Monday, April 25, 2011


C.J. Hobgood, Teahupo'o, 2005. Photo: Brian Bielmann/SPL

"A wave is like a woman; it comes in many shapes and sizes; it will excite you with anticipation, wrap you in a cocoon-like embrace, and either scare the hell out of you or give you the ultimate pleasure." unknown author

Most surfers spend their lives searching for the perfect wave, like an elusive lover, the soul mate most of us long to find. To some, it may look like a lonely quest, to others, like a selfish passion where everything is about the waves.

Manoa Drollet Massive Teahupoo @ Ted Grambeau

I am not a surfer nor a surf fan, and until last year I had never actually been out on the surf break of Teahupo'o... I know, some of you probably think it's crazy to have one of the world's most famous surf spots so close and not even go there...But to me Teahupo'o was synonymous of danger and death since a childhood friend died after a surfing accident there.

Finally, as I longed to escape the routine of my everyday life, I decided to go to the end of the road and see the legendary wave. Since that day, I too have been drawn to this place which inspires awe and respect.

As the forecast promised exceptional swell conditions, we woke up at 5am to make sure we'd be there bright and early enough not to miss any of the action. As we arrived at the marina, our captain, Norman James, was waiting for us (if you are going out and the swell is big, it is important to choose someone who has experience maneuvering a boat out there as it can be dangerous). Time to load our gear on the boat and greet the other crews and off we were off to the surf break.

The crowd is waiting - blogger's own photo

Although the swell hadn't picked up yet, the surfers were already in the water, waiting for the waves and a few spectators (mostly photographers and film crews) had already arrived. I was lucky enough to be on the boat where the pros came to rest between sets. Most of them had actually just flown in from around the world when they heard about the swell...

"wow, some people can actually just pick up their surfboards and get on a plane to paradise just to spend a few days surfing AND get paid to do so...Note to self: must enroll my daughter to surf classes ASAP!"

The call of the makes sense, it's their job, just like we wake up every morning to go to the office, only much more exciting (I don't actually hear the call of the office, just my alarm ringing). But as the day passed and the waves picked up, my attention was drawn away from the "action" and the surfers towards the crowds of onlookers. Although it was raining, people kept on arriving in vessels of all shapes and sizes (paddle boards, jet skis, kayaks, fishing boats, tourist boats, speed boats, etc.). Soon there were more boats than surfers, and the atmosphere became electric: people cheering, captains "fighting" for the best spots, photographers shooting... The behind-the-scenes were as thrilling as the actual spectacle.

As I observed and took interest in the crowds, I soon realized that a lot of the people present were actually photographers and videographer. More precisely, there were probably more photographers - on my boat only I counted 4 - than surfers out there that day. and I realized, surfers are not the only ones obsessed with the perfect wave; surf photographers are also wave hunters willing to spend a lifetime traveling the world, hoping to capture that moment of magic, a snap shot of surf history. 

Greg Nagel hard at work - blogger's own photo

The crews were scattered in different boats and a couple of courageous guys were in the water, water-housing in hand. Dream job? I am not so certain about this... Famous American photographer Jeff Divine once said, “Surf photography is starvation on the road to madness". Indeed, under the glamorous veneer of traveling the globe to capture awe-inspiring images of the ocean lie a myriad of challenges, dangers and frustrations. Most surf photographers are also surfers, you need to know the waves if you are going to jump in there and put yourself on the way of a surfboard...The risks are real: drowning, sharks, pointy boards...I don't think just anyone could do it. Add to this the frustration: the wave they will photograph is a wave they won't get to surf...Still, they are there with their long lenses, their water-housings, their fish-eye lenses, patiently waiting...and waiting...and waiting...

Tim McKenna and Raimana VanBastolaer waiting...

Yes there definitely is a lot of waiting involved on both sides, the surfers wait for the waves, the photographers wait for the waves, the spectators wait for the waves..and once the set starts, the whistling and cheering get louder and the cameras start clicking as everyone wonders if this will be THE one. 

The beauty of surf photography is that very often, the photos will transport the viewer into the wave and we, mere mortals who are not gods of the surf, get to see a view that would otherwise be the privilege of surfers only. I personally find photos of the inside of waves mesmerizing and could spend hours in contemplation of the force of nature at work. So I would like to thank the few photographers who actually get in the water and brave the elements, waiting until the last minute to get the perfect shot. famous surf photographers.

As I looked at all the photographers shooting the same waves, I wondered, what would make each photo different from the other?...In the end, what makes a perfect wave photograph? Is it the size of the wave? Is it who is riding it? What makes the photo of a wave memorable and remarkable? Is it the photographer? I believe a mix of ingredients ultimately make the shot: the photographer's vision, lighting, composition, subject (or no subject) and Mother Nature. If all these ingredients come together for a split second and the photographer is able to snap this moment, then the perfect wave will be frozen in time, ready to be share with millions of viewers and communicate the emotions of this magic moment. But in the end, the viewer will be the sole judge and the verdict will be a very personal opinion.

Some wave shots of that day (blogger's own):

As we headed back to the marina after 8 hours on the water, I felt happy and hoped the swell would pick up again very soon so that I can come back to witness the emotions of the crowds who gather at Teahupo'o.

The end of a long day - blogger's own photo

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