as hard. And then, the next time out I hyperextended my knee on the jump again and I just felt my knee. So that was it. That whole summer I didn't ski much and then at the end of this season I had surgery on my ACL. You can't be afraid, jumping. You have to have a respect for it but you can't be afraid. So slowly I tried but then hitting the jump, feeling the knee a little bit and then that's how it slowly kind of faded away. I still skied in the team for a couple of years maybe because of my trick skiing.
Matteo Luzzeri
And it was fine tricking after the ACL?
Thomas Gustafson
I skied with the knee brace for a while for the first year. But then it was fine. I never really had much problems with my knee afterwards. So actually, slalom skiing a bit because I slalomed more back then. After that I started skiing a little more slalom. They took my patella tendon to do the ACL and so I got a little inflamed or irritated.
Matteo Luzzeri 21:07
Okay, so yeah sort of like injury and then sort of like slowly got out of it.
Thomas Gustafson 21:12
Yeah trick skiing to be honest, the boats changed. I don't want to throw any brand under the bus here, but Nautique came out with the 196 and it was like standing behind a cruise ship. So much bubbles. For toe turns was terrible and that was my strong thing - toe turns.
Matteo Luzzeri 21:45
Oh you were… Okay.
Thomas Gustafson 21:46
Yeah, I love toe turns. You know today, everybody wants to do flips. I appreciate everything people do on a trick ski, but if you're going to be a good tricker you have to know your toe turns.
Matteo Luzzeri 22:01
You have to.
Thomas Gustafson 22:01
Yeah. I hope they never take them away. Today I especially know that it's hard because I used to be good at it and I can't even hold my leg in today.
Matteo Luzzeri 22:18
Why do you think you were better at that than say in hands? Did you just enjoy it or…?
Thomas Gustafson 22:24
No. When I started skiing, I tried a 43 inch Tech One. A Cypress Gardens Tech One. I mean, that was huge and I was small. But with this big ski, it was so easy to do toe turns. But for hand tricks, it was hard. I started using my upper body and stuff. Plus with the big ski I could go slow with the speed, and that also hurt my hand tricks. Even at the end I still go slow - hand tricks faster. I moved down to 41 in trick ski eventually. But I think that was the main thing with the wrong equipment when I started skiing. Because back in Sweden, no one really knew. No one really had the knowledge.
Matteo Luzzeri 23:31
But it sounded like you were coming to the US quite a bit too?
Thomas Gustafson 23:35
Well, my first year of skiing in that club that I went to in Sweden - the best skiers in Sweden ski there. Lars Bjork, his son Andreas Bjork, became a really good jumper also. And he got people together to go to America, to McCormick's in spring of '79. He got people together and then he could do his skiing for free, so to speak, if he brought people. I don't want to say that. I mean, he did it for himself so he can go there and get some free skiing. And so I went and if I wouldn't have gone then, in '79, I definitely wouldn't have gone the year after. The year after I went to Jack Travers. And Anita Carlman was there, and some other Swedes. Sammy Duvall skied with Jack back then, Mike Hazelwood, Eddie DeTelder, a Belgium guy, Chantel Summer, French - I think she was French. There's a picture of me and this group in the Water Skier. That was the AWSA, (magazine) from back then. So it was cool. And then after that I didn't get to go because I didn't do that well in school.
Matteo Luzzeri
Ah, well. School before skiing.
Thomas Gustafson
I always tell young kids today, 'Be good at school, and you can be sure that anything you ask your parents, they will do for you, if they can.' I mean, I think it's pretty true. I don't have kids, but, you know?
Matteo Luzzeri 25:39
No, it sounds like a good rule. It seems to be true. I know at least that when I did what I was supposed to do in school, will get a ski, if I asked. Well, speaking of kids, you've done a fair amount of coaching in Italy over the years?
Thomas Gustafson 25:56
Yeah, the first year in '91 that I came, I had, I think 10 kids that I was told that I had to be like a dad for them. Take them to tournaments. So I coached them and then we had this minivan that I took them to the tournaments. I did that for this group for two years. And it was good fun. There were some good skiers actually, really good skaters. And as you know, Marco Riva is one of them. He became European Champion, overall. And he got third overall also (in) Worlds in 2003.
Matteo Luzzeri 26:49
Yeah, amazing skier.
Thomas Gustafson 26:50
Yeah. And tricking was his thing. He won two, I think he won three Junior Master titles. Maybe say or two or three?
Matteo Luzzeri 27:02
That's insane. And how was that, because that sounds like it was your first coaching experience?
Thomas Gustafson 27:08
When I made the Swedish team and when we did team practice, I could never just ski and then sit on the bank and wait for my next ski ride. I always jumped in the boat. I could never be quiet. I had to say what I thought. I maybe didn't necessarily know what I was talking about. But I like to sit in the boat and look and maybe learn. Yeah, I think that's how it started a little bit. So I wasn't totally… Well, I'd gone to work in America before, so I'd worked ski school before.
Matteo Luzzeri 28:17
But it sounds like being in the boat and having that urge of saying what you think came from early on, before you were a coach?
Thomas Gustafson 28:27
I like to help people. It's an awesome feeling just to be a part of helping people get better at the sport that I love. Because it's my passion. It's my first love. It's what helped me get through tough times. I haven't had a lot of tough times but skiing is always what kind of kept me sane I think.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah, I think (for) a lot of us. Brings us insane and at the same time keeps sane, right?
Thomas Gustafson
(laughs). We're a special breed. You have to be a skier to know another skier, I think.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah, it's true.
Thomas Gustafson
We ask ourselves why do we do this? But you know you just gotta ask yourself...
Matteo Luzzeri 29:22
I think the external person might not understand it at first. They see, 'Okay outdoor sport, next to the water, beautiful bodies, strong bodies. But I think until you, especially in slalom until you turn a buoy, you're not quite getting it. And then you just have that feeling and you're hooked for life.
Thomas Gustafson 22:49
I mean, slalom skiing. I probably didn't start to appreciate slalom skiing until very late. When I stopped jumping and stopped tricking. To run six buoys, having a nice flow through the course it's… Jumping is awesome. Also tricking is awesome. They're all... probably jumping is the best. I mean you've jumped - you know just being out flying getting that second lift out there. But even tricking, learning a new trick for the first time and slalom is... I mean, they're all up there. It's hard to pick one.
Matteo Luzzeri 30:32
You can say what you think. It's fine.
Thomas Gustafson 30:34
I mean, I wish I could still trick. Because in my head... I mean, it's your body that eventually says stop. That's what really happens.
Matteo Luzzeri 31:00
Speaking of the picture of water skiing from above or from away, like how people get to be exposed to the sport. You were involved with Water Ski magazine for a long time. With a few wakeboard publications as well. So I'd like to talk about that. You, I would say without argument, produce some of the best shots in the towed sport industry. So, how did you start? Because everyone starts somewhere. How did you start your passion for photography and especially towed sports photography?
Thomas Gustafson 31:39
Well, my first camera I got from my dad, and he just showed me very simply how. I mean, this is not a SLR camera by any means. It was an old camera, a basic point and shoot. I could set the aperture and shutter, but I had no idea what it was. It was like something in between. He just showed me and that's what I did. And I had this camera with me always when I traveled with skiing in the beginning. I had tons of pictures back home - paper (photos), tons of them. I didn't realize until much later, but this was a passion of mine.
Thomas Gustafson 32:44
I dated wakeboarder Kathy Williams, who works at Performance in Orlando. And I think I started taking photos of her to see if I could help her get exposure, in the magazine. After a while I realized that my camera was, or the lens was broken. I remember why it was broken (was) because it's been run over by a car.
Matteo Luzzeri 33:19
Oh well, that will do it.
Thomas Gustafson 33:20
You take and shake and it's just kind of glass in there, so obviously the pictures didn't turn out sharp. And then I went to buy a new lens. I went to the secondhand store and I ended up leaving with a new camera body. I still needed a lens. So I went to buy a brand new lens, a Canon 7200, because Canon is the camera that I used and so it just becomes…
Matteo Luzzeri 33:56
...what you're used to.
Thomas Gustafson 33:58
...natural that you buy that same brand.
Matteo Luzzeri 34:04
Is it kind of like skiing? You sort of stay with it, it's what you know, what you're familiar with?
Thomas Gustafson 34:10
Yeah. Now Nikon, when you zoom it turns the different way, the opposite way. I can't remember whether it's turning clockwise or counterclockwise when you zoom on the zoom lenses. But you just get to know the camera. Where the buttons are, like - interact with your camera. It's similar from model to model. So after that starting experiencing, got a wide angle lens, and then I got a housing for the camera, and starting to ride in the tube while she was wakeboarding. And when I did that and I saw the pictures I was like, "Whoa!" I had changed film, back then it was slide film. This film that's more saturated and when I saw it I was blown away. It was so cool. I couldn't believe it. "I did that" kind of thing. And that was the best with film - going, picking it up after being developed, it was so exciting to see (how it looked).
Thomas Gustafson 35:28
That was the best. And yeah, so it just went from there. I remember taking pictures to World Publication. That's what it was called back then. And Bill Doster was the photo editor and he was looking at pictures in these. I guess he was kind. He said "Yes, not bad, but not good enough to be printed in the magazine." And later I realized that he was like, "Yeah. You know, that wasn't very good." Because, as I became better I could see myself that the early stuff wasn't where it needs to be.
Matteo Luzzeri 36:16
How did you take it when he told you that?
Thomas Gustafson 36:19
I mean, I just kept going. And after a while Todd Ristorcellii became the editor for Water Skiing and then he started looking at pictures and he was brutally honest also. It didn't come easy. I had to work for it for sure. And there was a time where I put my housing, this was a new housing with where I could have a flash inside also. This is a few years later. I put it on my car in the morning, going to take some pictures. Then I'm on the road and I see something in my rearview mirror just flashing, and I was like, "What was that?" And then I was like, "No!". It was my housing flying off the car!
Matteo Luzzeri 37:30
Thomas Gustafson 37:32
I was devastated. I turned around, picked it up and I pretty much went straight to Winter Haven and had another one made that same day. And the guy, an English guy, I can't remember his name now, but he was kind of pissed off with me. Because it was his art making these water housings and I ruined it. But he used some of the pieces.
Matteo Luzzeri
So custom made, obviously.
Thomas Gustafson
Yeah. This guy's done the housings for Tom King and Bill Doster, a lot of wakeboard photographers also.
Matteo Luzzeri 38:21
First shot in the magazine?
Thomas Gustafson 38:23
First shot in the magazine. It was either Christie Overton from a World Cup event at Ricetto just walking out of the lake after she won, maybe close to a world record. Or it was a shot in Wakeboard Magazine - actually a double page spread of Brett Eisenhower.
Matteo Luzzeri
Thomas Gustafson
On the rail that they put fire on. And this is the very good photographer Joey Meddock, who was one of the best in wakeboarding. He had set this shot up to do. And I was there just watching and I had my camera and I took a picture. And I'm not very proud of this, I showed it to Wakeboard Magazine and they liked it and they run it. And Joey was the one who had set this up with Brett. So, I've never done anything like that after and will never do it again. I apologized to him more than once. And, he wasn't… I mean, towards me he was cool about it, but I'm sure he was pissed off a little bit.
Matteo Luzzeri 40:02
But I guess we do make mistakes and realize...
Thomas Gustafson 40:05
Well, as long as we can learn from them, I guess. So yeah. But it was a good photo. Maybe he had some photos also that he showed and they just didn't come out as well. I was just lucky, basically. I was lucky. But it definitely fired me up to continue shooting wakeboarding.
Matteo Luzzeri 40:31
All right. This is where me and Thomas took a little break. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who's tuning in sharing this podcast on social media and among friends, and to all the people that have been sending emails of encouragement and just sharing their story about being on the water and getting people on the water. Thank you so much. If you want to support the podcast, you can do so in a few ways. You can get on Apple podcast and leave a review. You can tell your friends to subscribe, and you can donate to the podcast if you wish to donate to the podcast some bucks, or euros or whatever currency you want. You can go on, and you'll find ways to donate to the podcast there. Sorry for the break. Back to the show.
Right, well then, how about first cover?
Thomas Gustafson 41:37
First cover was Jodi Fisher.
Matteo Luzzeri 41:42
Oooh, that's good.
Thomas Gustafson 41:47
I've shot a lot with Jodi. So I started shooting - I think my first photo in the magazine was '99. At the time I worked in Portugal. I was running my ski school there. And then until 2003, my mom, she had a stroke in May of 2003. I pretty much dropped everything, drove home and spent all summer in Sweden. Didn't ski much. I just basically skied the tournaments, just slalom. And at the end of that year, I didn't really know what to do. And so I said… Because I'd been home and it wasn't like I wanted to leave my mom. Because when it first happened everybody's like, 'Oh, your life's gonna change because your mom's gonna have to have family around her and stuff because at first she was paralyzed. And then slowly (she) got some movement back, not everything. But at the end, I can't remember if it was fall or spring of 2004 I was like, "I gotta get out of here." Not to leave my mom alone, but I have my sister at home also. So I said, "Look, I'm gonna try this photography thing - see if I can take it to another level." And so I came over there and I ran into Jodi and Nicola Huntrich. They were together at that time. I ran into them at Performance. And I was like, "Oh, hi, how are you doing?" And they're asking me what I was doing here. And I pretty much said, "I wanted to see if I can do this thing with photography." They asked me, "Where are you staying?" I'm like, "I don't really know." I was staying with Doug Ross for a couple of nights because I'd stayed with him there I think the year before or something. But I was thinking I'm gonna just go to an extended stay hotel or something. And they say, "Hey, why don't you come and stay with us?" So I went and stayed with them at the trailer or where Andy Mapple did all of his skiing. I helped Jodi out, drive the boat a little bit. And then he was basically my guinea pig. I shot a lot of stuff with him. I had no idea. I left some photos at the magazine and then it was a big surprise to me that I had the cover. It was cool though. It was a good shot. Really good shot.
Matteo Luzzeri 45:24
Okay, do you remember what was the scene, where were you guys?
Thomas Gustafson 45:31
It was shot at Lake Hancock and I shot from another boat with a ladder, down, and it was… he is a righty, a lefty…. righty.. It was one, three or five ball. He's a lefty, no?
Matteo Luzzeri 45:46
Jodi? You're testing my memory right now.
Thomas Gustafson 45:59
It was, it was the one it was his one, three or five side thought, I know that.
Matteo Luzzeri 46:09
Because of where the boat was?
Thomas Gustafson 46:10
Well, yeah, but also, this is something that I learned eventually: when they do covers, they wanted the turn to go that way on the cover because of the way you open up the magazine.
Matteo Luzzeri No way.
Thomas Gustafson
So there's a lot of things that you learn after a while. If you shoot a horizontal picture, you cannot have the skier in the middle, because that will be the middle of the magazine you have this line.
Matteo Luzzeri 46:51
Thomas Gustafson 46:52
I mean, sometimes you do it, but sometimes you want to try to place the skier or on the right side or the left. Maybe it's more with wakeboarding that I did that, because you have the rider on the right side, and then you have the boat on the left side. And if you didn't do that, maybe the shot would just be a half page.
Matteo Luzzeri
Okay, so you're strategizing with angles…
Thomas Gustafson
Yeah. If it's a good horizontal shot then the bigger the page the more money you make.
Matteo Luzzeri 47:31
I bet. Of course. Those are the tricks of the trades that you need to learn. So, Jodi, right foot forward.
Thomas Gustafson 47:39
So it was his offside. He always had good facial expressions. You know, a guy can be a little (grrr)... The women, they have to be pretty, I guess.
Matteo Luzzeri 47:53
Right, it helps.
Thomas Gustafson 47:54
I mean, they're all pretty. But when it comes to skiing, I don't know. A guy can… it's not... it comes out the wrong way here. People like to see pretty women and the women they also like to look good if they're going to be in print. Sometimes it gets maybe a bit too cheesy when they smile, but sometimes that's what's sold. I guess I told them, "Hey, definitely keep your eyes open, smile or be relaxed" and try to coach them a little bit. And what to wear.
Matteo Luzzeri 48:51
Now, you said Jodi was kinda like your guinea pig. That's where you're sort of like..
Thomas Gustafson 48:56
A little bit. I have this one contraption that I built. That was... It's ridiculous thinking about then compared to today when you have a GoPro. So I built this thing that was kind of a cage. He put it on like a life jacket and then above his right shoulder I had made a special water housing where I put my camera in. I had a remote and because I wanted to have a picture from his point of view. I mean, this thing was heavy. I can't believe he actually ran the course with it.
Matteo Luzzeri
Okay that heavy.
Thomas Gustafson
Yeah. Wade Cox put it on too I don't know if he managed to run the course, he might have. Then I was in a second boat following to push the remote, because it didn't reach that far back then. So I had two have boats.
Matteo Luzzeri 50:10
So Jodi was skiing in a cage while you were in a boat next to him. Pretty close, I'm assuming?
Thomas Gustafson 50:18
Yeah. I have some pictures of it somewhere. I need to pull it out. So I'm standing up and then trying to - when I wanted the photo to be taken - after the turn kind of thing. I can't remember if it was ever printed, something like that. I know that David Small, a barefooter, he used it also barefooting. I was like, scared! But he was like, "Yeah, this is nothing." Barefoot if you fall with that thing...
Matteo Luzzeri 50:51
You're gonna get hurt.
Thomas Gustafson 50:52
Yeah. For him barefooting behind the boat is like walking for us. That was printed. I had two wakeboarders wear it also
Matteo Luzzeri 51:07
Oh, wow. So those were mid 2000s, I'm assuming?
Thomas Gustafson 51:13
Yeah. 2005, 2004, 2005. And it was still film back then. So that was even harder. I didn't know how it turned out until I picked up the film.
Matteo Luzzeri 51:34
Did you ever develop film yourself?,
Thomas Gustafson 51:37
No, I never studied anything. I'm self taught. I just learned from... I bought some... not books… books with pictures. With pictures that said what aperture, and what shutter speed, what film and what ISO. So I saw that and I was like, "Okay, I'm gonna try that." And that's kind of how I got into using flash a lot. Because a lot of people know me for my flash photography. Like sunrise or sunset style - that's what I kind of became known for. And I got passionate about the colors and stuff. I kind of learned it by coincidence looking at a picture in this magazine, I saw this extreme setting. I just went out - I remember exactly when it happened. I was shooting a wakeboarder here in Orlando. It was a couple of days before Christmas, super warm. I was in the tube. And this photo just came out sick. I was like, "Whoa, so cool." This really slow shutter speed and you have these ghost shadows and then the flash, just freezing the action. It got printed and then a couple of days later I went to try the same stuff skiing with Doug Ross and Seth Stisher. And the shots came out unreal. That technique - that I don't know if I want to say I developed, but I just kept that. I kept shooting that for... I'll shoot like that even today. It just seemed so easy after that. I had people ask me, how do you do it? Obviously I didn't really. They showed they told me what they were doing. And I didn't really tell them because it was my secret, even though it wasn't a secret because I thought it was very obvious how to do it. But when they showed me their settings, I was like, "Wow, they're way off."
Matteo Luzzeri 54:39
So, I'm guessing there's a bit of learning settings, trying to get inspired by other pictures. Do you look at pictures outside of skiing or wakeboarding. Do you look at other sports for inspiration? Non sports pictures?
Thomas Gustafson 54:59
No, of course. This magazine. I can't remember now but of course. The way I take those evening shot sunset shots would be the same way I would take a picture of a couple in front of a sunrise or sunset.
Matteo Luzzeri 55:25
Thomas Gustafson 55:26
It's not gonna change much, actually.
Matteo Luzzeri 55:34
So in those days where you were sort of using Jodi as a guinea pig, what were you learning? Were you learning angles? Were you learning how to get ideas for shots? What were you learning in those early days?
Thomas Gustafson 55:52
I don't know if it was so much... I mean, obviously you learn all the time. I just wanted to shoot pictures. I was lucky in the way, because I've known Jodi since he was 11. And all these pros today, I know them before photography - I knew them through skiing. So whenever I call them and say, "Hey, you want to shoot or you want to try this?" They said, "Yeah." I realize that today, if I want to go and shoot surfing or whatever and I call up the world champion, he's like, "Who are you?" Because I'm not his friend. So it's not always what you know, it's who you know. And so, I used everyone just to shoot and shoot and shoot. And they were happy to do it because they had never been shot and haven't had their shot printed in the magazine. Then eventually they knew there's a fairly big chance that they'll get their shot printed. And also angles - because I'm a skier I think that's helped me a lot. I know where to be - even though I've been in some spots where I shouldn't have been. But not not too often. I've had some close calls, but the fact that I know how it works, definitely has helped. Also being a coach. Just comes into my mind - I shot with Trent Finlayson one time. It was his off side... no it was his on side. And as he turned, he turned his head to the left. And I made a comparison with Will Asher. "You know how he finished the turn? It looks like he's looking down at four ball when he turns two ball?" And I just said that to Trent. And he's like, "Oh, yeah, yeah." And so next shot he did that and boom! And that got printed. So I was kind of coaching him at the same time. Someone that wouldn't have been a skier wouldn't have known to say that. So it certainly helped me I think.
Matteo Luzzeri 58:48
Yeah, because you know what you want to see on the picture. But you also know what movements are allowed and not allowed to us as a skier.
Thomas Gustafson 58:58
Right. So when I edit my pictures, I don't only look if they're sharp, the face and the eyes are open or whatever, I look for good technique and good style.
Matteo Luzzeri
That's cool.
Thomas Gustafson
So, it might be a perfect picture but it's just, "No." Because as a skier you want to be portrayed the best.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah. I agree.
Thomas Gustafson
You want to look good. I was trying to help them also look good, you know?
Matteo Luzzeri 59:46
Which is something that you are not necessarily concerned with when you're skiing. You have other worries, right? Like, you're trying to catch buoys. So obviously, the magazine hasn't been around now in two or three years. Right? We've been three years?
Thomas Gustafson 1:00:03
What is it? Is it two years? Yeah, yeah, it's gone quick. Two years at least.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:00:14
What kind of change was that? Maybe for you personally and for the sport
Thomas Gustafson 1:00:24
I mean for this sport I think it's not good. Definitely need a magazine I think.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:00:37
Thomas Gustafson 1:00:43
I don't know. For the pros to get their faces out there. Sure, there's internet but I mean… The magazine towards the end… you could download it and look at it on your iPad also, but I don't know. It's just… I don't have the answers. I loved being creative and take photos and that was a channel for me to show my stuff but also to show the world how cool our sport is. It's just one less channel that shows it. Today there's social media. But yeah… I miss the magazine.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:01:48
Yeah, and a lot of people do and I think for me, at least, I can't touch a shot online.
Thomas Gustafson 1:01:59
No, I love holding a magazine.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:02:02
Yeah, it's a different experience.
Thomas Gustafson 1:02:05
I like it. To see it printed is good satisfaction. Sure.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:02:13
It's a different kind of achievement, right? As you know, I'm doing a PhD. And part of the goal is to publish scientific research. And you technically get your article online, when it's accepted, and you're going through the process before it's printed. But there's a definition for it, it's, "Ahead of print." And then authors really get pumped when it gets printed and it gets sent to the people that subscribe to that particular journal.
Thomas Gustafson 1:02:50
I mean, it's there forever. Like if you write a book or something.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:02:55
Book is the same. Music is the same. I think the vinyl resurgence is because people want to see it, they're like, "Oh, that's that's my music."
Thomas Gustafson 1:03:04
I have this idea. I've had it forever to maybe do a coffee table book.
Matteo Luzzeri
Please do.
Thomas Gustafson
I have so many photos that have never been seen and gone to print and that'd be kind of cool.
Matteo Luzzeri
Becoming your own editor almost.
Thomas Gustafson
Yeah. It'd be nice.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:03:29
Well let me know when you do, we're gonna promote it here. You know, it'd be cool. Yeah.
Thomas Gustafson 1:03:33
Yeah, I'd love to do it. It's probably nothing that will, it won't make you money. But it's just kind of neat to have something, remember...
Matteo Luzzeri 1:03:48
Maybe that's the whole thing, right? Like maybe digital, actually without the maybe, digital saves a lot of costs up front, but it's different.
Thomas Gustafson 1:04:00
For sure it's different. I hope it comes back. I doubt that it will.
Matteo Luzzeri
How come? Why do you think?
Thomas Gustafson
I don't know. It's just this big corporation - it's just about money, you know?
Matteo Luzzeri 1:04:17
Yeah, but I wonder because a few people that I interviewed - like we spoke about it with Marcus, we spoke about it with Chris. And you talk about it with skiers - in the last two or three years, it seems like skiing, there's a bit of a resurgence. There's more pro tournament's, it seems like more people are skiing, ski schools are busy, maybe the market is there?
Thomas Gustafson 1:04:40
I mean, the core skiers are always gonna keep skiing. To make it grow… Wakeboarding's definitely taking a step back, I think. But I don't know. It's expensive also, the wakeboarding, with the boats and stuff. I mean, skiing is not cheap either. Snow skiing is doing good again. But photography is just showing the sport, showing how cool it is. That was my main thing, I think. The whole time to just get the coolest possible picture to have the 'Wow.' I wanted pictures: "Wow, that's cool." Yeah, a couple of shots, maybe would like that. I mean, there's a lot of good photographers out there that have done some really nice photos. I still have some ideas that I never got to do. Maybe one day I get to do them. The last time I shot it was with Corey Vaughn. I was trying to get him on the cover and then like a month later, the magazine was done. And Freddie Winter was injured at the moment. He was driving the boat and when he saw the pictures like, "No!" He was jealous. So I told him, I'm gonna have to do some shots with him - get my flashes out.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:06:32
Maybe it's a good way to conclude this. What are your top three shots? The ones that when you look back again now you're like, "wow". It gives you that wow moment?
Thomas Gustafson 1:06:48
Well, I have one shot of Freddy Krueger that was printed. It's not an easy shot. I mean, luck. So I was shooting him jumping. And Karen, she said, "Look at the full moon." But the full moon was behind the jump. He was jumping one way and he was jumping away from the moon. So I was like, "Okay", so I did a double exposure. It's where the film doesn't move forward. You take a picture - so I took a picture of the moon with a different lens. And then I put a wide angle lens on, and then Freddy jumped. And you have one chance. It was film. I had no idea. I had no idea.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:07:45
You don't know until you pick it up.
Thomas Gustafson 1:07:46
Yeah. And it was spot on. So he just comes off the jump and you have a big Full Moon there. And that's what I liked also about the film, because what comes out is what you get. No Photoshop, you know? It is what it is. And even today with digital, that's how I think. I can show you pictures that people are like, "Oh, yeah, that must be Photoshopped." I can show you the raw file and it looks pretty much exactly the same. Okay, so Freddie, that's a shot.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:08:39
So you sort of operate even with digital you operate as if you had that shot only?
Thomas Gustafson 1:08:49
Matteo Luzzeri 1:08:50
That's a good challenge that you're putting on yourself.
Thomas Gustafson 1:08:54
Yeah, so back then with film, I used filters a lot. I remember I had this one filter, a sunset filter, I used a lot. People always asked me, "How can you always get these colors?" But with digital... I guess I cheat a little bit, then you can put that filter on afterwards in Photoshop. And so that's a little bit of cheating. But I did a photo of Jason McClintock which became a cover. It was a silhouette photo, it's all blue, and I showed some people just the other day. I showed the raw file and it's, it's digital. It's not Photoshop. So with the digital cameras, you can actually choose some settings. It's a setting. It's tungsten - when you have tungsten light indoors you have to, when you shot film, you have to use a different film. Otherwise the color gets too warm. So colors get balanced different with tungsten film. And when you shoot with that film outdoors, everything becomes blue. So with a digital camera, I can set it up as if I was shooting that type of film, and I put a blue filter on it gets even deeper blue. And so that's how I shot that cover. And it was like I was shooting film. I have a shot of Thomas Degasperi that no one's ever seen that it came out crazy. Was with flash and the spray - it's all red. And during that shot, one of the flashes that was supposed to light him up didn't work and so it became a silhouetted shot. And that shot was printed. So the shot that I went to do never got published, but the mistake got published. So this is like a shot that… it's maybe not the coolest angle or stuff like that, but just knowing what went behind it as far as the flashes and right moment and stuff - not easy, a lot of people involved. I was happy. I was very happy with that shot. There's quite a few. It's hard to pick one.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:11:46
Well, that's probably why you're struggling with the coffee table book. You can't choose, right?
Thomas Gustafson 1:11:57
Yeah, that will be hard to edit, to get it down.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:11:58
As you said it might not be the style of a coffee table book, but also throwing in the story that went behind the shot. I think it's a completely different experience.
Thomas Gustafson 1:12:09
Yeah, my idea is it's going to be just photos but some of the shots definitely have some stories behind it. This one time with, and this is Jodi again, we had this canoe. I went to buy hay bales, and I put that in a canoe and we tied the canoe behind the buoy. And then we lit the thing on fire. I knew that I had one shot at it.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:13:01
You didn't buy enough hay?
Thomas Gustafson 1:13:04
No, no, I had one shot because as he turns the buoy he is going to spray the canoe that's lit on fire. Then it's going to go out so I have one shot. And actually the shot - he used the shot because Jodi used to do this calendar that you gave the sponsor. So the shot's been seen, but the story is kind of funny. So we did that. After the first one the canoe kind of started tipping over but it's still on fire. So I mean, he kept skiing and I kept taking pictures. And then it started to smoke. And then after a while by the house there is some fire trucks. Were like, "Oh…." And then they disappeared so we got our stuff together and just went back in. This was at Lake Hancock. Then when we were in we saw the fire trucks at the aisles of Lake Hancock, because they were just building it then. I went inside and hid in the corner - shitting myself. And then a helicopter came with a searchlight. I saw this searchlight on the grass coming closer and closer to where we were, and I swam under under the roof. Then police came, and then eventually Jodi, he decided to go up to the police and I was five feet behind him. And he went, "Yeah, we were the one that was out there on the lake or shooting." And the police goes, "I have found the perpetrators." And then they responded back, "Well just tell them to let us know next time they have to do something like this." I'm like, "Whew!"
Matteo Luzzeri 1:15:32
Wow! (laughing) Did you do it again?
Thomas Gustafson 1:15:40
Matteo Luzzeri
Thomas Gustafson
Two fire trucks, helicopter, police...
Matteo Luzzeri
It'd better be a good shot.
Thomas Gustafson
Yeah, we got it. It was on film. It wasn't digital, it's film. Like I said, one try.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:15:56
A lot of reasons why that one was a one try. It was film, it was fire that went off. Wow.
Thomas Gustafson 1:16:03
If you've ever been… I'm not gonna tell people to go inside the buoy. But I've had people with me inside the buoy just to experience it and you know, it goes pretty fast! When you are at 36 miles an hour and you have to follow. And the closer you are to the buoy, the quicker it is. The further away the more time you have and it's easier to follow.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:16:34
I've experienced that at some shot, I wasn't taking the shot because I'm completely incapable of doing that. But I was holding a flash. So I was holding the flash inside the buoy where the photographer was taking the picture. So I was even a little bit further away. And sure enough it's (whoa)... It gives you a good sense of how fast we are when we do what we do.
Thomas Gustafson 1:16:57
I talked to Chris Parish the other day, because he was actually one of the first people that I shot with inside the buoy at his home lake, Lake Picot. I didn't really know what I was doing. I think I was pretty close. I don't know what rope length he was on but I remember him hitting the buoy and it just made the noise and it scared me. Man… But you and I, we've shot.
Matteo Luzzeri
Yeah, we've shot together. I know the experience.
Thomas Gustafson
(laughs) the one more thing!
Matteo Luzzeri 1:17:40
Yeah. 22nd gate, one, two. Ah, one more. Okay. Sounds good. But I like that.
Thomas Gustafson 1:17:49
I guess I'm famous for that. If you ask Will Asher, if you say my name that's probably what he will think of; one more.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:18:01
Well, other people too. I think it's good. It shows that you're serious about your work and you want to get the right shot.
Thomas Gustafson 1:18:07
Yeah I'm a bit of a perfectionist, with a lot of things I do.
Matteo Luzzeri
Creative people are.
Thomas Gustafson
And there's times where I already have the shot and I don't tell the people.
Matteo Luzzeri
(laughs) Oh! Okay…
Thomas Gustafson
There was one time shooting for Radar and I can't remember who the skier was but I kept going, kept going. And then after that Trent goes out. And the first turn I'm like, "Okay, I got it." Stopped. And Trent looked at this other skier like, See that's how you do it!"
Matteo Luzzeri
(laughing) Just one and done.
Thomas Gustafson
It's happened before. But you know, but I have them (go) just to be sure. Maybe I can get something better.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:19:06
So why don't we conclude with some advice? Because I see a lot of people, well not a lot of people but I do see people that are passionate about photography and they want to become better at taking good shots. Some advice that you would have.
Thomas Gustafson 1:19:30
It depends what camera… If you have a SLR camera where you have a manual setting, you need to understand the relationship between shutter and aperture. I remember when I started at Ricetto, this one photographer that's shooting a lot of the team skiers and I'm asking him questions and it just went in one ear and out the other. I didn't understand anything. But it's actually quite simple. It's like with everything, if you look at other people, wow. But once you know your trade or whatever it is, it's not that hard. If you want it, just take a book and read it. It's not like you have to read a whole book. The shutter speed and the aperture is important because it decides how much light comes in and hits the film or the sensor. With skiing, you have to have a higher shutter speed to freeze the action. But if you have a small… I don't know if I get into this right now, but a small aperture where you don't let in enough light and a fast shutter speed is going to be dark. So you have to open it up with a faster shutter speed. That's why you have some lenses, they're called prime lenses, where you can open up and they will let in a lot of light even if the conditions are bad. But today also the cameras today, the digital cameras, the ISO… Back then, like even today I shoot with maybe ISO 250 or 400, which back when there was film you used like 400 for indoors, where it's darker, and with flash. But today, with digital cameras they're like 50,000 ISO or 100,000 and you don't even get grain. So you shoot a wedding, you don't have to use flash or advance where the flash becomes irritated indoors. Now I'm not giving much advice here, but you've just got to play around. The basics. You've got to learn to use manual setting, not automatic, right? If you just do a snapshot, sure that's fine. But if you want to be creative, you have to learn the similarity. And also, lastly, I bought some flashes when I started from this French photographer, Florian Korman, who is a barefooter and very good photographer and he said to me, "Once you learn how to use a flash you will never stop." And that was very true for me. When I learned to use a flash I used the flash almost all the time. I'm using less flash now. Now I really like natural lighting and backlit, where everything's blown out in the background, but you go through phases. But you have to learn how to use your camera in manual setting. And then, just got to play around,
Matteo Luzzeri 1:23:17
Find skiers that are willing to...
Thomas Gustafson 1:23:20
Don't go inside the buoys unless you know what you're doing. Definitely and it has to be a skier that is a good skier. I've put myself in bad situations and yeah, I've been lucky.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:23:39
Well, any other thoughts? Anything that you want to say that we didn't say?
Thomas Gustafson 1:23:45
I have a lot to say.. It would be another time maybe?
Matteo Luzzeri
We can do it again.
Thomas Gustafson
It's all good. I think what you're doing is awesome. I've listened to a few of them and it's very good.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:23:57
Thank you. We'll do another one.
Thomas Gustafson 1:23:58
Everything that can put water skiing out there in the limelight and get people stoked about this sport is good.
Matteo Luzzeri
Sweet. Well, I keep trying.
Thomas Gustafson
We have to help each other, support each other. It's a small community. We just gotta stay united for it to grow.
Matteo Luzzeri 1:24:28
Good point. Well, thanks, Thomas. This was fun.
Thomas Gustafson
I appreciate it. Cheers.