Whitewater Wedding

"I want more of my kayaking buddies to get married," said Michael Donlin, "because I get to mix two things that I like doing – paddling and photography."

Such an opportunity came the way of the Jim Thorpe whitewater paddler and photographer. Donlin moved there after moving from Maine to help his brother set up a photographic studio in Berwick. It reminded him of Maine, and one of the first things he did after moving to Jim Thorpe was apply to become a raft guide.

He was hired by Jim Thorpe River Adventures in 2006, before it changed ownership.

"They threw us in whatever and there wasn't much training," Donlin said. "I was in a ducky and I carried a camera for fun."

Soon, while all his fellow guides had become better boaters, Donlin became a better photographer.

On Sundays, when there wasn't much demand for guiding or photography, the guides would get together for what they termed, Crack of Noon Boating. A boating buddy, Renee Winters, told him about a paddling couple from the Philadelphia Canoe Club that were looking for a wedding photographer – one who could take pictures of them paddling together.

Upon speaking with the couple, Donlin learned that along with coverage of their wedding reception at the Canoe Club, they wanted photographs of a trip they would take a week before their wedding during the spring Tohickon Creek release.

"I'd only run the Tohickon in the fall release," Donlin said. "So, I said that I would throw that in the package too. It gave me a good reason to go boating.

"I wanted to do that for the awesomeness," Donlin noted. "and when I agreed to photograph the trip, the rest of the wedding party signed-on."

The groom, David Brumbelow, paddled a black playboat kayak with black gear. He wore a tuxedo shirt over his life vest, and attached a plastic top hat to his helmet.

The bride, Katie Smalley, paddled a white kayak and wore a white top over her safety vest. A veil was attached to her helmet and a bouquet of flowers was tied to her sprayskirt. The bridesmaids were all dressed in purple.

"Wearing outfits over flotation vests sure made everyone look strange," commented Donlin.

"My husband was a whitewater kayaker and he got me into the sport, Katie explained. "All summer long we kayaked together and we thought it would be fitting that a week before our wedding it would be cool if we dressed up like bride and groom and went down the river together."

"Three of my girlfriends dressed as boat-maids and his friends became groom-paddlers and we went down the river together to show our love for each other and our love for the sport.

Donlin rode in a raft with his brother, Eddie, and raft guide, Dana Henninger. Michael felt that her paddling skill and knowledge of the creek made it possible for him and his brother to get to where they needed to go to get their photographs.

The brothers packed two Nikons digital SLR cameras, a D-90 and a D-300, and four lenses-an 80-200 mm, a 17-50 mm, a 10-17 mm fisheye, and a 50 mm F-1.8, all packed in a waterproofed Pelican case.

It was crowded on this first day of the Tohickon release, or as Michael described it, "When the release comes, every boater on the planet comes for the weekend, and the put-in and take-out are endless people."

To take the photographs free from the crowd, they opted to put-in upstream of the Lower Tohickon put-in.

Throughout the trip, the Donlins leapfrogged the wedding party, going ahead into an eddy, capturing them going through the rapids, then exiting the eddy and paddling ahead to the next eddy. Sometimes, Michael and Eddie separated to cover the armada from different vantage points.

In moving water, Michael used a technique he calls "riding the bull," where with one hand he takes photos while with the other hand, he holds onto a rope attached to the front of the raft – like a cowboy riding a bull.

At trip's end, he was amazed to have taken 1,129 pictures.

"I hope to cull them down to 100 pictures," he said.

To view the portfolio of Michael Donlin, see: michaeldonlin.com.