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|| News Item: Posted 2000-03-23

Surf's Up!: shooting at Maverick's
By Aric Crabb, Alameda Newspaper Group

Photo by Aric Crabb

Photo by Aric Crabb
On Friday, March 3 I had the most FUN I have ever had while taking pictures.

That day was GO day for the second annual Mavericks, Men Who Ride Mountains Big Wave Event in Half Moon Bay California. Half Moon Bay sits in between San Francisco and Santa Cruz on the rugged Northern California coast. The spot was pioneered by local big wave surfer Jeff Clark and was first surfed in 1975 by the man who has made Mavericks one of the world's top three big wave spots.

Mavericks are an open ocean wave that pitches up and breaks a half a mile out to sea. The 60-foot deep ocean floor instantly runs into a reef shelf that is only 18 feet deep and Mavericks is created. Wave faces thirty feet high raise to the sky, pitch out and come crushing down to the deadly, rocky, ocean floor.

On the biggest days when storms bring in huge swells Mavericks cannot be surfed with the traditional paddle in method (where the surfer paddle's into the wave). But on the days when Mavericks rises up to 50 feet and more, surfers can now ride the monsters with the help of being towed into the giant wave by a jet ski.

Photo by Aric Crabb

Photo by Aric Crabb
On March 2, Clark who runs the new big wave event made the call for Friday to be GO day. The night before I could not sleep. I tossed and turned thinking about the day ahead me. I had been waiting for this day to come since August. I had starting working on getting a credential for the event back then. This contest, like most big surf contests today has a window that the contest organizers work within to get the best possible conditions for the event to go off in.

This year's waiting period was from November to March. Four months of waiting. Four months of watching weather forecasts, swell predictions and buoy reports. Finally the contest had been called. I got a credential through the news agency I work for, ANG Newspapers, but we had another shooter on our staff that was also a surfer and wanted to shoot the contest for the paper. This gave me the opportunity to take a comp day and use my pass to shoot some chrome for myself.

I had been to Mavericks several times before and always watched the action or shot from the cliff that hides this break from the public. On contest day however I would be shooting these thirty-foot waves from a boat just on the shoulder of the wave. I was completely psyched to be going out on the water. Shooting surfing from the land had always quickly bored me.

Being a waterman and surfer I wanted to be out riding waves not shooting them. After firing off a few rolls from a beach or cliff I was bored and wanted to get wet. Having the opportunity to be in a boat and shoot from the perspective of the water was a chance I could not pass up and something that I had wanted to do for a long time.

Being a surfer helps in shooting surfing just like knowing about the players and the game helps you to shoot a ball game. But the biggest waves I had ever bodyboarded were eight foot waves on a point break. Nothing can prepare you for seeing a 30-foot wall of water come rolling at you.

I left for Mavericks at five that morning and got to the surf shop that was home base for the contest about 40 minutes later. The day was to be a clear and beautiful day on the coast. A few high clouds, no fog, and lots of sun. About eight photographers, a couple of reporters and some surf industry royalty boarded our boat about seven that morning. Originally the contest was set to start at eight, but after a few delays (organizers forgot the contestants jersey's back on land) and one hell of a bumpy boat ride out to the line up everything was set for a nine o'clock kick off.

The light was just gorgeous and I shot most of my chrome earlier on in the day while the surfers were front lit. I had been on boats before large and small in different conditions but never before had I been in surf this big trying to hold a 300 f 2.8 to my face and take pictures. As a swell would pass under our boat we would roll over to the starboard side (that would be to the right of the bow).

We had to use our feet to pin us between the railing on the side of the boat and the wall of cabin that we were leaning against for balance. Holding a 300 close to your body and looking straight down at the water five feet below as you waited for the boat to roll back to a more level position was a blast. It was just like being on a roller coaster. I was having a great time on the boat with a couple of other photographers who were also surfers and enjoyed being out on the ocean.

The perspective you get from being out in the water or on the water is just so much cooler than being on land shooting out. A few others though were not having such a good time. A couple of female reporters from local newspapers thought they could write their stories better if they were on a boat out in the elements. Neither one of them spent much time outside after we got into the lineup. They felt it was safer to be securely pressed into a seat in the cabin of the boat. So much for a first hand account.

Photo by
As the boat tossed up and down side to side, our captain asked for us to place bets on who would be the first passenger to start hacking up breakfast or last night's dinner. Captains have always said that it is best to avoid drinking the night before and have a light dinner and breakfast before going out to sea. I go the opposite of this and it has always worked for me. The night before the big show I had a full slab of ribs at Hungry Hunter, corn soup, salad with blue cheese dressing, crab cakes and four Beefeater Martini's straight up with two olives. I have yet to get sea sick using this heavy drinking and eating strategy.

One guy on our boat from Microsoft (not quite sure what the hell he was doing on the boat) spent his day hanging over the back of the boat puking. It seems like after a while there would be nothing left to toss up, but whenever I looked over at him he was hanging off the back of the boat.

Six-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater paddled over to our boat to talk with the shaper who crafted the board he was riding for the contest and after watching our boat take to violent rolls over to the starboard side paddled away saying that if he watched us roll and bob anymore he was going to start puking.

There were a number of spectator boats out in the line up. AP staffer Ben Margot kept us entertained by pointing out fans that could not take the pitching any more and decided to spew over the side of their vessel. Local captain's seeing dollar signs were charging to take fans out and up close to the action.

There was also the contest directors Zodiac, two other boats with photographers, the harbor patrol boat, about five skis with lifeguards and water patrol members on them, another five skis with photographers shooting from them, the contestants boats and skis and two helicopters with shooters in them hovering over the waves. It was very crowded. Just like being at a Raiders game. The boats were constantly jockeying for the best position to get a clean shot at the action.

Photo by Aric Crabb

Photo by Aric Crabb
In almost every picture I took there is either a ski in the picture, three skis, or three skis and a boat in the frame. That is the only complaint I have about the event is how many watercrafts were out there cluttering up the shot. Surfing Magazine's Aaron Chang finally donned a wetsuit and went overboard from our boat and had a jet ski take him to a much smaller boat that was closer to the action.

17 rolls of chrome is what I went through out there on the high seas. Shooting airdrops, wipeouts, and some truly amazing athletes racing down the face of 25 and 30 foot waves. I was just so psyched to be out there right next to the action. Getting that amazing view that can only come from being next to the wave, out in the water. Eight hours later we cruised back into the harbor after seeing some of the most amazing surfing I have ever witnessed.

I love the sport of surfing, and I love being in and near the water. What excites me is taking a picture of a powerful mass of liquid that is hurling a rider across its face. Photography let's me capture that wonderful moment in time. Not only capture it but have the ability to show someone who has most likely never been in that position and never will in their life. To show someone what a wave looks like from the inside looking out. To show someone the power of the lip crashing down behind a wave rider. That is what excites me, and I'm lucky that I have been able to find it. Now I just need to figure out how to get paid for doing that.

(Aric Crabb is training to be able to ride the big waves at Mavericks by next year. In his spare time he is a staff photographer for ANG Newspapers in Fremont, CA.)

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