April 15, 2002
Turning points are such a rarity. Whether you’re talking about the brains of primates, societal taboos, or surf photography, evolution is a slow and often boring process. That’s why this Dustin Humphrey photo of Mikala Jones from a secret island somewhere in the western half of the Indonesian archipelago was so important. Don’t be fooled–this isn’t just a photo of a young pro getting barreled on yet another Indo boat trip. It’s so much more than that!
First of all, this photo took eight boat trips over the course of several years (a total of 68 days at sea) to finally get. Dustin and Mikala had returned to the island each year after seeing a photo of Hans Hagen on the monster right half a decade before in one of Surfer magazine’s big issues (Surfer had originally labeled the photo “Brazil” to protect the spot, but Bali residents Dustin and Mikala figured it out). This was also the last wave of the last day of the trip. “We had already packed everything up for the journey home,” Dustin remembers, “the boat had pulled in its anchor, and that was my last roll of film.”
But the importance of the photo goes beyond that solitary moment on the far shore of an uninhabited island.
“At the time, Tahiti was happening,” Dustin recalls. “People were just starting to surf Teahupo‘o big, and it was really overshadowing Indonesia, so we were like, ‘F–k, we’re gonna get something that’s gonna impress people! It’s gotta be something gnarly.’ That’s what we were going for, and that’s why we sat on that wave for five years instead of going to the Mentawais.”
Their plan worked. For months after the publication of the photo, chartered boats searched for the spot, mostly in vain, but in the process some big-wave discoveries in Indo surfaced.
This moment is also like a dog-eared page in the book of surf photo history. It was Dustin Humphrey’s coming-out photo. After its publication, his name became synonymous with the next generation of surf photographers. You no longer had to be one of the “greats” to shoot a great photo. A year after this image made Indo boat captains reevaluate their maps, Dustin had become one of TransWorld’s most-run photographers, and his work was regularly being featured in The Surfer’s Journal alongside images by Jeff Devine, Art Brewer, and the other masters of the genre.
It was as if this photo opened doors people didn’t even know existed, and once they were open, there was no turning back.–Joel Patterson