The greatest surf photographer of all time?

Art is subjective. Isn't it?

Brian Bielmann is a legend. He is the oldest photographer shooting from the water right now. He has seen technologies come and technologies go but he is still there. In the water.

“I first started shooting water at Pipeline,” he says. “I remember moving out there in 1978. I surfed that Spring and thought, ‘ok next season I am going to be on every single swell!’ I was doing photography at the same time but I’d always say, ‘I’m gonna surf for an hour and then shoot. I’d never come in.’ And so winter came around and I paddled out on a bigger day at Rocky Point. I got pitched over and hit my head on the reef…basically almost died…and so I was sitting in the hospital with all these tubes coming out of me and that was it. It was gonna be photography.”

Brian Bielmann took his camera and his long lens and made his own housing and started swimming fearlessly. Capturing Gerry Lopez and Shaun Tomson and Marvin Foster and getting them famous. Getting famous himself.

The years passed and digital cameras became popular on land and Brian Bielmann thought, “enough of this film garbage” and switched over to a Canon Mark II. Nobody else was doing digital in the water. He swam and shot and captured an image of Andy Irons 3x world champ flying above the lip in Indonesia. The image was made into a billboard and everyone saw it and everyone switched to digital.

Maybe too many switched. Brian says, “Everybody started shooting digital and everybody started shooting fisheye. I never really liked shooting fisheye. I like shooting long lens where you see the whole wave. The roof of the wave and the ceiling of the barrel. You can see how big it is. Back in the day I remember Ted Grambeau yelling at guys shooting fisheye to go in because it makes everything look the same. It makes a four foot wave look four foot and an eight foot wave look four foot. Some guys are great at it and get amazing angles but too many people are doing it. I love the long lens look…”

And so Brian shoots long lens but he also loves to shoot underwater shots. Is getting even more famous because of it. “I love the underwater stuff,” he says. “It keeps me going and keeps me doing something really different. There are all those shots of surfers in the tube, which are really cool, but I’m also shooting different stuff. My wife is really pretty, I’m happy to say, and I do some mermaid shots with her. There is this thing called Flotilla in Waikiki where there are hundreds of surfboards, boats, legs and I swim underneath and capture all of that…I still love my backlit Pipe days but the underwater stuff gives me a new direction and allows me to stay in the water. I definitely don’t swim out on those crazy north days anymore.”

Since he has been around so long, knows the past and is the past, where does he see the future? “I think a lot of athletes are going to start getting into photography and put themselves places that we haven’t been. It’s just like surfing. People are taking off differently at Pipe, doing things that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Now there are guys like Russo who, he definitely has a screw loose but is pushing the limits…”

And Brian Bielmann’s future will continue to be amazing underwater images and long lens amazingness. His future is beautiful.


Steve Sherman (left) and Mike Balzer (v for victory!). If it was a game of who's sexier, it'd be a Sherman whitewash.

Pitiless: Balzer v Sherm (Part three!)

Top surf photog revealed as notorious anonymous troll?

As was revealed, here and here, the American photo-journalist Steve Sherman was recently engaged in an Instagram shakedown with the LA photographer Mike Balzer.

The essence of the story is this: In 1992 Steve Sherman was employed to photograph the surfers in Taylor Steele’s movie Focus for the video’s cover. The photo, which features Kelly Slater, Ross Williams (yes! Now the best commentator in the world!), Kalani Robb and co, wasn’t used as the cover; that honour went to a surf shot by Mike Balzer.

Lately, Sherman has been posting his older shots on IG with a brief anecdote behind each photo. “I shot this for @taylorsteele in 1992, for the cover of his video Focus… I was blown away how they all showed up right on time and gave their all,” said Steve Sherman.

Balzer, from gorgeous Manhattan Beach right there in Los Angeles, pounced: “Fraud: An act of deceiving or misrepresenting … Someone needs to tell the truth hear. What other make believe stories will go on his gallery? Bullshit!”

The story gets better. The pair used to work together at Transworld Surf: Steve as the photo editor, Mike as a syndicated photographer.

“I liked working with Mike. I really liked his work,” says Sherm.

But, as happens in biz, a conflict arose and Transworld and Balzer split.

And, then, years later, as Surfing magazine began posting Sherman’s classic behind-the-scenes contest images online, a mysterious troll, Kaipo Gomes, began a relentless campaign against Sherman. Whenever a Sherman photo appeared, so did Kaipo Gomes.

Apart from coining the classic nickname “Sherwank” the commentary alluded to Sherm’s lack of ability, with camera, and his possible sexual urges towards pro surfers.

Here’s a couple:

Kaipo Gomes

Further proof that Sherwank is just a paparazzi, lurking groupie photog. All this for just one old photo? Really……?! Sherwank comes off as the kid that snuck into the party he wasn’t invited to and rattles off lines written by someone else. “Parko’s style is so effortless I think the Judges underscore him all the time”. As if he is the barometer for anything related to Judging the World’s best surfers. Still amazed that he gets gigs to just shoot the trivial bulllshit in the VIP area. Remember that surfing is done in the water and on waves. The history of surfing is remembered with photos of surfers on waves. Thank the world for shooters like Tom Carey and Glaser that shoot surfers on waves as their stock in trade. TMZ called and they want Sherwank to cover the Kardashians. Right up his alley.

Kaipo Gomes

For all you lovers of all things Sherm you don’t think this is a little creepy? This is ONE photo of Kelly in a bed. That’s it. Not a huge turn or tube or air but just Kelly in a bed. For Sherm to get sooooo excited about this photo is pathetic. Again History of Surfing in made in the water. Actually surfing. Cordoso beat Kelly and that is history that happened in the water. That didn’t happen in the VIP area or worse in Shermwank’s bed. Flat out creepy!

Kaipo Gomes 

Thank you, DoucheBag, someone that sees Sherwank for what he is. The VIP area, roaming, lurking, creeping paparazzi photog that he is. His photos are not anywhere near the talent of Brewer, Hornbaker but more simple point and shoot simpleton stuff. Almost anyone can get the shots he does. What they can’t get is the VIP pass to enter that area. Is Sherwank a bodyboarder? He must be as that would figure. Most of the printed photogs these days are spongers. Go the tummy twirl Sherwank.

Kaipo Gomes

“critical”: exercising or involving careful judgement or judicious evaluation.

“criticism”: the art of evaluating or analyzing with knowledge.

Why do you focus solely on the “negative” aspect of this? Are you not reading any of this? I will apologize to your son as I don’t want to bum a young, impressionable kid out. But……………………………let me ask you, Steve, how do you choose the photo you present here? Do you exercise judgement or judicious evaluation over others? Sure you do. Every person has an opinion but very few will actually voice their opinion or in my case type my opinion. I feel it’s lame that you solely shoot “mainly” in the VIP area of elite surf contests. You get a VIP pass to that area that other shooters cannot get. Therefore you have a HUGE advantage over them. They can’t even get near those subjects to shoot to even compete with your shots. Some of the shots you get are good for what they are but they are not surfing on waves in the water. Do you get that? You really are a one-trick-pony that sets your digital camera on black & white and basically fires away. What’s so hard about that? Compare that to the guy swimming his ass off in the water. Or the guy getting slammed by the crowd on the beach. Or the guy trying to get a different angle down the beach. Come on you even have to get this. Ask yourself is the shot of Andy really great? I think not. And I think you would agree. Your shot of Andy behind the Presidential podium is getting there because of the concept and what he is wearing. Show that and tell that story. Glad you have an open mind to discuss. Don’t take this as negative but as a kick in the ass to push you to do better. Why not?

Jason Miller was the online editor at Surfing at the time and recalls, if vaguely, checking the IP address of Kaipo Gomes and, lo!, it was coming straight out of Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles. Not absolute proof, sure, but it sure narrowed the field.

“It was a weird time,” says Miller, who was the muscle behind shifting the entire website to a new platform. “We wanted to open the floodgates so people could express their opinion. We didn’t want to censor people. And Sherm became the target.”

But, as in all open societies, as much as trolls want to troll; others will be there to defend the defenceless.

Here’s a sample.

manbearpig 

i consider my self a regular at ING but not a regular commenter… the only thing I notice about these Sherm photos is Kaipo Gomes constantly bashing the guy..like on almost every photo. Did Sherm root your wife? whats the deal its just a picture. Yeah sherm seems to have an ego, everybody with 2 eyes can see that, you don’t have tell us every time. sheesh

Mike Balzer, meanwhile, who initiated the latest feud with Sherman, and who emailed me “further proof” of the validity of his claims wrote: “As with all things like this the Editor, YOU, have the last word and can make a person out to be a jackass.  I hope you can see that my attempt here is to suss out Sherman and make him tell the truth and not bullshit at the cost of his integrity to sell some T-shirts.”

When I asked (ever so gently) about his alter-ego Kaipo Gomes the shutters came down. Emails went unanswered. Phone calls rung out.

And, today, the conciliatory message:

“Hello Derek,

After some thinking on this I realize I made a mistake in how aggressive I got.  I’d rather just let it be.

Thanks,

Mike Balzer”

So sweet!


Pat, he's sorely missed here. There's a lot of fond memories being recited about Pat. He's a fucking epic human.

Candid: Ross Williams talks “gangsta” and Pat Parnell!

The tour's best commentator on life "inside the hurricane" that is the WSL… 

There’s a split in the electrical current in BeachGrit‘s twin bureaus, Sydney and Los Angeles. In the noted writer Chas Smith’s city of angels, the World Surf League is, “Maybe the worst thing that has ever touched the Internet. Watching professional surfing is a tremendous waste of time, especially during the early rounds. The commentary, new starlet Chelsea Cannell aside, is utterly asinine. So bad that it is an assault on the decency of human speech. The waves very rarely put on any sort of display and the surfing, while clearly exceptional, rarely wows. Especially at stops like the Gold Coast and especially two days ago.”

In Sydney, meanwhile, I’m beguiled by every feint of the World Surf League, every bold stroke of its monied masters. When God awakens me with his hot minty breath breath during the contest waiting period, I pray a little swell will kick down Snapper’s famous bank.

Combine new signing Chelsea Cannell (a queen of the television set!) with the former Slater-slayer Ross Williams and the beautiful Ron Blakey (who makes me want to anchor his thumb in my mouth), and you have broadcasting perfection.

I recorded this interview with Ross Williams at 11:58am, this morning, just prior to the Roxy Pro.

BeachGrit: You came out of the gates, swinging. Tell my why…

Ross: Oh, on that first day of competition it was so easy to be a commentator. The waves were really fun and everyone was surfing the best they’ve ever seen for Snapper. Yeah, I know it’s cliched to say that, but every year they seem to get a little better. And that was one of the finest days to watch small-wave stuff.

What turned you on? 

I did four heats of the men and Dusty really, really impressed me and then I was really psyched on Mick Fanning even though he didn’t win his heat. Girls? All the hype is on Silvana Lima and deservedly so. She has all the big rotator clips online and she backed it up by smashing Steph. There’s old school in her, too. She’s got her swagger. She’s come to compete and she’s letting everyone know.

How does she broadcast this intention? 

She’s been firing vocal shots across the bow about how she wants to win. More often that not, you hear competitors talk about how humble they are and how they want to give credit to their opponent. Silvana doesn’t. She seems like she wants to destroy ’em. And that’s cool.

“That was straight gangsta.” So bold! So African-American of you! I loved it when you used it to describe a Mick Fanning turn. What’s the genesis of the phrase? 

I grew up listening to nineties rap. It means someone who’s not messing around, somehow you can compare it to competition, and it means someone who is really bringing the heat. Y’know, I just wanna mix it up. I don’t wanna overdo it but it’s nice to hang a cheesy phrase on an event. I don’t wanna be repetitive. I’m like anyone else. I love to tune in to sports and I try not to be redundant.

“Buttercup manoeuvre”. That was sublime…

Half the time, stuff will come out of my mouth and sometimes it’s cool, sometimes I sound like an idiot. “Buttercup” came out of my mouth, I think, to describe a really smooth Matt Banting air 360, meaning, really smooth, too easy. In my weird little world, it seemed to come out ok.

Tell me about  Chelsea? Is she simply the most beautiful gal ever on television? 

She is definitely a breath of fresh air on our crew. She’s so at ease, really good, spot on. She’s really good at interviewing and we’re all really, really stoked to have her on board.

Is there anything in the world that hits a man right there in the heart than a smart, beautiful gal? 

I’m a married man so I wasn’t looking at her that way. But, uh, yeah, she’s beautiful! And more importantly, she brings it, man. She’s a great reporter.

My partner Chas and I have a different electrical current on the WSL. I love, he don’t…

You know, I get really stoked to hear what people’s opinions are outside of the bubble. We’re so in it, and when you’re inside the hurricane, you can’t what the hurricane’s effect is. I love to hear feedback, good and bad. Everyone takes their job seriously, here, and is passionate about providing a good show.

Where’s Pat Parnell?

Um… that I won’t answer, I don’t know if I’m at liberty… obviously, he’s not here, I’m not going to say he’s off and lo and behold up in the office they decide to bring him back. Ronnie’s stepping in the booth with me… he’s fricken way too easy to work with. He’s naturally funny, doesn’t push it, he’s extremely surf savvy and he knows what he’s talking about. I will say about Pat, he’s sorely missed here. There’s a lot of fond memories being recited about Pat. He’s a fucking epic human.

Is he dead? 

No, he’s not dead! He’s just sorely missed. It’s a big deal that he wasn’t here


Is Hayden Cox stoked that he is ruling the world? Is Matt Biolos? Is the guy who brought a longboard to the shoot bummed? Are they all bummed?

Is surfing the new golf?

Come read the piece that sinks your beloved BeachGrit!

Business Insider, a leading biz and tech journal, just published a story titled “For Tech Entrepreneurs in Silicon Beach, Surfing is the New Golf” which profiles a group that calls itself “Silicon Beach Surfers.” (read here)

In case you don’t know, Silicon Beach is what tech start up people have dubbed Venice/Santa Monica. Google has an office there and I walked by and saw tons of gross foam boards stacked outside the main door. Will Google thrash BeachGrit for writing that? Will searches for “Beach Grit” turn up pictures of cigarette butts in the sand?

Silicon Beach Surfers was started by a man named Robert Lambert who says, “In many cities and industries, the business sports are still golf, tennis, and racquetball. Here in L.A. the sport of choice is surfing, which is apparent when you realize how many of the more active and influential people in the L.A. tech and startup community surf.” Is surfing really a sport and do that many people in L.A. actually surf? Will Robert Lambert pick up on my overt sarcasm? Will he employ thousands of Indians to pepper BeachGrit with Eastern European Nike spam?

Ten people apply to join the group each week but only three get accepted. It costs $50 to apply and potential members get hazed for a month and then they can join and it costs $30 each month. Would I get accepted because I co-found successful online surf venture BeachGrit? Would Derek Rielly get accepted even more because he co-found both BeachGrit and Stab?

Silicon Beach Surfers paddle out in a large-ish group and surf everywhere from Point Dume to “The Trestles near San Diego.” They hold their meetings in a “surf shack” in Manhattan Beach. Will BeachGrit get totally destroyed, online, for posting this story? Will Derek and my applications rot in limbo forever? Will BeachGrit get, mysteriously, blamed for online espionage and other very bad things? Will Derek and I end up in Guantanamo Bay?

Should I not be snarky about the people who run the Internet? Will Graham Stapelberg be thrilled when BeachGrit is only pictures of cigarette butts in the sand and Derek and I are in Guantanamo? Will he be angry when the Silicon Beach Surfers sink the WSL because they are tech savvy and actually know how many people watch professional surfing and then tell Samsung “Ummmmm, yeah, 387 people watched. All day. And all 387 are super poor. What? No. We weren’t watching. We were busy surfing The Trestles.”

?


It is shit. I love it!

Confession: I love the world surf league

I also super hate it. What fun!

I do not care about professional surfing. And then, two days ago, the Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast, began and I became so excited that I logged on while Dawn Patrol played. Dawn Patrol. The maybe worst thing that has ever touched the Internet. Why? Why on earth did I do that? Watching professional surfing is a tremendous waste of time, especially during the early rounds. The commentary, new starlet Chelsea Cannel aside, is utterly asinine. So bad that it is an assault on the decency of human speech. The waves very rarely put on any sort of display and the surfing, while clearly exceptional, rarely wows. Especially at stops like the Gold Coast and especially two days ago.

Why then? Why, why, why, why do I watch professional surfing? I have given my actions a hard look and have come to two concrete conclusions. I hate watch. I watch The Devil Wears Prada every time it is on because I hate Anne Hathaway. I hate her fetal alcohol eyes. I hate her hair and I hate how she is styled in the gaggiest couture in the silliest most affected way. I hate Adrian Grenier. I hate his doughy face and his whiny mouth and his curls. I hate their relationship, in the film, and I hate all their friends and I hate that Adrian Grenier is always prattling on about Jarlsberg cheese. I could go on all day because there is something very satisfying about hate watching. I get the same satisfaction out of the World Surf League. So part of it is, yes, hate watching. But there is something far greater.

I watch professional surfing because I love the outcasts and misfits and weirdos who make up the larger surf community. I love giggling on Twitter with Matt Warshaw and Really Super Jr. and Jamon Bagel and Sir Gorik Badinskas and Not Dane Reynolds. I love chatting about which tour bottom feeders should get cut with anyone and everyone but especially Austrians and French Moroccans. I love hoping against hope that CJ Hobgood will win each and every event so I can laugh with him about it later. I love looking at Matt Biolos’s Instagram. I love pulling out the iPhone, when heats are running, at important functions and watching the worst derelicts come look over my shoulder and carry on about Dane’s beer belly.

Much like Adrian Grenier prattling on about Jarlsberg cheese, I have spent the larger part of my surf journalism career claiming that surfing is cool. Only lately have I come to the true realization that it is not. It is where addicts with no real skill come and waste lives that once held promise. And it is the greatest community of all. So I watch because I hate but I also watch because I love. Two very fine emotions. Thank you, WSL for providing the platform. And if you start charging for it, I will burn down your fucking Santa Monica studio. Or at least figure out how to pirate the stream.