All the reports said it was perfect for a few waves up and down the coast, but the problems with all these type of waves is if any of the elements – tides, winds, swell direction, etc. – are slightly distorted, they just don’t work properly. It’s always a gamble to make the call, especially when the drive can be between three to fifteen hours.
It’s an expensive process for both the underground, unpaid surfers that do it purely for the love of it, and also for me as a photographer. A few double pages in the magazines, just token fuel money at best, the live open ocean arena, the serenity (on most occasions) and being a part of proceedings is the justification for making the long journey.
Over the years, I have found that the simple act of capturing these moments, while very special at the time, became somewhat mundane. It was ground-hog day in a way, so trying to capture the same waves from a more challenging aspect was the only answer. Right place, right time was not reward enough, much like for the surfers themselves. They are just going for more risk, meaning larger waves or waves with more consequences. To have a front row seat to man/woman versus nature is mind-blowing to say the least. It is, indeed, a humbling experience whether or not a photo was even taken.
So who found what waves?
Whoever is prepared to miss great days and the certainty of tried and tested waves will eventually find their own little secret somewhere along the coast. How long it stays this way really depends on the crew themselves, but once the cat is out of the bag on how good the place might be, it becomes a free for all: with surfers and their entourage of filmers and photographers posting swell predictions on social networks, giving exact names of breaks and directions, it becomes a scene very quickly.
Giving credit where credit is due, the bodyboarders who led the charge of scouring the coast in atrocious conditions looking for that next big thing and having plenty of success along the way, surfers had to step up their efforts. Reports of a wave here and there from old weathered fisherman helped the exercise. A few years ago, we were told by a captain of a reef 50 miles out to sea. We took an expensive gamble and loaded all the skis on the boat. The gamble paid off, and the spot is now known as Captain Steve’s, after the man himself. Other spots with generic names such as The Left, The Right, or The Slab show another way of keeping the crowds down for just a little while longer.
For more insight into the mind of folks who surf big waves, watch The Inertia’s first documentary, Sine Qua Non: The Psychology of Big Wave Surfing with Greg Long.