Drone angle of Cape Solander
Writer Robert Fazio (from New York City!) and I disagree sharply on the subject of drones. I think they're just the greatest things ever. But what is BeachGrit if not a hub of opinion? To support my case, I present this photo of my great pal Sam McIntosh (with whom I started Stab 11 years ago) at the wave that deposits upon the rocks of Cape Solander in Sydney's Botany Bay. Have you seen a surf photo better than this? I say no! Shot by Mark Mathews' girl Britt! | Photo: Britt Jones


Let a man surf in peace, for chrissakes!

I must preface this with an apology. I do not mean for this to be a pontification. I am not an auteur nor am I a cinematographer and I am also not a technophobe frightful of the future hoarding every last cartridge of film that I can find. But the Go Pro and drones are killing surf cinema.

Over the last four or five years there has been an implosion of cameras made available at very affordable prices. This is wonderful and great and I love everything about it. All people should have the chance to document their adventures at ease for a very low price. But since when did amateur cinematographers stop referencing the greats like Goddard, Cervantes and Bunuel for the likes of Michael “360-degree-angle-shots-only” Bay?

For a while it was only my eardrums that would bleed. There was a period during the late 00’s in which dubstep took over surfing and every large turn coincided with a thump while every “drop” was prefaced by an insanely choppy sequence. The formula was so predictable but the solution was easy. Mute your television and put on some better electronic music that could keep up with the edit.

The Go Pro-facing-the-body shot came next. This was a nightmare for those suffering from Podophobia or anyone with half a brain that pays a little attention to aesthetics. During this time we learned that many pro-surfers don’t use toenail clippers. Although in 2014 Go Pro footage looks more like homage to the last 30 minutes of Crystal Voyager with a modern twist, it’s still repetitive.

Now we have the drone.  Not only has the angle become tired, when I go to the beach I don’t want to see some asshole with a soul patch piloting a drone because he can’t surf the wave that he is filming.  Drones are obnoxious and ugly and they create unoriginal footage that reminds me more of CNN’s coverage of a crash site than it does of scantily clad men riding pieces of foam in paradise.

Young filmmakers need to purchase a Hulu account, to check out their Criterion collection instead of an Xbox Live account, and study the masters. They need to carry their cameras across barren deserts until their gluteus burn with lactic acid. They need to get the shot. Technology doesn’t scare me.

Luddites be damned. I want more albums like Yeezus, pushing buttons and creating outrage, and less reunion albums from bands that had their time in the 70’s. I want more Opening Ceremony and less pre-fabricated vintage. I want more Pynchon and less Hemingway, although Hemingway shouldn’t be ignored.

Living in the past is for kooks. The drones are fucked yet the future is bright, very bright. I implore that all cinematographers in surfing continue to push boundaries and find new angles and new ways of looking at things. But momma, please don’t take my Kodachrome.


African-Australian boy at Eastern Beach Geelong.
Sudanese-Australian boy photographed at Eastern Beach in Geelong. "Bior came to Australia in 2002 at the age of six," says Frank. "Bior is a gun Australian Rules Football player and has been selected to play for elite team the Western Jets. This young man has a bright future ahead of him indeed, something to remember in this era of political fear-mongering surrounding the immigration debate." The photo won second prize ($30,000) for contemporary photography at the 2013 Moran Prizes. | Photo: Jon Frank


A new photo book that holds a mirror to Australia's soul. "It's not a political book," says Frank. It is… 

Australia. Now there’s a tricky one.

A couple beats over 200 years ago, Captain James Cook plants a flag in the name of England on a stretch of sand and the fun begins. Between now and then unravels a lively tapestry of identity defining moments and a flood of immigrants that helped shape the country into what it is today.

And that’s where it gets a bit confusing.

Australia’s home to 23 million people, a mixture of good, bad, angry and sad all living in a beautiful country girt by sea. And if you had to pick one photographer to turn the lens on the people that for better or worse make Australia what it is-wouldn’t you be glad it’s Jon Frank?

Frank has set aside a year to, in part, frame Australia’s identity but to also “take you on a trip through a modern-day Australia far removed from the colour brochure. It will weave an unflinching visual narrative to lead the reader through the streets and back-blocks of our capital cities and rural centres.”

The end result will be a large-format book simply titled, Australians, all shot in the distinctive Frank style, the style that set the Cronulla-raised immigrant apart from the herd early on in his stellar career.

“It’s not a political book,” says Frank. “But to tell you the truth, the Australia I landed in aged 10 to the one we have now. It’s a completely different country with a different set of ethics and morals.”

Frank’s chosen to shoot the book on film and at times of the day which offer little in the way of flattering light. It’s a decision which certainly gives the shots a certain feel but also harkens back to his body of work as a surf photographer, open, often empty, but always stunning.

“I made a conscious decision to avoid trickery in the project and that may very well turn out be a case of me biting off my nose to spite my face,” he says. “But, I don’t want to use beauty to distract from the honesty of the work. I started off saying no tricks, no using the light to provide dramatic affect.  I’m trying to not get caught up in the games photographers can play using light but I don’t know how long I’m going to go along that road. I might change tack halfway through and decide I need to add some beautiful light, make things a bit more varied, but at the moment I’m just trying to get to the nuts and bolts of the people.”

The early results, which can be seen on an accompanying blog (click here) are what you’d expect from Frank but are also slightly uncomfortable to look at, as if we’re catching a glimpse into an odd mundane private moment.

“I don’t approach anyone,” says Frank of his method. “And not everyone likes having their picture taken. I’m a sensitive person but there’s a certain amount of aggression needed to lift the camera to your eye, stare someone down and take their picture. I’m not always comfortable doing it but I see the benefit outweighing any sort of squeamishness I might have about photographing a stranger.”

Frank’s also embraced social media to chronicle the making of the book, a welcome decision to his legions of fans but one he reckons he may never would have if not for the book. “I’m no luddite and let’s face it, the world doesn’t need another photograph, that’s for sure,” he says.

So what’s the point?  “I get depressed sometimes about the new media landscape and the sheer quantity of visual information. But, at the same time I find it liberating to pursue the craft of photography using the techniques I enjoy but in a modern way, using modern methods of communication like the blog and Instagram to take people with me on the making of journey.”

Among the many looking forward to the end product is Aquabumps founder, Eugene Tan, a much lauded chronicler of the Australian identity and one of many to admit to being influenced by Frank’s style.

Jon makes people feel very comfortable and in turn is able to capture those intimate moments,” says Tan. “I can imagine the end result will be pretty special, real and personal.”

Dane Reynolds riding a Sperm Whale
@sealtooth having a hell of a time drumming on a 5'5" Sperm Whale, as fun a shape as they come. "I see way more homemade Sperm Whale incarnations in the lineup than real ones, which is pretty cool," he says. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

More Lessons on Hating

For one, talking about a beard or a moustache is mundane, humdrum, repetitious, unexciting, and stupid.

Stop Hating on Fun Shapes: Fun shapes can make a bad surfer good. And if  you’re a shortboarder, life is much easier when the water is full of guys who can ride a wave and spend their time on the inside of the take-off zone scrambling to paddle back out after a failed take off. Encourage people to surf  boards that will make their session better because it will result in a better session for you.

Stop Hoarding Music: Nothing more annoying than people who act like they  own a band just because they’re boring and they spend all their free time surfing the web scouring the dusty blogs looking for new music. You didn’t write it, you don’t own it, and you aren’t that cool for finding it. Unless you’re saving a specific song for a surf section (which you probably aren’t), give the band their due credit and share the music.

Don’t Discuss Facial Hair: Facial hair isn’t cool. Talking about a beard or a moustache is mundane, humdrum, repetitious, unexciting, and stupid. Life is so full of many interesting things and somehow you find the little hairs growing out of someone’s face, the same type of hairs that grow out of someone’s ass, to be the most interesting thing you can discuss?

Stop With The Flannel: The fall is not flannel season. The fall is layering  season. Flannels are great and lovely looking but they should not define the best season of the year. Their collars are flappy, many of the colours suck, and the only reason they’re so popular is because they hide your beer gut.

Enough with the shaming: It’s basic to call someone basic, it’s become hip to rip on hipsters, it’s extremely nerdy to call yourself a nerd, and it’s kooky to call someone a kook. Get creative with your hate mongering or don’t hate at all.

John John Florence and Jamie O'Brien, vintage photo
John John survived Jamie's vicious childhood hazings and came through with rockets on. Now their souls hold hands and cling together even when they bicker!

My Tortured Relationship with John John

Jamie O'Brien on why John John refuses to surf Pipe if he's out… 

Jamie was right there on the Shore when John John started to fool around in the water. He got John into contests and pushed him into waves during his first-ever heat, when the kid was four.

But, “Jamie used to tease John,” says John’s mama Alex. “He used to cross the line. He’d throw dog poops at the kids.”

And their relationship now? Listen to the thirty-ish Jamie in this wonderful short talk about his protege. “Our relationship is not like anyone else’s. We bicker and we hate each other and we love it. Sometimes he doesn’t even want to surf Pipe because I take his waves from him… He wants the waves I want and I want the waves he wants and that makes me wanna surf more.”

Jamie O’Brien talking about his relationship with John John Florence. from I Want My North Shore 2 on Vimeo.


Grant Twiggy Baker at Jaws
Twig at Jaws, a favourite photo of his. "The fear of drowning is always present," says Twig. "But for me, everyone has to die and does it really matter in the big picture if it's today or in 30 years time? | Photo: Richard Hallman

How to kill the yips in big waves

"It's a circus ride underwater," says big-wave world champ and ESPN "hellman" Grant "Twiggy" Baker…

<strong>My Dad was a professional golfer and he always used to talk about the yips</strong> and how they can knock you right out of contention on any given day.

But what about big waves? Can we kill 'em? Or can we at least avoid 'em? Who wants to be trembling with fear when a big-wave comes, anyway?

The fear of drowning is always present but for me, I figure, everyone has to die and does it really matter in the big picture if it's today or in 30 years time. So rather then letting that fear govern what you do, use it in positive ways. Use it to make smart choices in surfing and in life and use it to push yourself as far as you can. For me the fear of serious injury is more apparent then the fear of death. I hate being injured.

When I see a 30-footer about to land on my head, I stop thinking. What happens is a trance-like state comes over me and I click into a head-space that's hard to explain. One where everything slows down and you are acutely aware of yourself and what you need to do to survive. Instinct takes over and all the experience and training you have, helps you to the other side. Or, uh, not.

For a lot of surfers it's not so much a fear of the wave they're going to ride but the fear of the unseen clean-up set. But getting caught inside is not nearly as bad as a wipeout even though it seems that way. Durning a wipeout you only get a quick breath and you have no control over your body while being caught inside gives you time to breathe up, fill your lungs, calm yourself and control your body position.

My first foray into big-wave surfing was done at Bawa in Indonesia in the early 90's. I would spend a few months a year camped out on the beach and it would get… <em>big</em>… often. So much so that eventually I had a quiver of nine-foot-plus surfboards stored there. I had some days looking back now that were easily in the 15-foot-plus range and my time there really prepared me for what was to come later.

The biggest wave I've ridden tow is 70-to-90 feet on that infamous day at Cortez in 2009 when Greg Long, Brad Gerlach, Mike Parsons and I went out between two huge storms on photographer Rob Brown's little boat and scored bigger waves then I have ever seen anywhere else. We were surfing the end section of the wave and up the reef it looked twice the size. This session made me believe that the 100-foot wave is easily achievable.

Paddle, I've ridden 50-to-60 feet on occasions: Mavericks during the 2010 event, Dungeons during the 2009 event,  Pe'ahi in 2013 and Cortez last year. I still believe my tallest-ever wave was at Dungeons but unfortunately no photo of it exists which is a true fisherman's story. My goal this northern-hemi season is to break the current paddle record held by Sean Dollar at 61 feet.

I've found that if you have mental issues with big-waves you can overcome 'em with physical conditioning. For me, it's all about being as physically prepared as possible so that you have no excuses mentally. In the past we have been far less prepared, and have managed to survive, so nowadays it seems like we are readier to tackle the waves we do.

Hold-downs that come very close to being grave existential crises do happen, however. And the best advice I've had was "Don't panic after you panic" which came from the legends of Waimea Bay. I try to remember this underwater. There will always be a certain amount of panic wanting to flood your body but if you can recognise this and focus on it, then you can change its course and stay calm.

Breath training is important, too. It ain't just a gimmick. It teaches you to be comfortable underwater and to know your limits which are, in fact, way further then you can imagine. In turn, that teaches you to stay calm, control your panic and enjoy the sensation of being held down by one of the most powerful forces in nature. It really is the ultimate circus ride!

That said, my record static breath hold is five minutes which I believe will give me around 40 seconds on a hold-down which is between a two-and-three-wave hold-down. Any longer then that and I will need to rely on my safety team to help out. An average hold-down would be around 12 seconds but even a medium-size wave with a long period will hold you down longer.

As for our limits, and particularly paddle surf, I don't think there are any. We are just setting the standard for future generations to shatter. New waves will be discovered, better equipment designed and fitter, stronger surfers ready to go. I can't wait to sit on my couch and watch them do it. Maybe it's you!