17 April, 2014 17 April, 2014

Solid Gold (Zag 33.7)

For our 200th issue (Zag 33.7 – circa 2009) we asked ten of our most prolific lensmen over the years to tell us about one of their personal favourite images.

This is what they had to say (click images to view larger):



Location: Old Bay of Plenty, Durban
Date: July 1981

This line-up shot was taken during the first heat of the 1981 Gunston 500. It truly epitomizes the Bay of Plenty. For well over a decade this wave was the hot bed of South African surfing, producing a crew of surfers who took a new brand of surfing to the world. It was on countless days like this that Shaun Tomson redefined tube-riding for surfers the world over. More importantly, it was a second home to a very diverse crew of characters who lived, surfed, laughed and supported each other through good times and bad. Three years later, with the removal of the rock groynes, one of the world’s best beachbreaks was gone forever.




Location: Cave Rock, Durban
Date: Sometime in the 80s
Surfer: Martin Potter

I lived out on the Bluff for a while. This image of Martin Potter reminds me of just how lucky we were to have so many clean winter mornings out there, and how many great surfers used to shred some of the heavier waves around at that time.




Location: KwaZulu-Natal South Coast
Date: June 2009
Surfer: Haydn MacNicol

Every once in a while you get a shot that just does it for you. Over the years I can still remember specific moments looking down at the camera screen, waiting for that buffer to be done with the sequence, and just going, “Yeah, that’s it! That’s a cover!” There are shots that just stand out and all for different reasons.

This shot in particular was very rewarding because it was well thought out and not just a banger from the beach. This was the second session we were going for the shot, and there was only a small window period when the light would be just right as some clouds needed to clear for that golden light to kick in just before sunset. Casey Grant, Paul Daniel and Haydn were out and going for it, but they needed to get height in order for them to stand out in the image. I’m not sure if they understood me, but I kept raising my hand up and down to indicate they must bust out higher and what section to do it on. I guess you need to be a little demanding sometimes, and in the end it all came together. The clouds cleared for just a few waves, Haydn hit the section just right, and we got the shot.




Location: Lance’s Right, Mentawai Islands
Date: June 2005
Surfer: Lyle Bottcher

A few years ago Louis Powell and I found ourselves sipping martinis in a dinghy in the channel at Lances while shooting a crew of SA’s best surfers tearing the place apart. The sun was setting, the engine was off and it was just epic sitting there in the dead silence, hearing the waves crack, rumble, explode and double hiss as the guys gave us the performance of a lifetime. None of the photos of this, the most epic surf trip of our lives, got run in the mags though because of various political issues at the time. It was a real tragedy. But for all of us who were there, that session will always stand out as an amazing memory. Politics, industry squabbling and bottom lines aside, at least for all us surfers the simple act of just riding a wave remains what it is and always was – a blissful experience!




Location: Kalk Bay Reef, Cape Town
Date: Sometime in the 80s
Surfer: Patrick Lowe

“Your all-time favourite image,” says Zigzag. Okay. I go to my tin trunk (my all-time surfing archive) in search. As I gaze at my gap-toothed slide sheets (so many shots missing) I realise that my wrestling with kelp heads at Sunset, the Kom and 365 in the 80s were all-time experiences. But being the pioneer in the Cape means pioneering footage, not necessarily (to my mind) epic imagery. Today’s Photo Shop era has lifted the bar. I don’t want to make an ass of myself.

It becomes a showdown between a dawn spread of J-Bay from the hill, or a Kalk Bay in-the-tube shot. “Kalk Bay,” says my 15 year-old daughter, a merciless critic who also surfs. As I put the pic in the viewer, I feel a little less apprehensive. It’s of Patrick Lowe, a member of the old Kalk Bay underground. His brother Simon is one of the Dungeons big-wave chargers today. I think this image says a lot about Cape Town in the 80’s and early 90’s: black wetsuit and no flap, just straight-forward, rail-to-rail, top-to-bottom surfing on raw peaks and ragged reefs.

I hope this pic is not seen as a yawn, given the standard of “all-time” images today, but remember that Chris van Lennep and I had to make our own water-housings back then. Settings were fixed and focus was by depth-of-field – not auto-focus. We also had no jetskis and no boats to shoot from in the channel. You jumped into ice-cold, shark-infested water and (in the case of Sunset) almost drowned. I can’t believe now that in those days I was actually thinking of swimming at Dungeons! Maybe it was because Davey Stolk persuaded me it was like the Crayfish Factory, just further out to sea.

But I digress. What I like about this photo is the perfect positioning of Patrick in the barrel, focused on the sledgehammer lip with his body well-balanced. A perfect Cape classic. When I look at this pic it reminds me again that the adrenaline and stoke of getting tight shots like this from the water is like surfing itself.




Location: Pipeline, Hawaii
Date: December 2008
Surfer: Flynn Novak

I think what is personally special to me about this image is that this was my first trip to Hawaii finally after 10 years of being a surf photographer and that I got to witness Pipe at 10 feet in all it’s perfect picturesque glory. Swimming out to Pipe when it’s big is not easy, the first 20-30 meters of ocean is moving across the shoreline like a ragging river, but it is well worth it once you’re out. This day was pretty heavy, Corey Ziems from Australia had just broken his back and the swell was sill building with massive double up caverns exploding onto the reef. The locals definitely get all the best waves and here Flynn Novak very casually turns off the bottom while setting up for what was a monster tube. One of the highlights of shooting Pipe for me was that after many of the perfect sets, the tube would explode with spit out onto the shoulder where I was shooting from and you would disappear within the cool water vapour for a few seconds. Very special memories.




Location: Ansteys Beach, Durban
Date: March 2006
Surfer: Matt Daniel

My requirements for a good surf image are: an amazing and stylish surfer, good light and waves, a Canon EOS Mark II, a 400mm f2.8 lens, a good solid tripod, and lots of patience. You also need to remain focussed on the surfers and not the bikini girls on the beach, something that’s hard to do in a place like Hawaii. The day I shot this photo was one of the best ever on the Bluff. The wind didn’t come up at all and the waves got better as the morning went by. It was one of those days that a surf photographer dreams of – perfect light, no wind and a crew of the best surfers in the lineup. Now Matt is a bit of a weird case when it comes to photos. He is a talented surfer but he has his on and off days. The day this shot was taken we decided to setup in front of the Daniel’s house at Ansteys, but when I saw the wetsuit he was wearing I was like, “Come now! That thing looks like a piece of old cardboard that was left in the rain for three days and now you wearing it for a photo shoot?” Anyway, it’s so much fun dealing with all different types of people when your are a photographer and I always be thankful to guys like Matt and his brother Paul for helping make my career. Who knows? Without their help I might be sleeping under an old piece of cardboard in the streets.




Location: Lance’s Right, Mentawai Islands
Date: April 2003
Surfer: Sean Holmes

Indonesia is usually reliable for swell in the April to June period, and this trip in 2003 coincided with the aftermath of the Bali Bomb, the SARS outbreak in Asia and the US invasion of Iraq. After assuring the Saffa group they were not going to die from explosions or disease if they came to Indonesia, we left port in Padang, sailing past dozens of surf charter boats riding their anchor chains with no clients, as many surfers had decided to stay home or travel elsewhere at that time.

It was indeed empty, like no period since in the ever-more crowded Mentawai Islands, and with two powerful swells and few if any other boats at the major spots like Maccaroni’s and Lance’s Right, that particular trip was a feast of waves for surfers and photographers alike.

This image of Sean Holmes was one of the last days of the trip, and his perfect positioning at Lance’s Right reflects the great waves he’d already surfed on the trip and the athletic talent of the man himself. Surely one of the best surfers South Africa has ever produced.




Location: The Spot, KwaZulu-Natal South Coast
Date: May 1978

This is one of my all time favourites, so essentially African. It’s timeless and could have been taken this morning or 50 years ago. I like to think that the viewer puts himself/herself into a picture, so I always try to shoot pictures that asks the question, “So what happened next?” or have the promise of something more to come.

This particular day in ‘78 delivered the early morning promise in bags. An all day buffet shared by Mike Tomson, Mark Price, Mike Larmont, Paul Naude, Dave Hansen, Espo and a few others. The photographers pigged out as well. Two Zigzag covers, a Gotcha ad and enough pics to keep the photo editor smiling for a few issues. This pic was shot on an Olympus OM2 using Kodachome 64 and a 50mm lens. I still use Olympus cameras and Zuiko lenses today, although all digital now.




Location: Deadmans
Date: July 2008
Surfer: Devyn Mattheys

This image of Devyn Mattheys fully entombed at Deadmans, or as some of the East London locals would have it – the “Pornstar Ledge”, is one of my favourites. I selected this shot for my contribution to the 200th issue as it has not yet been run and illustrates the stoke that has been created by shooting supremely talented surfers on this crazy wave. Deadmans is the most intense, exciting and downright scary wave that I have shot locally. Pound for pound, it is as heavy as any wave that I have swam (including Hawaii) because of the radical setup, the shallowness, the sneaky lefts that klap the inattentive, and the major sea life that frequents the area. Sharks, killer whales and the like… no jokes. Greg Emslie recently told me about an over the falls bounce on the reef that he had out there which rattled him so badly that he had to sit out back for a while, shaking and having to recompose himself. Heavy stuff from a guy who charges some of the world’s gnarliest waves. I have personally gone over the falls once and bounced three times on the reef which is hip deep. Greg and Devyn are the guys to watch out there as they have the place wired. I don’t know what porn position this would be called, but it rates as an A Grade in my book.

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