Stab Magazine | Opinion: We Should All Be Water Photographers

Opinion: We Should All Be Water Photographers

It’s good for the soul!

style // Feb 19, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

So you’re a surf addict, right?

And as a surf addict, you’ve forgone countless family gatherings, pulled out of long-planned friendly rendezvous, and broken innumerable road laws in pursuit of good waves. These are definitely shitty things to do, and you might even feel bad about your selfish ways, but as an addict these actions are out of your control. When the waves are high and the tide is low and the wind is just right, you have a physiological need to get wet. To crack the lip. To stuff a tube.

But what if I told you there was another way? A more… selfless method to feed your addiction. 

Stab Hot Tip: You should become a sometimes-water photographer!

Screen Shot 2018 02 15 at 12.47.32 PM

Oh sure, it’s fun to be in the tube, but there’s something special about watching one crank along a shallow sandbar and then extinguish your eyeballs with a wicked spit. Photo: Me/GoPro

Probably like you, I always assumed that surf photographers had the worst job in the world. This was based on the fact that while photogs got to explore the world’s most amazing waves, they would never be able to surf them. Rather, they were stuck sweating on the beach or kicking around in the channel as the pros were wrapped in ecstasy. This is my actual idea of hell (and also why I became I writer).

But recently I had an experience that changed my mind.

On a clear, offshore morning in Los Angeles’ South Bay, with head-high (mostly closeout) tubes crashing up and down the beach, I made an extremely uncharacteristic decision. Walking toward the water’s edge with my swell-buddy Caleb, I stopped, thought for a moment, and walked the other way to deposit my board safely beyond the high tide line.

“I want to get a few shots of you pulling into closeouts,” I said to Caleb. “Will you pack some bombs if I swim out with the GoPro?”

This was a stupid question. Even if there were no cameras around for miles, Caleb loves nothing more than pulling into tubes — including heavy closeouts.

“Heck yeah!” Caleb replied.

Caleb is Christian.

So for the next 30 mins I waded in the impact zone, GoPro Hero 3 in hand (and occasionally mouth), trying to score flyby visions of my pal. Despite a few missed opportunities, we eventually linked up on a hollow one and he soared past me in the tube.

Caleb was stoked. I was freaking out.

“That was so sick!” I screamed as Caleb resurfaced from his ride. “Fuck, I saw that whole thing and it looked mental. The sun was hitting you just right and Ahhhh it was insane!”

“Sickkkkk…” Caleb replied. “Hopefully it comes out ok!”

It did.

Following that success, I swam to shore and gathered my board for a few waves of my own. After two hours of pulling into closeouts and having a generally mediocre session, I realized the best part of my day had been swimming around with my GoPro, trying to snap a few shots of Caleb.

Hmmm, I thought, maybe I’ll go do that again…

Sealing this decision was the fact that my other friend, Erwin, had just paddled out, and I thought it’d be fun to nail some shots of him as well. Keep in mind these guys are decent enough surfers, but they definitely don’t have a treasure trove of personal surfing photos — especially not water angle tube shots. So this was a pretty unique opportunity for the both of them.  

“Erwin, if I swim out with the GoPro to get a few shots of you, will you pack some bombs?”

This was a fair question. Erwin, unlike Caleb, is kind of a pussy. Though he has small windows of bravery, Erwin relishes waist-high conditions and is known to cower when lips start to thicken. He once famously texted me at 3 AM, saying that he couldn’t come on our planned wave-chase because he’d been up all night–unable to sleep thanks to the paralyzing fear of potentially heavy surf (it did not end up being heavy). I guess even admitting that was brave in its own way.  

So when I asked him this question, Erwin replied: “Uhhhhh… I guess. I don’t really wanna break my board though.”

A solid excuse. His board was in great condition, and frankly no GoPro image is worth $500 for a new one. So I gave him my stick: a two-year old, double-buckled Chemistry that I’ve been trying in earnest to break for the past nine months. After riding it in heavy closeouts on countless occasions and once losing it on top of a giant rock pile (only to find a tiny scratch on the nose), I genuinely believe the board indestructible.

So Erwin took the blue beast, and I forced him to charge. 

One of the best parts of being a sometimes-water-photographer, I should add, is yelling your friends into fucked-up waves. Anytime you see one of those thick, ugly, dark som’bitches entering the lineup at terminal velocity, you simply cannot stop yourself from screaming “GO! GO ERWIN! GO GO GO!”

And so, despite his wimpy nature, Erwin went. He slid into a perfect closeout tube, rode straight past me, and in doing so procured the best surf photo of his life.

“This made my week. Even my parents are stoked,” Erwin later told me.

Erwin came up laughing, I was screaming like a little girl, and in that way a friend’s closeout tube resulted in the elusive joy that drives our surf addiction. In other words, I got my fix.

While becoming a sometimes-water-photographer doesn’t alleviate all your bad habits — like forgoing family gatherings or driving like a maniac — it does offer a less selfish excuse for all of your surf-related douchebaggery. And though I wouldn’t recommend sometimes-water-photographing all the time (that would just make you a water photographer), it is terribly fun in small doses. Occasionally better than surfing. 

Best of all, a sometimes-water-photographer doesn’t need a proper DSLR camera and $1,000 water-housing. That would be excessive. To nail a few epic shots of your buds, all you’ll need are 2 or maybe 3 accessories. I’ve detailed them below:

  1. A GoPro.

    Screen Shot 2018 02 15 at 12.57.05 PM

    As you can see from the videos/images I captured, a GoPro 3 is functional but not exactly “modern” in terms of photo quality. If you’ve got a little cash to spring, I’d go for the GoPro Hero 6. For only $400, it’s an incredibly versatile and resilient camera, and the video quality (4K at 1080) is insane. 

    This GoPro-only clip speaks for itself.

  2. A MyGoMount mouth mount.

    Screen Shot 2018 02 15 at 12.54.24 PM

    This is the next most important tool in your sometimes-water-photograoher kit, because it frees up your hands for swimming purposes while also allowing you to breathe through a built-in air channel .These are the go-to mouth mounts for surfing’s best Go-Pro users, including Kelly Slater, Koa Smith, Brett Barley, and before Go-Pro forced him to stop using them, Anthony Walsh. As a somtimes-water-photog, they allow you to reposition yourself without having to hold the GoPro in your hand (very difficult to swim like that), and thanks to the armband leash, you’ll never risk losing your camera. It’s only $60 for the bundle!

    It’s the best tube-taper money can buy.

  3.  Swim fins

    Rocket bodyboard fins red 4

    Only if you’re serious about sometimes-water-photography.

    This is techincally the least important tool in your kit, and I understand that most sometimes-water-photographers will opt out of this purchase, but after an hour of swimming in somewhat drifty head-high surf without any fin-assited power, I can definitely vouch for their purpose. I still don’t have any fins of my own and therefore can’t give  great buying advice, but I’m sure our resident lidder Jake (AKA Noa’s Last Dart) will have some solid input if you’re curious. You shouldn’t spend more than $40 or $50 on this fish feet-extenders. 

So that’s it. For around $500 bucks you can have everything you need to be a world-class sometimes-water-photographer. And according to Robb Wilson, this pastime could very well save your life. So what exactly are you waiting for?


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

“Airlines Hate Me:” Bad Boy RyRy’s Guide To Surf Travel

Want to get pampered at the pointy end of the plane for free?

Aug 17, 2022


What Happens When You Borrow A Pro’s Board?

Joyride: The Shrizz from PANDA surfboards.

Aug 16, 2022


Mick Fanning Samples California’s Finest Local Produce

Mayhem at Lowers.

Aug 16, 2022

Mountains Died So You Could Surf

The value of sand.

Aug 15, 2022


UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island

Returning to the best & sharkiest air wave in the world, as seen in Mod…

Aug 14, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Female) Surfers

What the Stab reader survey teaches us about taste.

Aug 14, 2022


Kelly and Local Gal to Win Teahupo’o?

Local insights and a firing forecast.

Aug 13, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Male) Surfers

Insights from the 2022 Stab Reader survey.

Aug 13, 2022


Fear And Loathing in Mainland Mex

Parker Coffin, Harry Roach, and the Roark crew embark on an authentic Oaxacan (surf) trip.

Aug 13, 2022

Tahiti Preview: The End Of The Road For 72% Of The CT

And hello there, blob of swell.

Aug 12, 2022


While Everyone Flocked To Tahiti, Kelly Stayed in Jbay

...And proceeded to rip the hell out of it on a "borrowed" 5-finned Tomo.

Aug 11, 2022


Can A GQ Cover Boy Take Out Teahupo’o?

Kauli Vaast is your incredibly handsome Tahiti trials winner.

Aug 11, 2022

Watch: Ramble On With Caity Simmers 

An action-rich tour behind the scenes of her triumphant first voyage to Oz.

Aug 11, 2022

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

Aug 11, 2022

Inside The Alternative Surfboard Marketing Machine 

Two of the biz's best — Matt Parker and Blake Peters — spill many beans.

Aug 10, 2022

The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

Aug 9, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: In The Belly Of The Beast

Finger flips, shaping with Zion Wright, slurpees, Hawaiian takeovers, and the king of Surfline rewinds.

Aug 8, 2022

Albee Layer Discusses His Not-So-Budding Acting Career And The Upcoming Film “Sweet Adventure”

"Matt and Nora were tripping a little harder than I was just because they weren't…

Aug 8, 2022