Back in the wintry folds of a cold and cloudy Melbourne it’s easy to reminisce about warmer times, and warmer waters…and so here’s a look back a few months to January when I went out one day to take some surf photos at Duranbah on the Gold Coast. The Jim Beam Surf Tag Queensland trials were on – a novel event where the little local boardrider clubs battled out in hour-long heats to find the overall state winner. Each team could have 5 surfers compete within the hour heat, out alongside 3 other teams, but only one team-member could be in the water at any one time. The surfer would score on 2 waves and then run up the beach to “tag” the next team member who would enter the water to get two more wave scores, and so on, for a combined overall score.
But it wasn’t this unique comp format that had me intrigued, but the fact that the newly crowned World Champion, Mick Fanning, would be competing for his old Kirra Boardriders against World Number 2 Joel Parkinson and his Snapper Rocks Team…not to mention ASP top-tenner, Dingo Morrison, and former champ, Occy, also competing for bragging rights round the bar of the Coolangatta Sands Hotel.
I had never really tried taking any surf photos before, but I thought this might be a good chance to watch the best in the business and see how I would go. I was just using my regular 70-200mm 2.8L lens which was a little under-powered in the zoom department (I wish I had the gear I would be using just a few weeks later in Vancouver) . So while some pro looking photo dude with bikini girls hanging off his arm was comfortably high up on the sand, I had to wade out knee-deep into the water and then crop the final shots. But overall I was pretty happy with the shots, despite the ordinary waves. Shooting surf photography from the beach is not all that difficult I discovered, except for getting sharp focus (either on auto or manual) in lumpy, choppy waves that disrupt the foreground. And when there is a lull in the action out in the surf, there’s always something to look at on the sand. But it was awesome just being able to see the enormous slashes Mick could throw in small surf, and to see how he interacted like a true champion with all the grommets and fans on the beach. (And over the following months I’ve managed to be out surfing alongside Mick and Parko and seen their wave artistry up even closer). And watching all the action, I was struck by the pure aesthetic beauty of a good bottom turn.
I had met another Gold Coast-based surf photog, Simon Muirhead, a few days previously (see his shots from that day here) – he has a fair bit of stuff published on Swellnet and Coastalwatch – and from what he said, surf photography is even more competitive and under-valued than snowboard photography. I guess it is one of those things where the surf lifestyle is even more appealing than the snowboarding one, and there will always be someone out there willing to take surf photos for free, or a couple of logo t-shirts.
So I was a little surprised to hear from The Sunshine Coast Daily a couple of days later wanting to use one of my photos in their paper. Sticking to my business philosophy of no longer ever giving away a photo for free (which I’ve only done once in four years, and which came back to bite me in the arse recently…but that’s a story for another time) I tried to negotiate hard, even though the paper said they had no budget. I assumed it was some little weekly local rag, like the Moonee Valley Leader, and so was even willing to accept a nominal 50 bucks, equivalent to a web shot payment. But when the paper rep was about to hang up the phone and not run the shot, I relented to its free publication, thinking that at least I’ll have one published surf photo out there.
I was fairly happy just to hear that someone liked my shots…but was a little miffed when I discovered that in fact the Sunshine Coast Daily is in fact a major daily newspaper, much like the Geelong Advertiser or Gold Coast Bulletin. And to make matters worse, my shot was run on the back page as a thumbnail as well as quarter-page in the sport section, and on the website! Take a look at the pages, and check out the article and photo on the website here. Surely they could spring a budget to pay for the shots – it’s a legitimate journalistic story, not some local-scene colour piece like I thought it was going to be.
Oh well, at least it solidifies my resolve to never, ever give away a photo for free again…and at least now I can call myself a bona fide surf photographer!
So take a look at the shots I took that day.