The Ruby 2019


We really enjoy seeing updates from the Lake Wanaka Swimmers coming through on our news feeds. No matter what time of year, there will be some discussion about Lake Wanaka, from the temperature through to any biological contents that should or shouldn’t be there. The Lakes in our district are extremely important to us, so we are obviously extremely pleased that this community is practising the best kaitiaki possible around the natural resource that they so value.

I’ve only missed one Ruby. This was the fifth year that Eddie and Jamie, along with many other dedicated community members have arranged this world famous open water swimming event in Lake Wanaka. There are plenty of sporting events in our district, not many are organised by the community members of our place. The Ruby really is different in all of the right ways.

Capturing how this event unfolds is important to us, it’s a way that we can support our community too. Whilst we’re not swimmers, we get what this event is about. It’s an honour to be waking up way to early to get to the start with plenty of time.

As the photographer, you really do have to be one of the first ones there. When the first group of swimmers are going to be in the water by 7am the alarm really is going off early for a Saturday morning. There really are only a few people lakeside first thing and it is such a pleasure to be a part of.

This race for many is a marker in their journey. They train hard to swim this, very hard. Ruby Island is a fair way off shore. To swim to the jetty and back would be one hell of an accomplishment for myself, to swim around the island and back again - 4 times! Now that’s one heck of a physical feat.

The Ruby provides opportunities for swimmers to compete at both these ends of the scale as well as a few in the middle. The 4 laps around the island, as you’d expect, it’s those brave souls who are slowly starting to make their way to the beech. You really would be surprised by the number of people opting to swim without a wetsuit.

Zipping up wetsuits at Lake Wanaka - Professional Sport Event Photography

The Ruby is an outdoor event. It kind of has to be really, the weather always plays a crucial role that no one can really predict. Even before the first swimmers enter the water, there has been hours of deliberation on what the weather is and will be doing. Safety is paramount. A rain Day on the Sunday of course, but no one wants that do they, let’s get on with it. After all, organisers and competitors have been working towards the moment they step into the water for months.

You can see it in their faces. There’s something about the way the conversations occur that’s really quite special. Supporters are really supporting. Food is being prepared, sometimes even eaten, most prominently is that all the final stages of preparation are in full swing. There are quite a few familiar faces, this being the Ruby, many people come back and it would appear that they keep bringing more and more friends each year. This Lake Swimming business is really taking off around these parts.


I’m not sure that I really understood how hard it was to walk into a lake with a pebble beech. As these brave swimmers enter the water they teeter toter on dry land and soon enough as they enter the water they start to become more stable. Personally I can’t quite grasp just what it takes to be able to enter a body of water like this, at this kind of time with such ease as these swimmers do.

There’s some bunching, lots of watching and a fair amount of last minute thoughts just before the off is given and the water starts to take on a slightly different appearance.

For myself, it’s a time for me to be able to relax a little. there is a wee bit of time before the next wave, plenty of time to find Chris my boat driver for the event and arrange our master plan to get the most out of the event photographically. I have time, yet as low as the coffee queue is, I’m really not prepared to put myself through that caffeine effect when I’m out on the water in an hour or so.

The atmosphere changes a little, but regardless of it changing, there is still this overarching sense of immense preparation and anticipation. This event really does seem to bring the best out in people.

Amongst all of the milling about, the first wave swimmers supporters are readying themselves for their athletes to return back to shore for one of their feeding breaks. I have visions of it looking like a high country salmon farm, thankfully I’m completely wrong this time. Instead, the swimmers appear eager to eat, but full of joy to finally be part of this epic feat.


Being out on the water is such a treat. It’s a viewpoint that not so many get, although, I’ve noticed that this particular support crew is growing and growing as each year passes. The water is littered with athletic souls all giving their all. Now and then, you see one rest up, just checking in with themselves that all is good. What’s also noticeable, is that this safety crew always notices, gives the swimmer some time and generally keeps an eye on them, checking in if they feel they need to. It doesn’t feel like one of those cut throat sporting events where only the best time will do. This is different, it’s a challenge and everyone gets that.

The shorter of all the legs, a division of the Ruby where many competitors are making their initial foray into open water swimming, is where the swimmers swim from Waterfall Creek out to the jetty on Ruby Island and back. Their halfway treat is to dive off the jetty. My treat is to do my very best to capture each of these daring jumpers as they enter the water in their own particular way. Without a doubt, this is the hardest part of the day for me.

It’s hard to get the line right to shoot this properly. The water is foaming with high arms and swim caps rendering using the motor safely next to impossible. The wind pushes us away from where we want really be, yet the stream of swimmers emerging from the water and running down the boards of the wharf is seemingly endless. I can feel the energy from them as they run along, they still have to make their way back, but they know they’ve made it half way. A pause for celebration and a way to get their breath back as well as the perfect injection of fun into a sporting event. This is yet another way how The Ruby differs from many other events, it’s challenging and fun.

Water marshalls are on the increase in The Ruby

When the last of the divers has entered the water we start our journey back to shore passing multi coloured hats throughout the lake, it’s obvious, even from a distance that the lake shore is a much busier place than the one I left an hour or so ago.

As you’ve probably already figured out, the Ruby is an event that is focused upon getting people swimming, so it will be no surprise to know that there is a strong category for the juniors - The Little Gems. This is loved by the kids and parents alike and this year there is a new addition to this age group, a race for those young people who face many more challenges that most of us do in our day to day lives.

This small but extremely dedicated group of young people and their support crew were lining up in the water to start their race just as we were pulling into shore. Once again, I find myself being inspired beyond belief as I see the looks on their faces, a mixture of excitement, nervousness and most all happiness.

I raced along the shore line headed for the finish so I could see these incredible individuals come out of the water. They’d been training hard for this and it showed. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled and stood on end as they emerge from the water, greeted by loved ones and friends on the shore. Pride was oozing out of everyone who was lucky enough to be part of this, could this be one of the greatest challenges of the day?


Having lived in Wanaka for 12 years, as I walk along the shore it’s a mixture of taking photographs and catching up with people I’ve gotten to know as a part of small town life. There’s a great vibe with people celebrating their achievement or support their friends and family. Not only do I see people I know from around town, there are a fair few familiar faces that I remember from shooting previous races.

Eddie is going great guns on the microphone as the results are compiled. The que for the coffee cart appears to be growing exponentially whilst people stretch out their tired bodies. One of the things that strikes me though, is it’s not the winning that wins today. Sure, everyone is stoked for those who have come in fastest, of course they are, but they are just as stoked for everyone who has taken part. Community runs deep through this event and it really is the journey that is important, well, that and the quality of water they’ve all been swimming in.

The Ruby and the Lake Wanaka Swimmers are all passionate about the declining water quality. Rather than sit around and complain, they’ve taken matters into their own hands. They use the lake regularly so are in a position to make some observations and collect some evidence as to what’s actually happening. Seeing the lake snow on Doug at the end fo the swim really is scary. It doesn’t stick to wetsuits, but it does stick to skin. There is a perception that this beautiful body of water is pure as, it’s not and it’s getting less so. Isn’t it great that a user group goes to this much effort?

Getting back to the day though and soon enough the prizes are being given out, the rings go to their new owners who aren’t the lake and the spot prize table soon clears. As I make my way back to the car to go home I begin my process of reflection of the day. I think about the highlights and I do what I can to think about which images I want to get out before the end of the day. This is one of the things we offer our clients, a selection of images quickly. We understand that you want to show off as soon as possible, as well as provide high class imagery for your press releases. We’ll have this selection to you by the next morning, and if you need it faster, you just need to let us know and we’ll do everything we can to make it happen.

If you’re feeling inspired by what you’ve read and seen, you can pop on over the The Ruby Website to register for next years event.

You can connect with Lake Wanaka Swimmers and Touchstone on Facebook to find out more about their citizen science experiments on Lake Wanaka.

If you’d like to see all of our photos from the day, have a peek at our Facebook Photo Album.

If you’d like us to capture your event, then we’d love to hear from us. Quite simply or give us a ring on
021 247 2211 and we can start planning.