Lay days on Oahu with surf photographer Magi Kernan; gallery

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Magdalena Kernan (@magsymooo), is a woman with many interests.

She is a law student, a philanthropist, a photographer, and a lover of action sports. She’s a multifaceted photographer, shooting everything from snowboarding to weddings to lifestyle shots.

Her work blends the fun that fuels our love for sport, with the strength and femininity seen in the progression of women’s surfing.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we chatted with Magi about her recent trip to Hawaii with some of the girls on the Championship Tour, and what it’s like to break into a somewhat insular community as a female.

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Tell us a bit about how you got started with surf photography.

I live and grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey, and we would get some good surf in our area. Initially, I started out working more on the fashion side of photography, and then collaborated with some bloggers/models that worked with some surf shops.

I began working with a surf shop pretty consistently, then with Maddie Peterson, a local surfer, shooting with her in the area doing some small projects. After I met her we got some trips planned, ended up traveling to Barbados and Australia and things sort of continued from there.

Tell us a bit about these photos from your trip to Hawaii in December.

I was planning on going to Maui and staying with the girls for [Maui Pro] … the contest ran really early over the holidays and because of the conditions and the way the contest played out, I ended up going straight to Oahu. I spent most of my time with Nikki [Van Dijk] eating way too much good food, exploring the island, and attempting to swim again on the North Shore [laughs]. Most of these photos are from exploring along the NS hanging out when there weren’t waves, shark diving, as well as some swims.

Any fun stories?

There was one day at Pupukea Beach when Tyler [Wright]. Nikki, Maud [Le Car] and myself went out. It was really washy on the inside, and a far swim out to where it was breaking [laughs]. It was funny, I got a little stuck on the inside and Tyler came in thinking I needed to be helped out. She ended up taking my camera and fins and swam out and snapped some really awesome photos.

Maud Le Car at Pupukea, North Shore Oahu
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So … those shark pics. Tell us a bit about that, where was it?

We ended up going on a shark diving trip through a connection with a photographer friend who lives in Hawaii. I shot him [Matt] a text and then I along with Nikki, Stephanie [Single], Matt and Meme from Ripcurl ended up going out on a boat from Haleiwa Harbor. They gave us info on the different types of sharks, which to look out for, and said we shouldn’t splash around and should be looking them in the eye.

How were the nerves, were you guys scared?

[Laughs] Everyone was a little hesitant yes, but the people who took us out gave us tons of info on the sharks and how to be safe around them. They made us feel really comfortable. The sharks just want to check you out and then they’re over you, they’re not trying to eat you. I have a totally different perspective on sharks now.

What kind of sharks are in your photos?

Those are Galapagos sharks, and they’re more mellow than most of the others apparently.

Jump on in, these guys are mellow …

Do you prefer shooting in one environment over the other?

Definitely, I prefer shooting in the water because you’re active and forced to be completely in that moment. Being out in the ocean provides such a good feeling, it’s therapeutic between the sounds, the beauty – almost like you’re meditating. Shooting from land I feel like I get distracted by the sand, trees, phone, birds, people … It’s nice to be separated from all of that.

What’s the demographic like regarding the surf photographers out in Hawaii and on the North Shore?

I would definitely say it’s still a male-dominated world/industry, but I do notice a lot more girls shooting out in the water now than when I originally started. Amber Mozo and Alana Spencer are two of my faves off the top of my head that have really taken off with their own style of surf photography, which is really cool to see.

Is surf photography hard to break into?

I think it can be difficult to run up against the guys both physically in the water, and because of the mentality. I’ve been able to collaborate and work with really strong and empowering women. For me, I got really lucky with being in the right place at the right time, and I also think it’s about more than just taking photos.

The advice I tell girls wanting to get into surf photography is to find a way to stand out and communicate with people. Fortunately, so far in this process, people have been really supportive and helpful.

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What’s next on the itinerary?

For now, finishing law school! Over my spring break, I’ll head to Snapper to shoot – I’ll be staying with Laura [Enever] and doing some work for Billabong. I’m doing what I can from where I am and saying “yes” to everything I can reasonably take on with everything else on my plate. I’m excited to see where it all takes me over the next couple years!

Magi Kernan at the start of her surf photography career a few years back