Recently the lads over the ditch at Australia’s Surfing Life Magazine posted online one of my all time images of the legendary surfer Tom Curren, this image first appeared as a spread in the mag and with his Tom’s recent birthday the ASL crew made it available for download as a screen saver, just bringing this image back into the limelight got me thinking, this image just so happens to be one of my all time best, the exposure and timing of the shot are faultless, the composition is almost bang on and only when picking it to pieces do I think I should have shot it more pulled back, to see the whitewater exploding in the background. But none of these reasons are why I have it on my ‘All Time’ list. The story behind the image is far more valuable to me than the image itself and to have bridged that connection by capturing this moment…priceless to me.
You see when I started surfing as a 12 year old grom, Tom Curren was ‘The Man’ in the surfing world, the grace he possessed was pure poetry in motion. After a few more years he retired and somehow over those same years I grew from an ogling grom when the highlight of my month was when each new surf mag was released on the news-stand, to a working professional photography specialising in surf photography. One of the pinnacles of this career was when each year I would travel to the birth place of surfing Hawaii, to put my skills to the test against the best photogs in the world, capturing the aquatic athletes who were also out there putting their skills to their very own test, against the most powerful form of ocean available in the world, the seven mile miracle that are the reefs of the North Shore of Hawaii. Surfing had moved on from the guys that I idolised as groms, and there were a new crop of gladiators, led by Mr Kelly Slater, every now and then guys like Tom Carroll, Shaun Thompson, Derek Ho,Buttons Kahuliokalani and more would paddle out proving they still had what it took. But one man was always missing.Ever since the retirement of Tom Curren all the media had portrayed Tom as, was this mystery man who had dropped off the face of the planet, one who never showed up on trips he was booked on and who was simply living in a cave strumming and picking his guitar. So imagine my surprise when one tiny, near flat, North shore day when I was heading out for a surf after weeks of 18 hours days shooting in the tropical sun. As I approached the waters edge this guy did the smoothest rap-around on rail turn I had ever witnessed straightened out and came in. Emerging from the water was the man himself, immediately I noticed the craft he was riding had no fins as such but simply a couple of moulded channels/wings. I enquired about the design and we had a brief chat, Tom was super open and friendly and now that I think about it perhaps by asking solely about the design aspect and not being in his face about where he had been lately or dribbling all over him because he was who he was, then I think that allowed him to open up. He cruised on up the beach to hang with his family and I went for a surf. Fast forward several days, Pipeline and Backdoor, two of the most terrifying waves on the planet were firing on all cylinders, in the water the vibe was thick with testosterone, with every local and international star out trying to prove they were more the man than any of the others out there, judged by the waves they rode and the hoots they received from the gallery, but also wanting to land the coveted prize of magazine spreads and covers to enhance their own profile and sponsorship deals. On the beach 80-100 of the best photographers in the world were all stacked shoulder to shoulder all with the exactly the same gear with tripod legs piercing the coarse sand as a stamp of turf ownership for the day. When you consider that realistically there were around 10 major magazines in the world, with most of those having staff photographers on site, the chance of getting published and being able to make money from a day like this was pretty minimal. Early on in these trips I figured out to be successful or even compete with these experienced photogs was to be no where near them, the North Shore season almost became like a gathering and a catch up for peers, after a long year of jet-setting around the world shooting isolated locations mates new and old had a lot of catching up and story telling to do, so they would gather in bunches all shooting the same angle on the same gear, if a photo editor has 60 images all the same coming across his desk and then one of the same subject had a dramatic difference then they were more likely to go with the difference, well that’s what I kept telling myself and it seemed to work. In the beginning I was new to the scene so it was very easy to take off and do my own thing, and while over the next ten years I made some great friends, I kept my story time and catching up until a game of tennis or BBQ in the evening. So on this particular day I distanced myself further down the beach, the left hand breaking wave Pipeline was far more consistent and from this angle I couldn’t see a thing but there were already 50 guys covering that angle and I couldn’t compete with them so I was prepared to take a gamble, perhaps id come up trumps, perhaps I’d skunk out. Next thing I knew Tom Curren tapped me on the shoulder obviously recognising me from our prior meeting, asking how my day was and how the waves were looking, then said he better get out there before the wind came up and off down the soft sand he ran. Three minutes later and no more the best wave of the day began to rise up on the reef, then a familiar figure spun and paddled before leaping to his feet took a gigantic drop and laid out one of the most stylish bottom turns the world had ever seen. Witnessing that moment through my lens, time stood still and while my shutter curtain was blazing up and down I knew then and there I had captured something special. That evening I drove into Honolulu to have my film processed and waited in the lab till it popped out the machine. I submitted the image to Australian Surfing Life, who ran it as a double page. Still till this day I try to figure out how Tom managed to get that wave considering he had to run down the beach, paddle out and then battle the other 60-80 hungry surfers for the right to ride that wave. I don’t know how he pulled it but I’m glad he did. Together with one of my heroes skill I managed to preserve a classic moment forever for all to enjoy!
If you would like to download this shot click here SURFING LIFE
Only two days ago I had never heard of the Transit Of Venus, it was during a coffee break at the local Wainui Beach Store where a young grom was outside selling dark sunglasses, and after I interrogated the poor kid, I learnt a thing or two about this once in a lifetime phenomena, at first I thought, so what! Then once he told me it wouldn’t come again for another 105 years and figuring out that I’m not actually the ” Highlander” Conner McLeod and am not immortal, I thought I better at least check it out! Enter a storm warning with heavy rain forecast and gale force winds, so the thought of being able to see the sun on this day was thrown out the window, hopes across the country were dashed, and as I surfed the net looking for info on where to view the event from, all I read were broken dreams of thick cloud and rain across the country. That is for nearly all, except for at my house, where we had no storm, no rain, and no wind. A clear sky and a fully visible sun about to get it’s glow violated by the silhouette of Venus for half a day. Being totally unprepared for this style of photography I figured the first thing I needed to do was somehow cut down the amount of light that would enter my lens, otherwise I’d burn my eye ball out, or fry my sensor. So it was a mad rush rummaging through my house and shed looking for something dark. I knew I had some dark Perspex somewhere and an old piece of dark glass around but couldn’t for the life of me find them. By now according to the net Venus had began to encroach on the sun and I was starting to stress… I even figured I could rip the tinted glass TV cabinet doors off and use them, but it seemed while I was away in Indonesia recently the kids beat me to it as they were gone. Nek Minute I’m stopping neighbors as they drove down the road “Hey you got any dark glass in your house or cabinet doors”. When all my efforts failed I had one last flash of genius, I could start up the car turn it around and shoot through that tinted piece at the top of the windscreen, well that was a bad idea with a 600mm F4 magnifying the sun, I’m not only lucky I didn’t burn my eyes out, I’m surprised the car didn’t catch alight. If only I could get down the road I could source some material and at least attempt a shoot, but with my 1 year old grommy asleep and without a car seat I couldn’t even wake him and chuck him in car. So I rang a few mates begging for them to come mind the grom, so I could head down town. With my wife coming home earlier than expected, I jumped in the car and was off to the local glass shop, who after my explanation got all weird on me saying they would sell me glass to view sun through as I could burn my eye out and they would be responsible, by now my window of opportunity had began to shrink as the blue sky above was becoming smaller as a front moved in from the north, I headed smartly down to Gisborne Glass doing 70khm in a 50 zone and not stopping at the stop signs, after all the next time this was going to happen was well beyond my lifetime so who cares about a few little rules. After my explanation to the lady at reception she said go out the back and talk to the boys, thing is when I got out back there were no boys in sight and the factory empty, after hearing a few “Oooohs” and “Ahhhhhhs” I found all the floor staff out in the driveway with holding up multiple sheets of dark glass, Perfect! Not only had I come to a place where they had, and would, sell me a suitable medium, they had also done all the homework and after an hour of playing around had worked it out that six sheets of dark glass wedged together offered the perfect density to cut down the intense light. So six sheets cut to the size of my front element on the 600mm lens later, I was flooring it back home to beat the incoming front. I set up in less than a minute, and with my wife’s help managed to shoot one frame before the dark thick clouds blacked out any further chance of viewing the transit. I was kicking myself for not being prepared earlier, but at the same time remembered that we were never supposed to see any sun, but still, I was disappointed. I sat and waited on my front lawn hoping for a small window to open up and reveal the sun, but to no avail, then off in the distance a huge blue patch showed up but with the prevailing wind there was no way it would pass over me, so my wife and I chucked the baby in the car and took off in pursuit of the much needed angle, we felt like storm chasers and were having a few laughs, while at the same time with one eye on the sky and another on which road to turn down. Our timing and positioning couldn’t have been more perfect and I managed to capture my first and last ‘Transit of Venus’ which after all that effort actually looked like no more than dust on my sensor, but it was amazing to watch and experience and along the way learn something about a field of photography I have had no prior experience in. Many thanks must go out to the crew at Gisborne Glass, My wife Sarah and good mate Bobby Hansen for coming around to baby sit, even though he gave the coffee he brought me to my wife.
Well this is embarrassing, after launching this blog in 2009 promising stories and tech info from my adventures throughout New Zealand and across the world, I have posted a mere few blogs. Big apologies! My idea behind starting my blog was to make an avenue available for me to share my adventures and lessons learned in the field. While I get to travel to areas of my own country and to parts of the world that others don’t get to see and bring imagery back for my primary job as Editor/Photographer of New Zealand Surfing Magazine this publication only allows a small portion of the imagery I shoot and the experiences and situations I face to see the light of day. So with that in mind I wanted to publish these moments that I’ll treasure forever in digital form, perhaps entertain or open ones eyes, or even pass on something from what I’ve learnt, that others may benefit from. Or if I ever get Alzheimer’s and forget what I’ve done I can go back read for myself and it will be like a new adventure all over again. Sadly in the last couple of years to be brutally honest I have just been to bloody busy to spend time on blogs and websites, many companies and publications I work with overseas cannot believe I don’t have a website. Apparently to be a photog these days you need a site, blog, facebook, twitter, and Instagram, and if you don’t have them you aren’t a real modern day photog! WELL EXCUSE ME, I’ve been a little busy actually working, which is a good thing, but as of today I will be making a concerted effort to keep my experiences, adventures, imagery I have been working on up to date, so stay tuned, I just may become a real photog after all, haha..
In 2009 I was told by the organisers after I informed them that I couldn’t be present at the Qantas Media Awards that if I could, I should really try and make the awards as my presence would be worthwhile. Well a phone call like that gets your confidence up somewhat. However I kept that secret close to my chest not even telling my wife or parents. We drove down to Wellington and on the journey I couldn’t help think, have I won something? Was I just a finalist? Or were they just scamming me to increase ticket sales to the event.
Well once we headed into the TSB Bank Arena into the shoulder to shoulder hustle of who’s who of NZ media, grabbed a quick glass of Champagne to take the edge off, followed by another ( the edges were quite big) then another. I was ready to relax and take it all in.
Maggie Barry, yes the gardening lady, was the host for the evening and must be admired for her strength in public speaking.
On our table lay the evenings programme with lists of the finalists for each category, Wow little did I know I was a finalist in two categories that was a surprise. Once the awards started my nerves were running in overdrive the finalists work in each category were displayed on the big screen and there was some amazing work. Once we reached the sports photography section and the other finalists work splashed across the screen, images from the Olympics and major events across the world showed, I felt somewhat deflated and went into this trance so deep that when they called my name as the winner I didn’t even hear it. Once I snapped out I headed up to receive my award ” Best Sports Picture” which was presented to me but a lady from Qantas that was about 7 foot tall, all 5’8″ of me looked slightly out of balance. The next awards finalists were read out and I took a deep breath that I seemed to hold till I turned blue and then relief I had also won ” Best Sports portfolio” I had won the two awards I had entered and became the first independent ( not from a major news agency) to win the Qantas award. I was over the moon and after a few more bottles of wine, celebrated some more with a feed of Mcdonalds on Cuba St in the early hours. While it was very self satisfying to beat the guys I was up against also in an Olympic year, the result was a coupe for my sport of surfing as it was know seen to be accepted alongside other major sports of our culture.
The following Images made up my sports portfolio:
and this remote flash Image won “best sports image”
Welcome to my blog. After running blogs for the magazine I work for New Zealand surfing magazine for a few years now, where we run material that wont make the glossy pages or material that falls between the print deadlines and needs to be out at a certain time. As a photographer in my chosen field of work I am lucky that I get to travel to many different destinations domestically and internationally, some of these are very isolated and the adventures associated with the shoot are breath taking, amazing and also life changing. Aside from those experiences each location and subject is a photographic learning curve, each shoot constantly refines my technique, equipment needed and used. I am constantly asked by other photographers and viewers “How did you get that shot?” In the last few years I have been doing a bit of guest speaking at schools and photographic groups, audiences are left in awe of what I go through to get the shots I chase. So that got me thinking, after constantly getting told I should release a book ( We’ll I’m not quite ready for that yet) I thought with all the adventures not only on big trips but also the day to day happenings of my job, that a blog would be the perfect medium to present a few experiences, tales and tech tips to help out budding photographers achieve better results to preserve precious memories. So stay tuned, blogs will be flowing.