For photographer Jen Edney, the best adventures require waterproof gear
Things Jen Edney can do:
1. Convince the French skipper of Energy Team France to sail over her in a 44-foot long catamaran. Tread water like crazy to stay in the exact same position (so as not to get run over by other boats, yet remain in appropriate position to get run over by Team France). Take amazing photos of the boat’s underside as it flies directly overhead, the hull within grasp. Earn thousands of fans when the picture hits Facebook.
2. Spend 20 days aboard a VOR 70 Maserati with seven men speaking five languages in approximately 70 feet of space. Do this as a test of your physical stamina, your mental fortitude and your ability to tackle more voyages.
3. Apply to be media crewmember with the first all-women’s team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month yacht race around the world in a 70-foot sailboat with narrow hammocks, basic latrine, no change of clothes and freeze-dried fare. Anxiously await news from your dream job.
Things Jen Edney cannot do (except for very special friends):
“Shooting a wedding? That’s out of my comfort zone,” says the photographer, who resides in Waterloo when not on assignment around the globe.
Edney, 31, has a knack for pushing boundaries. She has voyaged over 40,000 nautical miles and visited more than 30 countries. Her photos have landed in the Los Angeles Times, ESPN, ABC, CBS, Sail magazine and Men’s Journal, to name a few. Over the past years, Edney has grown from a landlocked Nebraska girl to a fully immersed sailing photographer.
Surprisingly, the first step in her journey was curing her fear of the ocean. Although she grew up waterskiing lakes, Edney dreaded the sea and its unknown depths. A 60-day Outward Bound course sailing would do the trick, she figured. After graduating from Creighton University, she traveled to the Caribbean for her first test: jumping off the Outward Bound boat and swimming the length of it. “It was the hardest 150 feet I ever swam.”
Gradually, the anxiety subsided. As she sailed and took pictures, a skill she had first honed with her father on family vacations, she realized photography was her calling. She soaked up the craft. At a workshop, she met nature photographer and Nebraska native Thomas Mangleson and nabbed an internship. She took classes at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Venture, Calif., where she landed an internship with a local newspaper. Her daily assignment was shooting Zac Sunderland, a teenage sailor angling at becoming the first American under 18 to sail the world.
As people took notice of the teenage Magellan, they also took notice of Edney. After seeing her work, a documentary crew tapped her as the still photographer during Zac’s journey. The assignment took her to ports across the globe to document his 2009 quest. It proved to be a turning point. After shooting Zac on a stop in South Africa, Edney needed a way back to the Americas. She found a guy in route to the Caribbean on a narrow boat. Edney weighed the pros and cons. She’d save thousands in travel expenses, but it would take six weeks to cross the Atlantic with just two other crewmembers, instead of a quick three days by air.
She accepted, of course. The miles logged during that trip would pay off with new assignments – prestigious yacht races, elite regattas and daily life at sea. As she voyaged, she discovered a driving force behind her work – discovering why people choose a life connected to water. Some sail for the adventure. Some, like a father-son duo, sail because they lost a loved one. Some, like a retired couple, sail to be together.
“The ocean has played the biggest role in my growth, teaching me humility, patience, respect, the value of persistence, passion and a connection to something far bigger than myself,” Edney writes on her website. Edney, the unathletic girl who loved the X Games, may sail for the challenge. But perhaps she also sails for the ocean itself. “During rough times in my life, it’s healed my soul,” Edney said. “It’s very humbling to be out there.”
Job: Adventure photojournalist
Stomping grounds: West Omaha and Waterloo
Dream assignment: The Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month round-the-world yacht race