Pittsburgh from the Water

One year ago, WQED-TV video-photojournalist Paul Ruggieri was asked by executive producer David Solomon if he would want to spend the next year creating a show that would capture four seasons of activities on western PA waterways. If Paul accepted the assignment, he’d have to produce, direct, film, and edit the one hour special, “Pittsburgh from the Water”.

Paul responded, “This is an enormous task!” And then he said, “Yes!” During the course of the next 12 months, the 26-time Emmy Award winner experienced western PA as he never did before and learned some life lessons along the way.

Paul with cameraDon’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. I had no experience on the water, yet I had to come up with all of it. I had to invent the show from scratch with no idea of what to expect. When you can say “yes” even though you don’t know how you’ll get it done – that’s when you know that you believe in your abilities to succeed.

Work through challenges. Amos Ludwig, Ohiopyle State Park ranger, invited me to videotape him when he was kayaking in the winter. He called me on a Sunday in January. I said, ‘Amos, we’re having the biggest snowstorm of the season! He said, “I’ll be there, see if you can make it. On my way up the mountain, I passed by many accidents. The temperature was 27 degrees with a wind chill far below that. When I arrived he was ready to go. Amos was wearing a dry suit, but his face wasn’t covered. I’m getting a shot of him coming down the rapids and he’s getting drenched in ice-cold water. I shot it from the shoreline and had a small GoPro camera mounted on his boat. Ahead, Amos could see the river was frozen over, so he had to pull out of the water and take a 40 minute hike back around. He carried his kayak on a trail through the woods in the falling snow. All the while the camera attached to the boat was still recording. It was some of the best footage of the entire show.

Always look into the details before promising your kids something! After seeing so much from the water, I promised our six kids (ages 6-18) that I’d rent a boat and take them to Yough Lake. Then I discovered I needed a license to operate a boat. So I took a four hour Boater Safety Education online course and studied a 200 plus page manual. This was most stressful because I didn’t want to let my kids down. I had to pass the license test and I did. Then I took them out for a half day on the water in a pontoon boat with the older kids in inner tubes tied to the side. They had so much fun.

Don’t underestimate the kindness of people. If they believe in what you’re doing, people will go out of their way to help. Amos organized a group of kayakers to go over the falls at Ohiopyle so that I could get those shots. Boater, Don Kortlandt, took me out a few times to the Point and three rivers to capture water skiing and jet skiing against the Pittsburgh skyline. When I needed two kite skiers to wear GoPro cameras on the ice at Moraine State Park, kite skier, Charles “Chuck” Stumpf made it happen. I gave him a long list of shots I needed and he went over and above my request. Jarred Romesburg, owner of Romesburg Media, made Regatta racing footage from over 20 cameras available to me. These are just a few of the people who supported this effort.

Get out of your chair. I was surprised to find all the happenings from the building of barges in Brownsville to ice sailing and kite skiing at Moraine State Park in the winter. So many people are active on the water all of the time. In the middle of the winter, there is Amos, all alone with nobody else at the park. He was just alone with nature. Seeing people enjoying the waterways in every season makes you want to get out of your lazy chair and go make a memory.

Paul added, “The one year I spent working on this show made me appreciate the natural resources and waterways we have in this region. It’s something we take for granted.”

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