Pirate Mud Wrestling

Samantha Pineda (right) of Queen Creek avoids being thrown out of the ring, and comes back to win her match during the Pirate Mud Wrestling event that went down in a back alley behind Gotham City Comics & Coffee in Mesa. July 23, 2011 Darryl Webb/AFN

They had me at "Pirate Mud Wrestling."

I've shot a lot of things in my 20-plus-year career as a photojournalist. I've photographed four U.S. presidents, three Super Bowls, a World Series, extreme forest fires and the aftermath of 9/11 at Ground Zero. All of those major events never get dull. It's the news and it needs to be covered, and I loved every second of it.

But not every assignment is so momentous, so not worth giving up your Saturday night for. So when one does come along I like to jump on it, like I did last Saturday night in the back alley of a comic book store in downtown Mesa.

I read the story in our sister paper, the East Valley Tribune. The headline: "Mesa Comic Shop hosts Pirate Wrestling." I saw so many visuals in my head I was dizzy. I HAD to shoot this event. I contacted Mandy Zajac, the Get Out editor, and she put me in touch with the Arizona Corsair Network organizer Jennifer Muraca, who told me they would love to have me join them and to get the publicity. But Muraca did express some concerns about photographing the women wrestling and the compromising positions that might happen during their matches. She didn't want to see suggestive photos that would put her girls in a bad light. After all, most of these women are working professionals who just wrestle for fun and, in this case, for charity. I assured her nothing inappropriate would be printed or put online for the slide show, and she invited me down.

Finding the comic book store wasn't hard; all I had to do was follow the pirates walking down Main Street in Mesa. That's just not something you see every day. Mud was already flying by the time I got there and it looked like fun judging by the smiles on the faces of the wrestlers and the audience. All were having a dirty good time.

I couldn't wait to start shooting. Action got under way and it wasn't 45 seconds before I had mud on me and, minutes later, my camera. I guess I was a little close, but that's kind of my style. I like to get into what I'm shooting, I believe it makes me a better photographer.

The energy wasn't only in the 8-foot, mud-filled inflatable pool. The small but rowdy crowd was into it, cheering on their pirate queens. It was wet, dirty, muddy and fun. The girls were serious about competing, but as soon as Star Angel (the referee) blew the whistle, ending the match, there were hugs and laughter all around. Sure, there were a few nicks and scrapes and sore knees; after all they were grappling in a dimly-lit alley in a plastic pool on asphalt, all which added great character to the event. None of the wrestlers seemed hurt, except maybe for a few egos, but it was probably no worse for them than their second "job" - most compete in roller derby around the Valley.

I had a fantastic time shooting, got some great images and now I can say, "I shot Pirate Mud Wrestling." How many photographers can say that?

It's kind of funny, that same morning I woke up early to shoot kids hosing down runners with water soakers and water balloons and that was for a charity, too. So, in one full day, I shot some clean fun for charity as well as girls getting down and dirty for charity. That just goes to show there are a lot of people out there with big hearts willing to do just about anything to help others.

• Contact photographer: (480) 898-7910 or dwebb@ahwatukee.com

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