A North Shore Photo Essay
All photos by Justin Jay, Lower East Side, New York City
There were two photojournalist guns on the North Shore this winter. Steve Sherman, the principal shooter from Surfing magazine whom you already know, and Justin Jay, a free-agent from New York.
Justin’s work featured in this magazine last year, ironically enough, when Kelly finished second to Joel Parkinson.
Justin spent three weeks on the Shore, cruising so he says, as in not shooting for any particular brand or magazine, so he could “be the Switzerland of photographers.” This meant he could “go to the Volcom house and say what’s up, I could go to the Hurley house and say, what’s up, I could go to the Billabong house and say what’s up.”
As a photographer who takes his work extremely seriously, Justin carries a small box of prints in his backpack. When he sees a surfer whom he has previously shot, Justin will present them with a print.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “A picture does take a little bit of your soul in a sense. If you take somebody’s shot you’re obliged to give something back. Everyone has an iPhone now. Everyone is a photographer but no-one has any physical prints anymore. When I give a print of an amazing moment from a year ago, it makes me, and them, feel really good.”
On a technical side, Justin shoots with one of the first Canon 5Ds married to an old manual focus Nikkor 35mm f2 lens. “That quarter second difference of an auto-focus can make a huge difference when it’s a split-second moment. The new Canon lenses are all designed for auto-focus so the throw (the amount you have to turn the barrel to focus manually) is super fine. Those old Nikon lenses, the throw is huge so I can really get in there and massage it.”
The colour and tone of Justin’s shot is his signature. Even a not-so-sharp eye can identify the desaturated colours of a Justin Jay image. “It’s my secret recipe. The colour is my trademark. I think I have a good eye for colour and it defines my stuff. I don’t do a lot of retouching. I don’t take out blemishes or swap heads. If I don’t get the moment it’s not the right shot. I try to keep my photos true to what they are.”
Justin uses a lot of black and white back in New York but out there amid the plumeria and trades of Oahu, it was colour only. “Contextually it doesn’t make sense to me. It’s such lush environment to shoot colour.”
Kelly Slater. Watching the sun go down, weeping inside: “This was taken an hour after the crowning ceremony and an hour’s worth of press interviews and photos. I’d lost track of where he was and I was going to walk back to my house when I saw Kelly walking home with his girlfriend Kalani and photographer Todd Glaser. I waited until Todd and Kalani fell back so I could get a clean shot of Kelly walking by himself.
It’s a poignant moment. Walking by himself, a little defeated, crown in his hand. The dude had just won the Pipe fucking Masters and he was disappointed. Same with John John. He had the world champ combo'd in three minutes and then he lost the Pipe Masters to Kelly so he was disappointed too. It’s such a strange sport sometimes.”
The glory of a love-swept kiss. Dane Reynolds mugs while Bruce Irons and gal Hailee make out: “This was a barbecue at the Fox house. One of the things people might not know is that despite all the money and the brands and the politics, all these guys are real, they’re friends. Dane was there and he’s such a rad dude. After the Surfer Poll speech, especially, everyone thinks he’s this calculated dude fronting as weird when he’s not. He’s genuine and even, for want of a better description, socially awkward. I have a photo book that I put together and that I show a lot of people and when he looked at the photos he actually read the text. Nobody had done that before. This shot is funny because all this mayhem is going on and Dane’s zoning out while in the back Bruce is making out with his chick.”
John John at the Surfer Poll awards: “When you grow up on the North Shore there’s not a lot of opportunities to get dressed up. And it’s always really funny seeing everyone in their one nice outfit going full bore. The girls are all in high heels and dolled up and the guys are all in suits that look like sacks. But that said, John John looked pretty smooth this year. He’s so unaffected even though it’s a given he’s going to inherit the throne.”
Axel Irons’ third birthday party: “This was held in a big roped-off area in the middle of the comp. I don’t know if anyone else except the son and widow of Andy Irons could’ve gotten away with this. Lyndie and Axel are golden. There was this giant plastic tarp slip-and-slide for kids on the beach and they were having a field day. I don’t know if a three-year-old can comprehend what a birthday is but Axel definitely knew he was the centre of attention. He’d barge to the front of the line for the slip-and-slide and be so… focussed. I shot photos and came back two hours later and he was still there ready for his next turn. He must’ve gone that thing 200 times. When it came time for his cake, again, he was… focussed. You can tell he’s going to be driven whatever he does. It’s interesting too, even uplifting, how many kids there were on the North Shore this winter. All the team houses were filled with kids. There were no beat-downs or shady shit. Everyone was in a great mood. It was in such contrast to my first winter and going to a party at the Volcom house after the Pipe final. I felt like at any given moment, I was going to see somebody knocked the fuck out or somebody spontaneously combust. Volcom didn’t even have a party this year. The only people stumbling around and knocking shit over were the kids.”
Alex Knost and Ford Archbold, Rocky Point:“They were staying at the RVCA house right across from Rockies. People might scoff at Alex but you can’t scoff at his surfing skills. Rocky Point is very much a five-ten-thruster-aerial sorta wave. He was out riding eight-foot Rockies with a leashless single fin. I dig his style. Same with Ford. He’s such a contrast to his Dad who is all tatted-out and rock-n-roll while he rocks corduroy bell bottoms and crazy glasses.
Jamie’s slap story, Pipe House: “This is Jamie recounting a story of someone, who has to remain nameless, getting Hawaiian slaps last year. The kid was walking down the path and the heavy head said, ‘Hey! Come here I want to talk to you.’ And Jamie said you see this gate close and the hear it go…click… and then behind the closed fence he got his slaps. I shot this at the house Jamie bought one house back from the beach. Jamie was joking about it and saying he doesn’t even have to check Surfline for the surf report any more. He sits in his bedroom and listens to everyone walking up the path. If everybody’s walking up and down, it’s firing, if there’s no feet at all or he hears the occasional 'It sucks' he knows he ain't surfing."
Bare feet:“This is one of those detail shots that tells you about the North Shore culture. At any sort of party there are massive piles of slippers outside the front door. You never see that anywhere else.”
Injured surfer, carried up the beach by Sunny Garcia: “I was chatting to Sunny Garcia on the beach when, all of a sudden, someone came running up and told Sunny, ‘We need you!’ Sunny went down and came back up carrying this kid who looked like he’d blown out his knee. I got my shit, real quick, I didn’t want to be that guy. So the whole thing goes down and five minutes later you see the kid walk back out into the water. Apparently it was just a cramp. What the fuck? When you have Sunny Garcia carrying you in and the boys have to take you out of the water, you’re done for the day. Go get some ice cream. You can’t just have a cramp and go back out.”
Bruce Irons and Joel Parkinson and drone toy: “At a Fox party, Bruce and Joel were focussed on flying this little foam remote control drone. Bruce was joking that was going to use the drone to fly over to Nathan Fletcher’s house whenever he didn’t answer his phone. It’s exciting technology but it’s going to be the end of privacy. In five years those things are going to be everywhere. You can even watch the footage they’re getting in real-time from your phone.”
John John, Triple Crown champion, 2011 (left) and 2013 (right):“I shot the first one when John won his first Triple Crown. I’d given him a print so when he won it again, he found me and said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ The way everything played out was crazy. It was super ironic to see John John and Kelly on stage after the Pipe Masters, both super disappointed. Kelly wanted the title. John John wanted Pipe.”
The moment Mick hears the world title was his: “Mick was standing there, waiting for the score and going ‘Shut up! Shut up! so he could hear it. The moment it was posted he definitely broke down. But only for a second. He turned so quick. For most people, to go from tears to happiness would take, say, 30 seconds. He literally teared for a moment, put his hands over his eyes, gained composure, and then, game fucking on."
Kelly and the champagne: “Trying to get these shots is hit-or-miss. It’s an incredibly hectic scenario. Fifty people bum-rushing him. I got good at anticipating, with the current, where guys would come out. Me and Sherm would be there but there would be a bunch of fucking yahoos with GoPros on sticks and we’d be trying to get the shot, to get it in focus, and on top of that you’re in waist-deep water with sets coming in. Here, Mark Cunningham (bodysurfing-lifeguard legend and Kelly’s pal) waded out, popped the champagne and told Kelly to take a swig.”
Go get at Justin's website, here, and follow him on Instagram @justinjayphoto