Body-boarders, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
To best photograph this sport, I learned to track the surfers as they tried to select a suitable incoming wave, then lock focus on them as they tried to mount it, and finally follow the action with burst mode-shooting once they were up on the board and underway. This pair never mastered the treacherous quirks of this particular wave. Instead, they chose to ride it all the way to shore on their bellies, instead of their feet. The expressions on their faces at this moment best tell the story.
Blinded, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Some of my favorite surfing images turned out to be striking moments of failure. The surfers vary in skill levels from day to day and hour to hour. The waves vary in difficulty from moment to moment, as well. This surfer is already engulfed in flying seawater, and my image of him reveals one foot already on its way off the surfboard.
Adieu, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
The sheer scale of this particular wave dwarfs this vanishing surfer as he bids farewell to this run. The wave abstracts his entire body. We see only a shadow of the body, his arm, and his upraised gesture of futility. The luminous green wave is striking in its power and size.
Futility, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
In photographing a sport such as surfing, it is important to continue making images even though a surfer may have already failed. Many of the surfing images I made at Imperial Beach express the sense of futility following a disastrous run. This is one of the most eloquent. This surfer already has fallen off his board and is virtually invisible. We only see his hand emerging from a surging wave. Just as important, his board rises from the sea, echoing his absence. Meanwhile, I fill the frame with a double dose of massive waves, expressing the power of nature over man.
Persistence, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
This image of a surfer towing his board through the waves to get another chance at success is a study in persistence. Just getting back into position to catch a good wave is not a simple task. It takes physical strength and some dedication to haul a surfboard into the face of such massive oncoming waves for just another try. The green, blue and white colors of the churning ocean tell a story as well.
Mastery, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
I froze the eloquent body language of this surfer at a shutter speed of one-four thousandth of a second. It shows us that he is in complete control of his ride over the waves. Adding to his mastery of the sport is his flamboyant appearance – his entire body is covered with ornate tattoos. The blend of skill and decoration makes a memorable image when frozen in time.
Early warning, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
I quickly learned that much of a surfer’s success comes from his (or in this case, her) understanding of oncoming swells and waves. This woman is evaluating the height, speed, force, and direction of the approaching surfing opportunities. Wave evaluation is a tricky task, and was shouting a warning to her colleagues as I made this image. The blue color of the ocean here is particularly powerful. The colors of the sea depend upon the nature of the light itself, as well as the depth of the water.
Follow the flow, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
This surfer is moving sideways rather than forwards. He faces the massive wave that roars toward him as he threads horizontally along its base. I organized my photograph diagonally to emphasize the thrust of his unusual path as he follows the flow. By using a wider focal length, I increase the amount of water he has yet to successfully negotiate.
Carving a curve, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
This image is one of my favorite surfing pictures because of the story it tells. This surfer carves a curving slice into the diagonal torrent of water racing behind him. He triumphantly throws one arm up and extends the other down -- not only keeping his balance, but also celebrating the thrill of mastering the force of nature itself.
(This particular surfer, whose name is Bo Elliott, was among the most skilled I had the pleasure of photographing. A few days after I made this picture, he came up onto the pier where I was shooting, and asked me if I had made a picture of him in action that he could forward to his family in Georgia. He was the only surfer that I would actually get to speak with in Imperial Beach, and I was happy to oblige. I sent this photograph, among others, to Bo, and later received a note of thanks from his father.)
Golden moment, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Just as a setting sun turned the Pacific Ocean from green to gold, a young boy carrying a belly-board sprinted into my frame. His flying feet forced explosive bursts of water into the air, leaving a trail of glistening drops behind him. Meanwhile, a series of three waves surge towards him, creating a rhythmic matrix of horizontal lines that echo his dash through the edge of the surf. The image looked to me as if it came out of a dream. When I put this photograph through post-processing, I added a slight haze of grainy texture to the image, which intensifies the dreamy glow that gives this image its atmosphere and mood.
Suiting up, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
Sunset surfing begins with putting on a wet suit just before the sun dips below the horizon. I caught this surfer as he pulls the upper part of the suit on to his body. His upraised arm symbolizes his imminent departure. The texture of the sea acts a counter point to the texture of the golden clouds that fill the sky.
Surfers at sunset, Imperial Beach, California, 2014
I photographed 26 sunsets during my stay, and every one of them offered new content. As I made my sunset pictures, I noticed dozens of people, many using smartphone cameras, making pictures along side of me. When some of them shared their images with me, I noticed that all of them included only the sun, sky and sea. They all looked alike. On the other hand, I prefer to make sunset images that include additional content and context. Most of them featured people enjoying the sea and its shore as it was bathed in golden light. This image uses a setting sun as atmosphere, but most of the image is filled with a sea of varying hues. Near the bottom, a silhouetted surfer finishes his run at left, while three belly-surfers prepare to float on smaller waves. This image not only expresses the beauty of nature – it also tells the story of how man uses nature for his own pleasure.