Longtime SI senior writer Steve Rushin thought he had done it all: He’s a four-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, the winner of the 2005 National Sportswriter of the Year Award and his work has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Travel Writing and The Best American Magazine Writing collections. And then he got the assignment of a lifetime – covering Kate Upton’s 2013 Swimsuit shoot in Antarctica. SwimDaily caught up with Steve to discuss the experience:
SwimDaily: What was your reaction when you were asked to go to Antarctica to cover a swimsuit shoot?
Steve Rushin: My reaction was, “What? I seem to have bad cell coverage — it sounded like you asked me to go to Antarctica for the swimsuit issue.” My second reaction, when I learned it was for real, was, “Is that safe? Where will we sleep? What will we eat?” The news that we’d be staying on a luxurious oceangoing megayacht eased my fears somewhat, though I was still deeply concerned about seasickness. I get motion sick on a swingset, and now I was heading to the Drake Passage, considered by many to be the roughest sea on Earth.
SD: You joined SI 25 years ago and have worked on numerous assignments. What are your favorites and where does Antarctica rank?
SR: It’s among my favorite stories and almost certainly the most spectacular place I’ll ever visit, barring space travel. Many of my favorite stories have involved exotic travel to strange places under bizarre circumstances. I went to Greenland to play ice golf, a trip that involved several helicopter rides and a dogsled. For another story, I went to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia to find the northernmost golf course in the world. I played a course that straddles the Finland-Sweden border. There’ s an hour time difference between the two countries, and in midsummer there is 24 hours of sunlight. So I was able to tee off at 11:30 on a Saturday night in Sweden and hit the ball into Finland, where it was 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. I literally drove the ball into next week. The Arctic Circle is a long way to go for a joke, but that’s what I did. Then, while in Tierra del Fuego, en route to Antarctica, I saw Ushuaia Golf Club, the southernmost course in the world. I feel like I’ve nailed down the polar golf beat for SI.
SD: You are one of the lucky few who has seen a swimsuit shoot up close. Any observations that might not be apparent to the reader at home?
SR: As the lone member of the 12-person crew with nothing to do at the shoot — the photographer, hair and makeup people, documentary filmmakers all had specific jobs to do — I felt slightly ridiculous, and self-conscious, standing around with the penguins, who frequently came over to check things out. As a 46-year-old father of four, I also thought, as I would at home in New England: She’s going to catch a cold going out in that. As Kate said at one point, “I was not dressed appropriately out there.”
SD: What was it like hanging out with Kate Upton? How did the men in Antarctica, who seldom see living, breathing women, react to her?
SR: She couldn’t have been nicer or more down to earth, and always kept a sense of humor. I never heard her complain about anything, even though she was the one wearing swimsuits on 20-degree days in Antarctica. Checking out of the hotel in Buenos Aires at 2 a.m., when the bellhops asked for a picture, she happily obliged. That sort of thing happened everywhere we went, as it must everywhere she goes. But bear in mind that when all of us were out and about in Antarctica, and the shoot wasn’t going on, everyone was in a parka and hat and snowpants and sunglasses and often a ski mask. Under those circumstances, we all looked alike.
SD: Describe a typical day during the shoot. How cold was it? When did you get up? What did you eat?
SR: A loudspeaker in each of our cabins would wake us every morning around 7:15, if you weren’t already awake by then. (The sun only went down for a few hours at night, setting around 11:30 p.m., rising around 2:30 a.m.) Every morning we’d take these little motorized rubber Zodiac rafts to a location, and then again every afternoon. Each trip lasted two or three hours. The days were very sunny — we were under the hole in the ozone, and my sunglasses were 100% UV blocking — and not as cold as you’d imagine. Highs were typically in the 20s, and the coldest it got on a shoot was the first day, when it suddenly began to snow horizontally and the windchill hit -1. By then, the shoot — and the model — had been wrapped up.
Nights on the ship were spent eating and drinking like Roman emperors — five-course French meals, if you wanted that sort of thing — and standing on the decks watching the icebergs glide by, looking for whales and albatrosses through binoculars, more eating and drinking, and trying unsuccessfully to persuade the piano player and lounge singer to let us take over the microphone for karaoke.
SD: Where does covering a swimsuit shoot in Antarctica rank among your career achievements?
SR: On my deathbed, as my life flashes before my eyes, I’m unlikely to see that long-ago weekend I spent in Oakland doing that story on the A’s. But the two weeks I spent in Antarctica will make the highlight reel.
SD: The SI Swimsuit issue turns 50 in 2014. Who is your all-time favorite swimsuit model?
SR: Kate Upton for coining the phrase “Extreme Economy”. We had just gotten off a long flight on a very crowded plane, and she was in the way back, possibly in a middle seat, maintaining her sense of humor after two long days of travel, with two long days of travel ahead. And that was just go get to Antarctica. One of the major air carriers should trademark — Extreme Economy — for the kind of seat I frequently find myself in.
SD: All in all, rate your swimsuit experience on a scale of 1-100.
SR: -1 Fahrenheit, -18 Celsius.