SAN DIEGO – The sun glistened off the Coronado Bay on Monday morning, reflecting toward a home with a splendid view of downtown San Diego and a negative edge pool.
Five yards closer to the house, a Charger Girl posed next to a fire pit in a bikini.
The setting for a portion of this year’s calendar shoot might be serene, but it’s not the most familiar to a bunch of women used to dancing.
“This is so much more than a lot of us ever dreamed of doing. A lot of us were like, ‘I want to be a cheerleader or be on an NFL field,’ but then above that we get to be models in this worldwide swimsuit calendar,” said third-year member Tiffany, a team captain.
“So I think it’s a little nerve-wracking because it’s stepping out of our comfort zones. It’s a different side of us. More sexy, classy and sophisticated. Not just the fun, peppy cheerleader side.”
Tiffany recalls being timid during her first photo shoot, waiting for direction on what pose to try next or where to position herself. Now experienced, Tiffany felt she injected more of her personality into the shoot Monday and felt more comfortable in front of the camera – and about 15 people that included photographers, videographers, hair and makeup artists as well as Charger Girls director Lisa Simmons.
“Let’s face it, most of them don’t have modeling experience,” Simmons said. “They’re in swimwear. It’s not the most comfortable. It’s like, ‘Whoa, I have two inches of fabric on and I’m going to get in front of this camera and try to make it work,’ but they do their homework.”
Simmons encourages the girls to flip through Victoria’s Secret catalogues or an issue of Maxim to find their favorite poses and prepare to be comfortable in front of the camera, which is vital for taking good photos.
The process takes months. The girls visit a high-end swimwear line in La Jolla called Sauvage for a fitting. Sauvage pulls about 40 suits from their inventory. The girls try on suits they like, or Simmons gives then a few suggestions.
Team photographer Mike Nowak snaps several dozen shots of each girl, beginning a process to select the best ones.
“You literally have months of preparation. You’re always thinking about the calendar and what it’s going to be like, and then you watch the girls take a picture and it’s like five minutes,” said rookie Kara, who shadowed the girls Monday to know what to expect for her own shoot. “Three months to five minutes. It’s worth that five minutes though.”
Monday started at 5 a.m. as the girls arrived in Coronado at the shoot location. Tiffany, the first to pose, got into the hair and makeup chair around 5:30 a.m. and was photo-ready near 7 a.m.
All the girls arrived at 5 a.m. and planned to stay at the house through the day regardless of when their shoot occurred. Several milled around in a kitchen area just inside the back patio, giggling, sharing stories and watching.
Arriving at that hour ready to look pretty isn’t easy. Tiffany lives in Orange County, so she drove to San Diego and stayed with a friend the night before the shoot.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, I have my photo shoot tomorrow. I don’t want bags under my eyes so I really need to get to bed early,’ but I’m used to sleeping late and with the adrenaline and the jitters, it was really hard to fall asleep,” Tiffany said.
Between Nowak, Simmons and the hair and makeup artists and each other, the girls have plenty of support.
“I think it’s extremely gratifying seeing somebody so beautiful and thinking, ‘Oh wow, I did that,’” hair stylist Amber said. “Obviously somebody had to make them look good.”
The team tries to keep the girls comfortable while determining the best suit, pose and location for the pictures.
Nowak’s main challenges are bringing out the girls’ personalities while adding enough variance to keep the photos original year after year.
“These girls are dancers. They can go out in front of 65,000 people and rock it, but (the calendar shoot) gets a little nervous for a couple of the first-timers,” Nowak said. “You want them to be able to stand on their own individuality. I just try to capture that on film and make them as beautiful in a picture as they are in person.”
The Charger Girls soon will re-focus on practicing two or three times a week in preparation for the season. But they’ll delight in the results when the calendar comes out later this summer.“It’s surreal to see myself in a bikini calendar that represents the San Diego Chargers,” Tiffany said. “To see myself in a full-sized photo is definitely surreal but it’s also a really proud moment. I never imagined I would be able to have the honor of being a part of something that’s so big.”