Oahu’s North Shore becomes paradise each winter for thousands of visiting surfers, who paddle to reefs beyond several popular beaches to greet each new swell.
Little, whose work has garnered international acclaim, enjoys what is undeniably one of the world’s most unusual photography careers.
He specializes in Waimea’s thunderous shorebreak. His images, captured while swimming within this turbulent realm, reveal both the raw power and stark beauty of large surf as it heaves and crashes violently upon the sand.
Little, 41, used to surf at Waimea and was well-known for riding giant waves from the outer reef all the way to the dangerous shore pound. They were memorable times, but now the former botanical gardens supervisor is a renowned artist enjoying his finest winter yet.
He recently learned that his award-winning images, which show the waves’ beautiful shapes and surreal patterns and contrasting colors, will go on display for six months beginning this spring at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
His images also capture marine life within the turbulent surf zone, notably endangered green sea turtles.
The success of his art is such that a second gallery — he has one in Laguna Beach, Calif. — will open Jan. 1 at Haleiwa on the North Shore, not far from Little’s home.
None of this would have happened, he said, had his wife not returned from a shopping trip three years ago with a store-bought photograph of a wave.
“I said, ‘What are you doing buying photos of waves? I’m a surfer. Stop spending money and I’ll go out and shoot my own,’ ” Little recalled, during a recent interview.
That marked the beginning of a career that blossomed remarkably fast for a man affectionately referred to by friends as the “accidental artist.”
This winter he began to experiment with flash photography and shooting as morning darkness turns to dusk.
That makes his job more dangerous, though, because his camera rig becomes larger and heavier with the flash attachments, and is something to steer clear of during the inevitable moments when shore-breaking waves up to 15 15 feet high suck him up and over the falls.
These wipeouts represent the only real hazards of of his profession, but the masochist side of him has no complaints.
“I’ve always loved getting thrashed around in the surf,” he said.
– Images are courtesy of Clark Little