It's not easy deciding where to try and get that perfect Red Bull Illume image, so we've put together a series of five of the world's best action and adventure sports locations. Here's part one: Hawaii.
To most surfers and surf photographers, Hawaii is the epitome of a big-wave paradise.
And for the first two weeks of December 2009, Hawaii even gave surfers an early Christmas present: the largest waves since 2004 thanks to an El Niño event combined with a typhoon that originated near the Aleutian Islands. The unusual conditions triggered the rarely-held Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau. This competition honors legendary surfer and first lifeguard of the North Shore of Oahu, Eddie Aikau, and only takes place when the waves at Waimea Bay remain at a sustained 20ft-plus. Since its inception in 1984, the tournament has only been held seven times, the most recent event being held in December 2004.
However, even without the exceptional conditions of the Quiksilver Big Wave event, Oahu’s rugged North Shore produces some of the largest and most imposing ocean waves on the planet every winter. Storms produce giant swells that make their way across the northern Pacific to batter reef breaks and the area’s shoreline.
Although surfing in Hawaii is said to reach back to the first Polynesian settlers that migrated to the Hawaiian Islands, surfing really only took off in the early 1900s. Today, the surfing population on the North Shore has truly exploded. From November to February, thousands of surfers, photographers and cinematographers from around the world flock to the famous surf spots like Waimea Bay hoping to catch that perfect wave.
World-renowned surf contests are held there throughout the winter season, making use of the spectacular winter waves that can get as high 20 feet, with faces up to 50 feet. This not only means that the beaches of the North Shore constantly play host to some of the world’s best surfers, it also means that there is plenty of competition between photographers trying to capture the best shot.
At Oahu’s North Shore, surf photography has become a billion dollar industry, turning the area into something akin to a crowded supermarket of image gathering. Every photographer from every magazine is there and the pressure to get photos is high.
However, although things might get a bit hectic, Hawaii is still a great choice for capturing outstanding surfing shots.
As the only warm water place with heavy surf, the North Shore stretches for more than seven miles and offers various great spots for surfing and shooting.
Waimea Bay is one of the most popular spots and the birthplace of big wave surfing. Located in Haleiwa on the North Shore, Waimea was the original place to ride 30-foot-plus waves and is still one of the premier big-wave spots breaking two or three times in winter. The bay opens to the northwest and features a lava shelf extending beyond the northern end.
However, the great surf of Waimea Bay also comes at a price. Although Hawaii’s big waves appear a lot more consistently than in other places due to the island’s volcanic geography, the bay features extreme surf conditions, evil rips, dangerous reefs and sharks, all of which make swimming in the water to get some amazing action shots a risky endeavor.
If treated with care and respect, the North Shore of Hawaii remains an awesome place to shoot surfing while soaking up some ‘aloha’ lifestyle.
Most major U.S. and many international carriers fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu. Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air and go! are the main carriers flying between Hawaiian islands.
To get to the North Shore beaches, take Northwestern Kamehameha Highway (Highway 83) from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach. Be prepared for traffic during the busy winter surf season.