Prologue 4-4

The Photo Issue

Surfing might be the hardest sport in the world to photograph. No school instructs courses in surf photography-quite to the contrary, really, the knowledge necessary to master this highly specialized art is guarded both by a traditional silence about the tricks of the trade and by the numerous obstacles one must overcome before producing their first batch of decent surf photos.

These hurdles include dealing with athletes whose varying ages and chemical dependencies make them infinitely less than easy to work with, the breathtakingly high price of decent photo gear, the unpredictability of weather, expensive travel to sometimes-dangerous destinations, a work schedule that includes the phrase “crack of dawn,” swimming for hours in the impact zones of the world’s most powerful surf breaks, having little if any control over your lighting, and the horrible realization that your days of surfing perfect surf are over.


Now add to that list of tragedies-waiting-to-happen the restrictions that surf-magazine editors, in their ultimate wisdom, have piled onto the creative roadblock. They only want photos of superstars, they discourage the use of black-and-white film, they demand tack-sharp images, and they pay late and in peanuts.

If all that weren’t enough, there’s also the time spent away from family and friends, sitting in hotel rooms waiting for swell to arrive … or the rain to stop … or the boat to be repaired. And when you’ve finally mastered the art of getting yourself in the right position to take the photo, then you get to worry about the photo itself. Was the exposure right? Was the lens clear of water droplets? Was the focus tack sharp?

You have to wonder why they even do it.

But every now and then, while you’re looking through a batch of photos, you’ll come across one that’s perfect-the composition is correct, the focus and exposure are dead on, and the action is unquestionable. A lot of the time you don’t even need to look through the loupe to know how beautiful it is. This month’s issue is full of those moments, when everything came together, and for 1/500 of a second the struggle was worth it.

This is the Photo Issue, and we dedicate it to the photographers who risk their lives on a daily basis so that we might fill our magazines. Thanks, guys.Oh, and the check’s in the mail.-Joel