I live near one of the top surfing spots in the country: “The Hook” at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz County. It’s a spot well known for its dependable waves, easy ocean access and beauty. It’s more suited for experienced surfers and often professional surfers and major competitors can be found here . You can see both longboard and shortboard surfing and both are exciting to watch. The Hook area of Pleasure Point is also home to Jack O’Neill, well known in the surfing and diving world as the inventor of the neoprene wetsuit.
I am probably the only non-surfer in my neighborhood but I enjoy surfing photography. I can occasionally be found photographing at The Hook on good surf days in the winter and spring when the northwest swells are in. However, for the photographer if not the surfers, surfing is good anytime even though the summer waves tend to be smaller.
Santa Cruz County recently finished a major construction project along the Pleasure Point cliffs. They shored up (pardon the pun) the cliffs to slow the erosion process and built new stairs from the top of the bluff to all of the beaches and key access points. The best thing they did for surfing watchers and photographers was to rebuild the observation area.
Photographing surfing can often be a difficult proposition. The action is fast and a DSLR camera set at about 800-1200 ISO is best. As always, I use a tripod with a ball head which allows both stability and movement. The distance from the action requires a lot of glass and I typically use a 400 mm lens. Unfortunately, even when mounted on a tripod, a lens of that size is subject to vibration from the almost constant wind.
I have often seen people with cameras shooting “rapid fire” to capture the action. It’s unnecessary, though, and indicates a lack of planning, thought and visualization. Think about the image you want to capture and visualize the finished result before ever aiming the camera. Determine the correct exposure prior to shooting, be patient and watch the action. Fire only when you’ve gone through this process and you will achieve good results.
Remember, and this applies to photographers and non-photographers, the true camera is in your mind and your eye is the lens; the camera is only a tool. Surf’s up!