Riding the Wave: Surf Culture and the Ocean that Brings it Together

The countdown to 2019 continues! Each week from Thanksgiving until the New Year, I share one of my favorite photos of 2018, and what it means to me.

Episode Three: Riding the Wave

As I flipped the calendar pages into the later months of the year, excitement started to shift north to the legendary swells of winter that lure giants to our Hawaiian shores. But, surprisingly, this Thursday surf report offered a gift much closer to home: the last significant south shore swell of the season. Six foot faces in my backyard? I’ll take it! But … work! Adulting! NO! I had to suffer through two work days in the hope that the swell would hold on, just a little longer.

Saturday morning couldn’t come quickly enough. At first light, I was ready for action with the dawn patrol. Sadly, the surf was already in decline, but the sets were still larger than usual. As I unpacked my gear, I surveyed the light, waves, and surfers. No matter how familiar I may feel with this (or any) break, the ocean is dynamic and full of surprises. Positioning is critical, and having talent in the water helps tremendously. No one wants to watch a wobbly amateur.

It didn’t take long to notice him. The gray-haired Uncle, forty years senior to the rest of the lineup, studied the horizon and patiently waited for his wave. He didn’t mind long lulls between sets, he knew precisely what he wanted. The meticulous surveying and effortless movements confessed his breadth of experience as a waterman. Suddenly, he sprang into action. As he gracefully navigated his wave to shore, concentration turned to satisfaction. After a successful ride, and pausing briefly near the rocky shore for a breath of air, he started his paddle back to the break to continue his surf session with the sea.

Do you spot the spirit surfer in the wave?

The ocean fascinates me more than any other natural element of this incredible world. In Hawaii I am blessed to have it be a part of my day in a real and tangible way. Wherever I am, the ocean is not far from reach. And if I make effort to spend time near or in the ocean, I cannot help but be changed by it.

The ocean is majestic, mysterious and, at times, seemingly paradoxical. It is serene and still, yet also violent and aggressive. It is calm yet powerful. It invites adventure, but not without caution and respect. It is vast. It is humbling. It is exciting. It inspires reflection.

Photography is my dialogue with this wonderful gift. The interaction of nature, movement, color, and light endlessly produces a unique and breathtaking drama. Add to this the vibrant surf community and the observer is left with a romantic tale of joy, companionship, and perseverance. I love capturing this narrative.

Admittedly, this is not a subject in which I have a lot of experience. In fact, I only have two posts thus far (here and here) and a few photos in my gallery. I do hope, however, to have more opportunities to explore the deep-rooted surf culture in Hawaii, and the ocean that brings it together.

And, as always, this journey is more enjoyable with friends. Ocean photographer friends with amazing skills, like Ben Ono and Tommy Pierucki, constantly inspire and motive me to get out there and try. A tip of the cap to you, gentlemen!