Laurent Pujol hits levels of sometimes-water-photography that we're unlikely ever to achieve. Can't hurt to try though!
Opinion: We Should All Be Water Photographers
It's good for the soul!
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!
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!”
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.
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:
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.
A MyGoMount mouth mount.
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!
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?