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Beach Grit

Sherm: “The best photo I ever shot!”

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Iconic surf photographer discusses the tragic death of Zander Venezia.

You have most certainly read about the very sad death of sixteen-year-old surfer Zander Venezia in Barbados by now. The young man was surfing the first bands of Hurricane Irma energy off the island country’s east coast with a handful of stars. According to Jimmy Wilson, who was there shooting, he caught a wave, made it out the back and then told people he was going in. His surfboard was later spotted tombstoning and he was pulled from the water unconscious. He was declared dead at the hospital from complications due to a broken neck.

Tragic and also part of this life we live. Shallow reef, slabs, giant monstrous waves, sharks, sandbars… our playground is littered with menace and it is a wonder more surfers are not brought low.

Steve Sherman, the iconic surf photographer, has been in the game for as long as anyone can remember and has seen much glory and much tragedy. He took the last portrait of Andy Irons and at the U.S. Open of Surfing he took the last portrait of Zander Venezia and I think he has a unique perspective worth sharing.

I met him two weeks ago doing assignment ¬†for the WSL. Set up a studio down there to get portraits of all the WQS kids. Got portraits. I remember meeting him. Good looking kid. Real professional. I was shooting 128 portraits and he stuck out because he was wearing a Hurley shirt and because he photographed beautifully. Every shot was perfect. I didn’t put two and two together for a few days.

Jimmy shot his last. I had a conversation with him right after it happened. About a time we were surfing a slab in Bali and how crazy it was. I got caught inside and… its just crazy how close death is to surfing.

My emotion? Just… sadness. We’re a tribe and when a surfer dies everyone feels it. I’ve been around for too many of them. Shot all of them. Todd Chesser, Donny Solomon, AI…I’ve lost a lot of friends. There’s a lot more I worry about And it’s just this weird feeling of… fuck. To have photographic evidence, it becomes important all of a sudden. This photo of this kid shot becomes important. I got to celebrate his life by barely knowing him. and that makes it way better than anything I’ve shot.

In terms of dying, as a surfer, if you can go doing what you love then maybe that’s better than dying from a car wreck or cancer.

It’s death and glory.