Sorry for the delay on this blog… As you know from Kyber’s writings we headed to Teahupo’o, one of the most menacing and impressive waves in the world. It captures not only the imagination of anyone who has seen this beast in a photo or on film but demands the respect of a deadly giant. The boys had ventured here before but this was to be my first glimpse of a wave that I had wanted to see, surf and photograph for years. Needless to say when I heard we were headed in that direction because of an approaching swell I was full of anticipation… a mixture of nervous excitement and sheer terror at having to be in the middle of this unforgiving wave that is literally the ocean folding in on itself over a shelf of razor sharp reef. “This wave has teeth” and I would have to not only to surf it but put myself right in front of the THICK crashing lip to get some shots. Luckily for me and anyone else watching we had the opportunity to see some of the world’s best surfers tackle this ola.
Teahupo’o (pronounced Te a hu po, Not poo! As I was quickly taught not to sound like a turista) is an extremely beautiful quiet place meaning “Wall of Skulls” and is found at the end of the road! This is where, as I usually seem to do in not such a bright fashion, I tried to learn the hard way!.. After only being in the water a handful of times trying to learn the ins and outs of surf photography I put myself in the harshest training ground in the business!! Right smack in the middle of 6-8 foot Chope’s… just in front of the impact zone with the worlds best putting on an amazing display of surfing. This was a great opportunity to get some sick shots and try not to get killed in the process. In the end this proved to be much harder than even I expected, and it was a lesson in overcoming frustration, disappointment and exhaustion.
The first day of my battle started with me nervously getting my camera gear ready for the onslaught of lip bashings and the rapid-fire capturing of images. Setting my camera to shutter priority at a hi speed (not to bore everyone with to many technical details) and alservo focus with the highest frames per second my camera allows, 8, to catch the most action as it goes by at chaotic speed. Ready and all carefully enclosed in the underwater housing (GRACIAS ERIK!!!!) we climbed into “red rocket” to go see what Chope’s had to offer. When we got there my anticipation turned to pure “Oh Shit! I am going in there?? “Bring it on” is all I could muster with half machismo, half this is just stupid! There was a zoo out in the channel… photo/ video boats, people just out to watch the show, about eight photogs in the water and of course the people everyone was there to see… Andy Irons, Corey Lopez, Jamie O’Brien, Danny Fuller, Kolohe Andidno and est. est. I slipped on my fins and swam in to join the circus. I was cautious that first session because I didn’t know exactly where the big sets were breaking. Even after watching for a while from the dink, being in the water is a whole new world as to positioning. There was also some west bowls coming through just cleaning out everyone holding a camera. So I did as anyone would do… sit just outside the photog’s who were already in the water. I did this not only to get a sense of what was happening from a minimal safe distance, but out of respect for the photographers who were working getting these shots for sponsors, surf mags and movies. I did not want to get in their way and ruin what would be a good shot and their way of making a living… and since I want these people to eventually be my colleagues, I did not want to start off on the wrong foot when I could learn so much from just watching them first hand.
After a waiting a while of a none stop shuffle of the current and getting some shots of the pros from a distance I started venturing closer and closer to the inside section. This was a exercise in stamina, strength and how long I could hold my breath while trying to stay in an optimal position to get a shot of Andy and company as they slid by me in the barrel. My first sequence in the more critical position went by with me shooting at a frenzy before having to duck and swim under the wave, all before the lip landed sending me towards the reef… I made it out the other side of the wave with a false sense of security, thinking “that wasn’t that hard.” Just as I thought that, Corey dropped in on a large set wave that seemed to come up and hit the shelf and triple in size in a matter of seconds. He made the drop and started driving right at me and the rest of the photogs… I started shooting him pumping down the line, but panic kicked in when I looked at where the wave was breaking! It was setting up to break just in front of me, or the lip was going to very well just end up detonating right on top of me. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh F*#k me!.. Was the last thing I yelled before Teahoupo’o unleashed all it’s furry on me. My brain must have sent my body into full survival mode because I don’t remember having any thought, not that I had time for such a luxury, as to how I was going to get through this. I just found myself entirely detached from my own body… I was swimming paddling and stroking like mad just to try to get as far away from the impact zone as possible when the inevitable happened… the current sucked with to much strength and drug me right into where the lip lands on the shallow reef bellow. All of about three feet of water. I have a fleeting image of trying to clutch the housing to my chest and brace myself for the worst. When the lip actually hit It felt like I was watching what was happening to me like as if it was happening to someone else, but still fully aware that it was my fate that was unfolding. Hope that makes sense because that is exactly what it felt like. I was torn in so many directions at once that I was just wondering when the horrible feeling of my flesh hitting the reef would bring me right back into my own body with the realization that real damage had just been done? To my astonishing luck that moment never came. I just got the most violent machine washing experience underwater I have ever had… even after getting drilled going over the falls in Puerto Escondido, and that is saying something. When the foam finally let me come up for air I realized my lungs were burning and gasping for air. That is when reality hit and I came up to see that, as it happens in surfing, it was all about to happen again as the next wave hit… again to my luck and surprise the wave had pushed me down the reef and into a safer place to get hammered. This time I hit the reef, getting only minor injuries. When it was all said and done I was washed out into the channel. After a short breather I had to swim back to go through the whole process again. I got out of the water exhausted and happy to have what I thought at the time to be some good shots, and to be in one piece.
When we got back to the Natty M and downloaded the photos I got a quick lesson in just how hard it is for a surf photographer to get a good working shot/ sequence. In an environment where you, the wave, the sea and the surfer are in constant motion, as well as wind bringing clouds to cover the sun it becomes a real task to get a clean, crisp up close image of the rider. Out of some 400 shots only a hand full made had any semblance of a good shot. Either the auto focus would delay and blur the image or I would track focus on the water moving in front of me and not the surfer. The result being that the surfer is out of focus and the water crisp as can be. All this due to small depth of field because of cloudy conditions etc, etc. No excuses in my first round out at Teahupo’o, many things “shit the bed” including me… I did not allow enough exposure for changing light conditions and my images paid the price for it. Seeing a perfect shot of Andy in the barrel only to have him out of focus is enough to piss any photog off. After seeing the sad state of my pics I was discouraged and flat!! So, I locked myself in my cabin for some good old-fashioned self-bashing. This is unfortunately how it went for a few days… trying new settings and exposures to get the focus right. I realized that autofocus was failing miserably and set the camera to a fixed focal point with hope of a wide depth of field. A dark day and a different break brought the surfers too close for that fixed focal length, so back to frustration and the proverbial drawing board.
To add to all this camera trouble… On my last surf session at a great right I managed to paddle into a wave and eat it. I didn’t even get a chance to get to my feet and when I came up to grab my trusty? Firewire surfboard it was snapped clean in two, this on my first wave no doubt. This I thought was the last straw… it was advertised as a much stronger board and “practically unbreakable” according to the company, yet there it was in two sad pieces. One less board in my quiver this early on… not good!! I had bought two firewires for this journey thinking that they would last longer as they were meant to be more durable and I had read an article about these boards, where Nev (the company owner) had stated that if it broke clean by a wave or defective, it would be replaced??? (as a side bar I have since e-mailed Firewire explaining the break and attached photo’s… I got a no such luck reply from the company, as to replacing the board under some silly analogy of even oil tankers sink?? They told me the board was not defective, how they know this without inspecting the actual board I do not know? It must be a go to reply to unhappy customers. But alas to inform anyone who wants to trust in the fact that these boards are much stronger than a regular PU boards, think again… this board broke on a less than threatening wave that my PU boards have survived. So, I am left an unsatisfied customer from to what seems to be false advertising from Firewire.
As it happens Murphy’s Law came to haunt me after battling with my images and a broken board, I also got the flu from exhaustion. But all was not lost… just when things look bleak a glimpse of good hospitality and new friendship restores faith that things after all are GOOD!!!! Josh Humbert provided this much needed lift in spirits. He is a fellow surf photographer new to the world of surf photography, living in a very cozy place that has the feeling of “home”. Surrounded by greenery. Josh who was/ is a spear fisherman by trade, before trying to tackle surf pics, invited us to his house for a freshly speared dinner. We ate, drank and talked like simple kings. He showed us his photos that were taken the same day I was out at Teahupo’o. His images where quite the site… They were deep barrel shots that spoke of how menacing and amazing that wave truly is. They are great shots that I hope he gets published as they are more than deserving of being seen by the surf community at large. Great work josh! I hope I can gain some of his knowledge on the subject and pick his brain some more in the future. Thank you for all you help and hospitality amigo. Hope I can offer you the same in Mexico un dia!! (please keep an eye out for his shot of Anthony Walsh in upcoming surf mag issues)
With a full belly and feeling better about life in general I looked over my photos again and to my surprise found a few more that had some worth. Here are some of those shots… including young Kalohe who graced me with punting a nice 360 air right in font of me and a nice long exposure shot of the boys in lightning storm.
All in all, this experience keeps teaching me patience frustration management, and surprising me when I think all has gone the way of the wind. So my lessons learned, sometimes you have bath in caca to come out clean and refreshed on the other end. Cheers to all and hope that you enjoy the photos that gave me all those ups and downs.
Bless, Dom Beso para mi querida!!