There's nothing like a good break during the festive period – even better if it's the world's largest surf break, finds photographer Lucas Gilman. Just back from shooting big wave surfers Shane Dorian, Mark Mathews, Kai Lenny and Ian Walsh at Jaws, Hawaii, the Red Bull Illume lensman tells us all...
How did the trip come about?
I was in Oahu, Hawaii just before Christmas on assignment for a commercial client and had a small break in a heavy production schedule. So I decided to get my team together and shoot some surfing for our production reel. December can be one of the best months for surfing in Hawaii. The North Shore (Oahu) was crazy with the Bilabong Pipeline Master’s contest going on and conditions were shaping up to be less than ideal - but there was a swell building on the horizon so on Ryan Moss’s (Principal Camera Operator + Surf Guru for Lucas Gilman Productions) advice we hopped on a plane and headed for Peahi, Maui (JAWS). I’d never shot JAWS before and it’s been high on my bucket list.
“Two photographers had all their gear destroyed by the wave.”
Sounds like an adventure
Mavericks is a massive wave that breaks about a mile off of coast near the Town of Half Moon Bay, California. When it breaks it sounds like a bomb exploding. There are two ways to shoot it – from the water or sea cliffs but the wave is often obscured by fog from the shore. I decided that being on a boat was the best plan. Shooting from a boat with 35-45 foot swells is definitely challenging. I was glad that veteran waterman and big wave surfer Ken “Skindog” Collins reminded me to take dramamine to prevent sea sickness. Some of group on our boat didn’t take dramamine and I’ll just say - they had a rough day at the office.
“There is a small window between being in a great spot to get the shot and in a really bad spot for getting crushed by a 40+ wave.”
Towards the end of the day our luck ran out and a massive wave clipped the back end of our boat. Two people were ejected from the boat by the force including big wave surfer, Mark Healy. I was on the front of the boat and barely held on to the guard rail as the wave impacted us. I was lucky to have packed my extra gear in a Pelican 1510 case with TrekPak inserts. Two photographers had all their gear destroyed by the wave. Preparing for the worst case scenario and keeping your gear dry and safe is a top priority.
You also shot from land right?
One day we departed the hotel at 4:30 AM to stake out a spot on the cliff overlooking JAWS. It was definitely sketchy pushing our way through the massively tall grass in the dark looking for openings on the 600 foot tall sea cliffs. Eventually we settled on a spot and Ryan Moss departed to shoot from a jet ski. The break known as JAWS is way out from the shore so a long lens was definitely needed. The plan for our team was for Shane Grace to shoot video with a Nikon D810, 80-400mm + teleconverter, for Ryan Moss to shoot video from a water angle with a D810 in a SPL Water housing & 70-200mm, and I would shoot stills and video with a D810 and a Nikon 800mm lens + teleconverter. I used a super sweet prototype fluid gimbal from Really Rights Stuff (coming soon) to shoot stills/video with the 800mm lens. By 6:30 AM the cliff was packed with photographers for what was shaping up to be an all-time perfect day at JAWS.
“There was a 35-40 ft wave at Jaws that absolutely crushed Red Bull surfer Kai Lenny. I couldn’t believe he could come back from the beating.”
Are big wave surfers good guys to work with?
I met the legend Shane Dorian briefly before our shoot and have to say he’s an amazing guy. He has a great charisma and passion for life, which is refreshing in an era where sports are very commercial. Kai Lenny is also a super rad guy. For the most part the big waves surfers I’ve dealt with are super easy to work with.
Any interesting moments at Jaws?
There was a 35-40 ft wave at Jaws that absolutely crushed Red Bull surfer Kai Lenny. I couldn’t believe he could come back from the beating, which he did and continued to style waves all day. Shane Dorian got the wave of the day and a XXL ride of the year nomination. I was stoked to have two big wave trips back to back with epic conditions. Mavericks was the biggest it’s been since 2010 and JAWS was flawless. Jamie Mitchel broke three boards at Mavericks and took 45 footer straight on the head.
Sounds like a tough place to work!
It’s a long day when shooting big waves however you cut it. Standing on your feet for 10+ hours on a cliff at JAWS in the sun or being on a boat being tossed around at Mavericks isn’t easy.
Did you have a specific shot in mind?
I’m always looking to document the day and whatever mother nature gives us. I always try to use a shutter speed of more than 1/3000 of a second to freeze the action in water and snow sports. JAWS is really far off shore and I wanted to get a full frame wave top to bottom with amazing action so I used a Nikon 800mm lens with the matched teleconverter to give me a focal length of 1000mm and give the the range I needed.
Did you get it?
You tell me.
There's so much great surf imagery out there. What do you have to do to get something really unique?
There are so many amazing photographers out there today. I take inspiration from many. The equipment we have today makes getting a sharp, well exposed image easy. What we have to do to be successful as photographer is make something different, something unique, something special. It takes a lot of time, dedication, thought and a little luck to have it all work out.
No rest for the wicked, I’m always busy. I’m working on a few commercial campaigns. In 2015 I want to make a commitment reinvest in myself and shoot a few projects that are portfolio driven - I love making images just for the sake of making images.
Check out the incredible video footage: http://vimeo.com/115656242