For powerboat photography purposes, helicopters in Buffalo, N.Y., are scarce. No one knows this better than Tony Scioli, the organizer of last weekend’s Buffalo Poker Run on Lake Erie. In the months leading up to the event, Scioli searched for an airship to fly photographer Jeff Helmkamp but came up blank.
“I had six or seven helicopters ‘lined up’ and all of those deals didn’t work out for one reason or another,” he explained. “And they all charged a ridiculous amount.
“It was a debacle from the beginning,” he added.
The Out of Control Skater catamaran was one of almost 40 entries in the last weekend’s Buffalo Poker Run. Photos by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos.
Scioli ended up hiring a local helicopter tour operator. It was the best he could do, but it didn’t work. The pilot couldn’t remove the aircraft’s doors, a standard must for photographers shooting powerboat action from the air, and last Saturday’s unstable weather in Buffalo made matters worse. With lightning reportedly in the area, the helicopter was done for the day by time the 37-boat fleet stopped for lunch.
“The helicopter was a 97-percent bust, which is to say that during the 37 minutes we were in the air I captured 10 maybe useable running shots,” Helmkamp said, then laughed. “And that was with me practically laying in the pilot’s lap to get an angle to shoot through a window as big as my wallet.”
Sporty water was the order of the day for the 2023 Buffalo Poker Run.
Scioli could have shrugged and chalked it up to a tough helicopter rental market and the weather gods. The Buffalo event, as previously reported, is his last poker run as an organizer. None of the participants in the mix would have blamed him for circumstances he couldn’t control.
But as the many friends he’s made through event-organizing can attest, the guy doesn’t quit. So after lunch, which Helmkamp described as “the best” he’s ever had at a poker run, Scioli and the professional shooter headed to the Grand Island Bridge and captured the fleet together from their elevated perch over the Niagara River.
“We managed to get some nice overhead running shots of every single boat in the run that chose to wait for us,” Helmkamp said. ”Then most of the fleet went to RiverWorks in downtown Buffalo, a very cool spot on the Buffalo River.”
Added Scioli, “We did get a window of some good sunshine on Saturday.”
Combined with an “angry Lake Erie,” in the words of Helmkamp, the weather that chased off the helicopter also chased away a chunk of the 45 registered boats. That still didn’t stop many of those participants from simply enjoying the day at the Templeton Landing host venue and staying for the awards ceremony and banquet.
Captured from multiple angles, there was no shortage of action during the weekend happening in Western New York.
“People came for the parties,” Scioli said. “I think we had 130 people at dinner.”
More than a post-poker-run bash, the celebration was a retirement party of sorts for the generous and big-hearted organizer. Scioli has organized or helped organize go-fast boating events for more than 10 years, but he makes his living in the restaurant business. He and his wife, Sara, have four children at home. Their lives are plenty busy.
Though Elite Poker Runs, the organizing entity Scioli launched in 2015, never delivered the return he had hoped for, Scioli has no regrets.
“None at all, though I have to admit life never felt so good as it does right now,” he said. “We’re headed on a family vacation this week.
“I suppose I would have liked to find someone to take over the individual runs like Erie, but that didn’t happen,” he added.
That doesn’t necessarily make last weekend’s happening the final Buffalo Poker Run.
“I think Buffalo potentially will live on in some aspect,” Scioli said. “There is enough interest—a few friends have expressed interest in carrying it on.”
Faces of the 2023 Buffalo Poker Run.
If and when that happens, Scioli will not be joining them.
“I might work with them in a consulting role,” he said. “That would be the extent of my involvement.
“But this year was cool,” he added. “I had a great time, and I think everyone else had a great time.”
Added his friend Helmkamp, “Everyone I spoke to said it was a great event. Tony always does everything first class.”
Though the future of the Buffalo Poker Run is in question, there’s zero doubt about Templeton Landing being one of finest venues in Northeast for go-fast boating events.
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