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Beach Grit

Gallery: Steve Sherman Goes to Surf Ranch!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Behind the scenes at The Founders' Cup with the best in the biz…

There is very little that separates the work of most sporting photographers. A slightly different angle here, a different lens there. Any sorta lifestyle shot is perfunctory, at best.

Surfing is very lucky, then, to have Steve Sherman, a skater and surfer from southern California. In less competent hands, lifestyle shots around a surfing contest can appear contrived and stilted. Sherman’s thoughtful photography preserves the authenticity of the moment.

Recently, Sherm was hired to document the machinations of the American team at the WSL Founders’ Cup.

“I wanted to overachieve,” he told me earlier today. “I worked my ass off. But I’ve been to Surf Ranch twice and haven’t ridden a wave. Oh god it’s…torturous. Oh fuck! Just gimme one drainer!”

I think you’ll agree he snatches the electricity out of the air.

Shall we examine his work?

Silvana Lima imitates Kelly Slater. 

kelly slater silvana lima

“Kelly was sitting there on the boat ramp striking this weird thoughtful pose when Silvana snuck up on his and imitated the pose,” says Sherm. “She’s hysterical and she has a great sense of humour. Kelly had no idea. Thirty seconds into it, he turned around and saw it and started to wrestle with her and put her in a headlock. I’m the only one who shot it. I looked around and didn’t see any other photographers. And there’s…so… many photographers! Everything’s overshot. But here I was, solo, and whenever I get those sorta exclusives I get an adrenalin rush Fuck em! Fuck em all! I just killed the elephant, brother!”

Kelly Slater sees naughty Silvana! 

Kelly Slater Silvana Lima

Kelly turns around and sees the gently mocking Silvana Lima. Kelly, then, culturally appropriates the Brazilian art of jiujitsu (which was culturally appropriated from the Koreans, I think) in retaliation.

Michel Bourez prepares his Team World captain for battle

Michel Bourez Jordy Smith

“Michel was the cheerleader for the world team,” says Sherm. “He was the most animated, screaming, yelling and here, working Jordy up. I love Jordy’s face. He always lets his guard down when he’s with me, gives me a little something.”

Wilko and Parko as Rancheros



“Wilko and Parko wore their cowboy hats, which they had bought at a truck spot, everywhere. They’d wear ’em down to the water, take ’em off, surf, come back and put ’em back on. The thing about the hats is that it’s not actually cowboy style but…ranchero style… Mexican style and it was really cool of those guys to embrace it. A woman came up to Wilko, an upper-class white woman from Lemoore, and she asked, why are you dressed like cowboys? This isn’t the way people dress here. But that’s not her world. She doesn’t hang out with Mexicans, with guys killing pigs on farms, with rancheros. Wilko and Parko made it…fun.”

Team Australia, cheeky Stephanie Gilmore

team australia

“Mick Fanning pulled me aside and asked if I minded shooting a photo of the Australian team. I asked ’em to turn around. Mick said, well, isn’t that a little weird? And then Steph turns around and gives me that…smile. I gave it to Mick to upload wherever he wanted and, man, he was stoked. It ran across the world.”

Team Captains waiting for their turn on stage

 team captains

“Shooting at events is like being at a fucking drag race. It’s all about getting in first, getting the shot, and getting it uploaded and getting it to the world. This is on the first day and the captains are waiting to be announced. I’m surrounded by three other WSL photographers and I was…constantly…trying to outdo ’em. It was a competitive two days. This photo works because of the variety of looks on their faces, those kooky, funny looks.”

Filipe, happy, scores ten

filipe toledo

“Right after Filipe got his ten. He came in screaming, ‘Give me that fucking Jeep! Gimme the Jeep now!’ I really like Filipe as a surfer. He moves me.”

Filipe, sad, Brazil loses

Filipe toledo surf ranch

“Filipe’s feeling it. This was when Brazil was eliminated. That’s sport right there. The good, the bad, the ugly. Defeat ain’t pretty for anyone.”

Team World Wins Founders’ Cup

world team john john

“Look at John John’s face as Kelly just falls short of getting the score in the final. The thing about John was he looked a little off the whole event, apart from that air. He seemed distant. He’s not one to get animated or cheer but he didn’t seem like he was that into it.”

The Modern Surf Fan

surf fan

“That’s pro surfing meets Nascar. The guy is from Santa Cruz and he was wearing a Trump hat. He was the only guy waving a flag. I thought this was so American. If you go to a NASCAR race in Florida there’ll be 400 guys like this waving flags and getting drunk. Dude, that’s the future of surfing.”