The 15 Surfboards/15 Shapers project recently took me to Hawaii where two more surfboards, #s 11 & 12, were added to the collection. Knowing it should take close to three weeks to complete the boards and that there is idle time while resin cures during the glassing stage, I made plans to shoot personal work during those moments. My shot list included water photography at two famous surf breaks on the North Shore of Oahu, Pipeline and Sunset Beach.
It would not be the first time that I swam and photographed at either spot, however I wanted to do it different then in the past. When swimming in the water I use lenses ranging from 85mm down to 14mm or even a fish eye lens. Now, though, I thought of using a longer lens, a 180mm f2.8 Nikkor to be exact, and to shoot from atop a boogie board. A more compress view of surfer and wave would be the result along with a less obstructive, higher vantage point.
I did not possess a port for a 180mm lens and would need to have it manufactured. I contacted Sean Labrie at SPL Waterhousings, the maker of one of my splash housings, and ordered the port. I received it in time for my trip but unfortunately not to test it. Construction wise I knew it was solid. My concern was the size and weight the lens and port added to an already sizeable and heavy Nikon D3s camera body and housing. How would it be swimming and maneuvering the boogie board while tightly gripping a bulky and heavy camera set up? It’s one thing to shoot in calm waters, it’s a whole other gig when big, powerful waves are detonating around you and a strong current is ripping through the water. In hindsight even had I had time to test the equipment I could never have duplicated the conditions I would face in Hawaii while in my home town of W. Palm Beach, Florida.
I was busier then anticipated working with the two shapers I contracted, Pat Rawson in Oahu and Dick Brewer in Kauai, and the glassers, Otis Schaper and Jack Reeves. Consequently while in Kauai I missed a good opportunity at Pipeline on a sunny, eight foot day during the Volcom Pipe Pro competition. Afterwards Pipeline was never favorable for photography, because of inclement weather, wrong swell direction or smaller waves. Fortunately Sunset Beach proved a bit more cooperative.
On the day I swam out at Sunset Beach with the new gear the conditions were rather good. It was sunny with light trade winds and a moderate (by Sunset standards) six to eight food swell. Not that it mattered to me but the action in the water included a lot more SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) surfers then usual because of an upcoming international SUP competition. Though I’m partial to traditional surfing I had no problem with the SUP guys, especially after witnessing them perform in potent waves on their bigger boards.
Handling the heavy housing and swimming the boogie board while dodging waves, even taking a few on the head, was in the end worth the effort. The camera, lens, housing and port all worked with precision. The package was well-balanced and even though the action is fast, involves various elements (surfer, board and wave) and is moving in multiple directions at once I managed to capture a surprisingly large number of ‘keepers’. My biggest concern was accurate focus and to freeze the action. I set the ISO at 320 and, with the mode on aperture priority, the f stop at 7.1. Depending on light this automatically placed the shutter speed anywhere from 1/400 to 1/1000 and gave enough depth of field to achieve focus both on the surfer and the wave nearest to him or her. Had I wanted I could have changed the aperture via a control on the port if I was concern with either shutter speed or depth of field.
Adding the capability to shoot from the water with a 180mm telephoto lens opens up a new vision which I did not possess before and for new and exciting images. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to work with this equipment at Pipeline next time I visit the North Shore.