Underwater cameraman Steve Hathaway: The luckiest guy on the planet

Steve Hathaway filming orca
Eli Martinez

Steve Hathaway filming orca

He had a typical "westie" childhood growing up on the Te Atatu peninsula but these days Steve Hathaway has to pinch himself at the life he is leading.

After filming for a documentary on the endangered Maui's dolphin off Auckland's west coast, Hathaway has just returned from a week shooting underwater footage on the Great Barrier Reef with his daughter Riley, for another series of their underwater series Young Ocean Explorers.

From snorkelling as a youngster to learning to dive at 16, Hathaway grew up on Zane Grey stories. 

Riley interviewing Dr Ingrid Visser for an Orca story on Young Ocean Explorers. Matt Gerrand - cameraman from Algies bay
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Riley interviewing Dr Ingrid Visser for an Orca story on Young Ocean Explorers. Matt Gerrand - cameraman from Algies bay

But his love of the ocean didn't match his job as a builder or his desire to present his own fishing show. 

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Swimming with
orcas

Eleven years ago, after a stint in the United States cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina, Steve asked his wife, Jo, if she'd let him pursue his fishing show idea. 

Steve Hathaway filming seals for TV Show The Zoo.
Rhiannon Horrell

Steve Hathaway filming seals for TV Show The Zoo.

He acknowledges that with three children it was a brave decision for her to agree to.

"It was a huge risk and I easily spent $250,000 on equipment," he said, including a custom-made boat for the open ocean and camera work.

But he turned out to be the best cameraman of the friends he'd got together to help.

A Maui dolphin bow riding off the Manukau Harbour west coast during the 2017 photographic survey.
Steve Hathaway

A Maui dolphin bow riding off the Manukau Harbour west coast during the 2017 photographic survey.

After seeing his children's fascination with his footage of marine animals, rather than fishing footage, he changed direction.

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The boat and his friendship with Orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser helped him get into serious underwater filming.

For years he'd been calling call her 0800 SEE ORCA hotline after spotting orca while out on the water.

Steve Hathaway of Snells Beach
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Steve Hathaway of Snells Beach

Organising a talk for her at Snells Beach in 2010, Hathaway got to meet legendary documentary filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau, in the country making a documentary about Visser's work with orca. 

Hathaway volunteered his boat free and to be 'slave' if he could tag along with Cousteau and his crew.

To his surprise Cousteau agreed.

It was a real 'pinch-me' moment to have the famous man cooking them all dinner in the kitchen, Hathaway said.

Hathaway's footage of orca – his first job - was used in Cousteau's documentary. His second job, again with Visser, was used for a Discovery Channel documentary.

The reaction to a school project video for daughter Riley's class, with Riley presenting saw another spin-off.

With Riley keen, and all self-funded, he filmed a short series of five minute episodes on marine life for children's TV show What Now.

Three years later Young Ocean Explorers is still going strong.

"Riley has a great future ahead of her as a presenter if she chooses to keep at it," he said.

Hathaway now has a $175,000 grant from New Zealand On Air to develop a marine life interactive website.

Aimed at kids and the classroom, the site will incorporate some of the spectacular underwater footage Hathaway has shot over the years.

It's this move away from traditional media to using short form video and short narratives to tell stories, aimed mostly at children, that has seen Steve carve out a niche for himself, marine expert with University of Auckland Dr Rochelle Constantine said.

As a relative new comer he is amongst a small group of camera operators who are really making a mark with their work, she said.

These include Richard Robinson (Snells Beach), Darryl Torkler ( Mahurangi West), former Warkworth resident and marine biologist Andrew Penniket, and Peter Crab (Leigh Marine Laboratory).

"Some of the footage Steve shot has gone into Blackfish, the documentary that has been seminal in changing the way people view keeping dolphins and orca in captivity," Visser said.

"While he isn't a marine expert, his enthusiasm to educate the public on how amazing the ocean is and the life that lives in it has seen him become a great citizen scientist," Visser said.

Constantine agrees.

"He's not encumbered by details, he's not trained as a marine scientist but he has a really keen eye because he spends so much time under the water looking at what's going on with such fresh eyes.

"He's always enthusiastic and it makes me recall that it IS cool."

To rise to the top of natural world documentary making, Hathaway would have to spend considerable time away from his family, something he's not prepared to do.

Hathaway had been fascinated by the BBC TV series Blue Planet especially the Open Ocean episode, long before he got into camera work.

He recalls thinking the guy filming that episode was the luckiest guy on the planet.

So it was a poignant moment when he found himself recently sitting on the back of his boat with his camera gear ready to film false killer whales. 

"I look behind me to the producer of Open Ocean sitting on my boat and I am the underwater camera man for this one episode"

"I was that guy – the luckiest guy on the planet."

 - Stuff

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