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Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago

Riding on Lake Michigan lands Meagan our first Cover Up feature.

February 8, 2018
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No matter what sport/hobby/activity you are into, getting a cover photo of a magazine has always been a big deal. With wakeboarding it has been no different. In fact, over the years, it has been a sort of rite of passage – a way for a rider or brand to stake its claim and raise its flag. With the evolution of media over the last decade the opportunity for actual cover photos has diminished, but the value of powerful photography has increased dramatically. Welcome to wakeboarding in the 21st century, and welcome to our first “cover up” feature. Covers don’t get printed like they used to – they get posted up online.

Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
The Great Lakes aren’t called inland oceans for nothing. Ryan Taylor
Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
Meagan + Method + Chicago = Cover Up #1 Ryan Taylor

Last summer Meagan Ethell approached us with an idea. She wanted to try to get some really unique shots on a location that was near and dear to her heart: Chicago. There are two things that immediately come to mind when you think of wakeboarding and Chicago: 1) “That skyline would look amazing!” And 2) “A Great Lake isn’t going to be easy to ride on…” We knew it was possible though, as several riders had done it in the past. Meagan reached out to her sponsors to see what kind of support she could get, and fortunately Nautique and Red Bull stepped up to the plate to help make it happen. We, meanwhile, hit up Minnesota-native photographer Ryan Taylor, who had just recently photographed Mike Dowdy riding on Lake Superior. If anybody could get the shots we were looking for, it was going to be Ryan.

Once we had dates, schedules, boats, and everything else lined up, we found ourselves with a three-morning window to make a killer photo happen. The photos had to be at sunrise because that’s when the sun lights up the Chicago skyline, and that’s really the only time you might get water calm enough to do some halfway decent wakeboarding in. As fate would have it only two of the mornings worked out, but fortunately it was all Meagan would need. When Ryan’s photos came across our screens after the second shoot, we knew we had a winner. Chicago, as you can see in the photos shown here, is a gorgeous city. During the downtime when they weren’t riding/shooting, Meagan, Ryan and the crew got out and explored as much as they could. From the infamous bean to a cruise through downtown on the Chicago River, they did a lot.

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When it was all said and done we sat down with Meagan to get some insight on how she got the idea for the shot and what it was like to actually try to get it.

Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
“While I was riding there, I was feeling really grateful for everything wakeboarding has given me and where it has taken me.” Ryan Taylor

What was it like growing up riding in Illinois?
I grew up in Illinois and moved to Florida at a young age to pursue wakeboarding. Both places are part of who I am. During the summers, I would come home to Illinois and I would ride on the Kankakee River. It was always a different vibe riding the river than riding the lake. So many good summer evenings were spent going up and down the river with Jeff McDade and his crew and, of course, my dad. Jeff was the one who actually helped out with the Lake Michigan shoot behind the scenes. Without him, this shoot would have been a challenge to make happen.

Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
Rough water and only two days to make it happen? No pressure for Meagan. Ryan Taylor

Had you ever ridden on Lake Michigan before this shoot? What gave you the idea to do something like this?
When I was at a Red Bull Athlete Summit a few years ago and we were asked what our dream project would be, right away, my mind jumped to riding in front of the Chicago skyline. Before this shoot, I had never ridden on Lake Michigan, but growing up, I had always passed the lake and wondered what it would be like. Lake Michigan is a staple in Chicago, so wanting to wakeboard there was something that sparked from a childhood fantasy that I always had in mind, and it was awesome to turn that dream into a reality.

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Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
You never know what kind of friends you’re going to make when you’re riding in Chicago… Ryan Taylor

You have to get pretty lucky with conditions on a Great Lake in order to wakeboard, what were they like when you were riding? How hard was it to get good shots?
Throughout the select days that we had to shoot, the conditions were a little crazy. Overall, we were riding on a Great Lake and we were lucky that we didn’t have any rain or a crazy number of clouds, but the water was pretty rough. I just really had to focus and concentrate on the end goal to stay sane during the shoot and get the shots. Ryan was awesome to shoot with and we worked great together, especially with all the conditional factors from the lake. It was a challenge to get good shots, but we got it done. I’m really stoked for everyone to see it!

What was it like to actually ride with Chicago in the background? What was going through your head?
It was pretty unreal. The buildings and skyline were truly insane. The fact that my sport took me back home and gave me this opportunity, I was really taken aback. This year, my grandmother passed away, and she used to take us to Navy Pier and throughout Chicago growing up. I felt like she was with me throughout that shoot and that I was meant to be there at that moment. This shoot in Chicago was so meaningful to me and one that I will take with me forever. While I was riding there, I was feeling really grateful for everything wakeboarding has given me and where it has taken me.

Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
Taking in some of Chicago’s sites (and sights). Ryan Taylor

What’s it like cruising through downtown Chicago on a G23?
I have always gone to the city, but I have never actually been able to go through the Chicago River, which is something that I have always wanted to do. It was for sure a cool experience, especially on a Nautique G23 which I am on everyday. It almost felt nonchalant to be cruising through downtown on a boat that I am so familiar with.

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What was the story with the boat/car that you got a quick pull behind?! That looked hilarious and awesome!
On the last day that we were shooting, we were really the only boat out on the water that morning, aside from this other boat/car. This boat/car was cruising around and started idling towards us. All of us were like “Ugh what are they doing? Are they about to ask us if they can go wakeboarding?” So this family of four comes up to us, and the dad driving the boat asks if I can ride behind their car/boat. Obviously I said yes because who wouldn’t want to ride behind a boat/car?! So I flipped my black vest around to the flower side and the dad drove me in a massive circle, probably around 30mph. It was a comical experience and made the morning that much better.

Cover Up: Meagan Ethell + Chicago
Cheers, Lake Michigan! Ryan Taylor

What does it mean to you get the first digital cover of WAKEBOARDING?
To connect my sport to my home was a surreal experience. It has been a dream of mine to score the cover of Wakeboarding Magazine since I was a kid. Although WAKEBOARDING isn’t doing regular print issues anymore, I am humbled to get the cover of what will be the first digital cover, and what will be a new normal in our era. It is exciting to obtain what I have been anticipating forever, but in a new form. To work and make it happen in a location like Chicago made it that more special. The fact that I had to make a lot of pieces come together, on top of getting the shot, was a truly rewarding experience for my first cover shoot.

Special thanks to my sponsors: Red Bull, Liquid Force, Nautique Boats, Performance Ski and Surf, my family, Garrett Cortese, Ryan Taylor, Jeff McDade, and WAKEBOARDING for making this whole thing come together!

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