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TWSSF: Where snow meets surf

13th annual Pro Photographer Showdown examines the many angles of action sport photography



What: Pro Photographer Showdown

When: Thursday, April 22, 8 p.m.

Where: Whistler Conference Centre

Cost: $20

In just a few weeks, a darkened Whistler Conference Centre will echo with resounding cries of "oohs" and "aahs" as the crowd takes in awe-inspiring shots by some of the world's best action sports photographers projected onto the big screen.

But this time around, there'll be plenty of barrel rolls and watery wipeouts sandwiched in alongside the epic pow-shots, as some of the industry's most prolific surf photographers strut their stuff on-screen.

While this is the 15 th year for TWSSF, it's actually the 13 th year for the festival's top-notch photography competition, the Olympus Pro Photographer Showdown. Over that time, the event has become a very big deal in the realm of action sports photography, with some serious cred and great prizes up for grabs.

This time around, almost 50 photographers from around the world applied to be a part of the competition.

"We send out a call for entries typically in early January and invite photographers from around the world to submit a three-minute demo show that's set to music and is illustrative of what they would put together if they were invited to be a finalist," said Lisa Richardson, spokesperson for Watermark Communications, the group organizing the festival.

A screening panel then sifts through the submissions. This year, they decided to shake things up a bit, featuring three invited photographers and three wild card entries who will face off for the $10,000 Best in Show award and the $1,000 People's Choice Award. This year, the six finalists are Brian Bielmann, Yves Garneau, Jeremy Koreski, Mason Mashon, Erik Seo and Grant Gunderson.

Though TWSSF is generally thought of as a ski and snowboard festival, the photographers aren't limited to winter sports as subject matter. And their nine-minute digital slideshows aren't designed to be pure ski porn; rather, they're meant to capture the spirit and lifestyle behind the sport. Just ask Brian Bielmann.

Bielmann, an established surf photographer, is one of the three wildcard entries.

Born on the East Coast, he moved to Hawaii in 1975 to pursue a life of sand and surf.

"All I cared about was surfing and anything to make a little money to keep surfing," Bielmann said.

That is, until a major surfing accident motivated him to start thinking about his future.

"I was about 21 years old and I had been doing lots of odd jobs: janitor and 'perishable food selector' - I was one of the guys that went into the 20-below freezer and selected food to go to the grocery store - so I just did all these odd jobs... and then finally I just kind of woke up one day and was like, 'what am I going to do for a living?'"