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CAUGHT ON TAPE: Chris Tronolone

CAUGHT ON TAPE: Chris Tronolone
By Paul Lang and Ryan Riccitelli

Originally Published in the December 2009 Issue of The Kiteboarder Magazine

I can remember the first time Gary Martin, the Technical Editor here at The Kiteboarder Magazine, came home from the first Surf Expo trade show. He managed to get a promo tape from Airush with some of the very first footage of Lou and Elliot and the rest of the Maui crew throwing it down wakestyle. The video had it all, and Lou Wainman and Elliot Leboe made jumping 30 feet on two line kites look easy as pie. Within a few months, that very first footage progressed into the video that changed my life. I have spoken with many people over the years who say that High is the video that grabbed them by the balls and made them want to learn to kiteboard.

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There are always unsung heroes hiding out behind the lens, and Chris Tronolone and his crew at Trononlone Productions have been there every step of the way. It gives me great pleasure to tell this story about a crew of regular dudes who helped put kiteboarding on the map. Led by Chris Tronolone, the kiteboarding movies made by Tronolone Productions have been instrumental in inspiring people to learn to kiteboard and in exposing kiteboarding to a much wider audience than would otherwise know about the sport. – Ryan Riccitelli

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It’s been almost a decade. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the last 10 years of kiteboarding?
The first thing that comes to mind is growth. It’s amazing, the amount of growth that we’ve experienced in kiteboarding which was just a novelty, and it’s really exploded into a worldwide phenomena. We’ve got a world tour, guys making free ride videos, and people giving lessons all over the world. It’s gone from a little backyard thing right here on Maui and it’s blossomed into a multinational sport. I’m really proud to have been a part of it.

How did you hook up with Lou Wainman and Elliot Leboe and what was it like putting together some of the very first footage of kiteboarding?
When I first met Elliot, I was shooting some windsurfing, and I was working with him a lot doing testing for a magazine. I first met Lou shooting with Elliot down at Camp One. They would go out, haul ass, and do bump and jump stuff. They would hit kickers and do huge forward and back loops. One day, Elliot called me and said, “Chris, you’ve got to come down and check this thing out, it’s this new thing Lou and I are doing.” I met them down at Sprecks and jumped in the water. They were doing double and triple back rolls and front rolls over my head, and it was amazing. Everything fell into place. We immediately started filming everyday and they had a house right on the beach where we would watch the footage. I knew we were onto something big. Through my affiliation with Lou and Elliot, since I was basically the first to be filming the sport and they were the first radical-style riders, most of the work that would come through would go to us. I was really fortunate, and I owe those guys a lot.

What was your background and had you done anything like this before?
My background as a cinematographer was in surfing and windsurfing. Surfing was a rush, you would get someone doing five-foot airs over your head and barrels were pretty exhilarating. Windsurfing was very exhilarating because they would do really huge airs, but kiteboarding was definitely the apex of it. The stuff that people would do on a kite, even in the beginning, was just mind blowing.

Did you think High, the first film you released, would be as popular as it was? Were you surprised when someone like Bertrand Fleury showed up in Maui because of that film?
I knew I was on to something huge with High because I had distributors knocking on my door before it was even done. As things progressed during the production, filming, and editing of the movie, I was surprised because it seemed like it was really blossoming into something great. When I premiered it in Leucate, France, I was invited to show it at the Cannes Film Festival. Back filming at Kite Beach, I was shooting Awake, and Bertrand showed up and he was speechless. His English was terrible, but he was saying that Lou was his hero and he was here to follow in Lou’s footsteps. This made me feel really proud, and I know it made Lou really proud too. To have people come seek you out because of something you made is a really nice feeling.

Lou Wainman became famous in the sport of kiteboarding, in large part due to his exposure in the Tronolone films. How far ahead of everyone else was he in the early days? Did anyone else even come close?
Lou was 100% ahead of everyone else. He was always ahead of his time. I think that just now some of the guys on the PKRA are catching up to the ability that Lou had in the beginning. It was amazing. He was light years ahead of everyone else. Even Elliot was having a hell of a time keeping up with Lou. Lou set the bar so high, that only now, 10 years later, are other riders starting to reach it.

How is kiteboarding on Maui different now than in was back when you filmed High and Awake?
The main difference between now and way back then is that we barely had a beach when Awake was filmed. We were battling it out with the windsurfers at Sprecks, and now we have like three beaches. We went from nothing, just a small faction of windsurfers, to become our own sport with our own beaches and our own crews.

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What is the craziest story that you probably should not mention but you will that you experienced in your filming career?
At the end of High, when I needed to make some money Lou and Elliot offered me $80 to run into Burger King naked, say I had to take a crap, and drop a Whopper out of my ass. I ran outside, did three cartwheels, and ran all the way to Starbucks.

Tronolone Productions has always been a family affair. Who are all the members of the Tronolone Team?
There’s myself; of course my Dad, Sebastian Sr.; Buster; and Sebastian Jr.; and then we’ve got Shanti Berg; Nick; Elliot and Lou, the forefathers of course; and there’s a bunch of other guys too. My wife is my partner, and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of people who care about me, especially my wife. She’s the best.

What is your roll now with the PKRA?
My job is to produce television shows with Shanti and Buster and get them aired in North America and Europe. I work with Mauricio Toscano and the whole team at PKRA to promote the tour on television and in video.

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Are kiteboarding DVDs important anymore? Do they have as much impact and influence as they used to since the evolution of YouTube and other video sites?
Kiteboarding DVDs will always be important because having a tangible movie that you can carry around with yourself gives people pride in ownership and allows people to collect them and riders to sign them. YouTube and internet streaming has definitely changed things because it gives you the ability to release the media immediately, but DVDs will always be important to the sport of kiteboarding.

What are some of the challenges to shooting and producing kiteboarding videos?
Getting the location, conditions, and the riders together. Basically you have to be in the right place at the right time, with the right riders. It also helps to have really good equipment.

What other projects have you been involved in outside of kiteboarding?
I’m currently working on an independent feature film that I’ve written and I’m producing in conjunction with Shanti Berg. I’m also working with a new network called the Extreme Sports Network, which is airing on the Dish Network.

Who have been your favorite riders to shoot with?
If I had to list them, they would be Lou and Elliot, the Space Monkeys Crew of Jaime Herraiz, Will James, Martin Vari, and Jeff Tobias, and also Niccolo Porcella is really fun to work with. He has a great style and a great attitude. Aaron Hadlow, Kevin Langaree, Ruben Lenten, and everyone from the PKRA have also been great. It’s hard to name your favorite rider. Everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing. I love all of you guys.

What type of equipment are you using to shoot now? How does that compare with what you started with?
I’m using Panasonic P2 equipment right now. It varies a lot. Back in the day I used a VX-1000, which was DV and was recorded on tape. Now I shoot full-sized uncompressed HD onto hard drives.

You have been hanging out with and filming Niccolo Porcella since he was 13 or 14. What has it been like watching him grow up in front of your lens?
It’s been amazing. I just edited a sort of nostalgia piece for Wainman Hawaii going from his early days up to the present. Niccolo is actually starring in one of my independent films, so look for a lot more from Niccolo Porcella. He’s an amazing athlete and an amazing person.

Are there any new projects on the way from Tronolone Productions?
We’re coming out with a really bad-ass DVD. You’ll see the ads and the internet promo coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Looking back over the last decade, what do you think is next?
We’ll be seeing more people pulling 720s than just Andre Phillip and Aaron Hadlow. We’ll be seeing 1080s and triple handlepass rotations, bigger wave riding, more barrel rides, and bigger sliders. Basically, we’ll be seeing more of the same, just times ten.

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