The art of surf photography


Having spent most of my life looking at photos of people surfing on surfboards, this isn’t something I tend to pursue as a hobby in my golden years.

Granted, my shelves are cluttered with hundreds of extravagant coffee table trophy books, some of which I helped create. And let’s not even consider the cupboards and storage shed filled with archive boxes of old magazines containing more of the same thing. To be honest, I’ve rarely looked at these extensive collections in decades.

But then a couple of things are going to happen to remind you of the incredible journey the best surf photographers have taken us on, and you look with fresh eyes.

The first of these was the recent launch of his opus by his old comrade John Ogden, Waterproof: Australian Surf Photography Since 1858, a magnificent collection of historical photographs and explanatory texts which has rightly attracted the attention of ‘a variety of media sources, ranging from Tracks to The Scottish. I’ve known Oggy for almost 50 years, we’ve helped each other on various projects and I’m a huge fan of his photo compilations, especially the brilliant Saltwater People series, and decades ago his stunning black and white Australia, so I don’t am not surprised that the long awaited new book is successful.

In Waterproof, Oggy writes: “With more and more players entering the field, we see a lot of sensational footage, but also a vast mass of slag as the cameras burst into flames of machine guns to be edited later. We are now bombarded with so many images that it is getting harder and harder to stand out from the crowd.

This book reminds us that there was a time before the slag, and that even when surf photography was in its technical infancy, brave men (yes, almost exclusively men at the time, although I do look at the brave and beautiful Shirley Rogers) were swimming in a rough sea with a plastic bag on a Box Brownie to get the shot. Not quite “waterproof” but unforgettable.

Of course, surf photography did not exist in 1858, but Oggy ably justifies his surprising subtitle by referring to “surf zone” photographers, who photographed seascapes of places like Bells Beach without the faintest idea of ​​the madness that would occur just from those craggy cliffs in the next century. A closer dig into the prehistory of surf photography reveals many snaps this surf historian has never seen before, including the 1917 gem of Sampson, a Worora ‘tidal rider’ from northwestern Ireland. State of Washington, which caught the eye of Tracks editor-in-chief Luke Kennedy.

Luke wrote in his review: “Among the various images in the book about early Australian beach culture, there is one in particular that stands out… A tall, athletic Aboriginal man with scarred chest and abdomen of the initiation, Sampson is shown standing. proudly hoists a raft of seven mangrove logs. His position on the floating craft is very much for the nonchalant longboarder who rides a wave with confidence and skill.

Yes, he has the look. With just the whiff of a wave beneath him, Sam would fit in perfectly with an average day of longboarding on the Noosa points.

Waterproof: Australian Surf Photography Since 1858, by John Ogden, Cyclops Productions, is available at

The second thing that made me revisit surf photography was that a dear friend showed up at my house unexpectedly with an unexpected gift of Surfing: Water Is Freedom from photographer WA Russell Ord. No explanation, he just saw the book in a store and thought of me.

The book, published in 2018, is as splendid as the gesture. Like most surfers, I’ve known Ord’s texture masterpieces for several years – and his work is featured in Waterproof as well – but Water Is Freedom had gone under the radar. While focusing on the texture of waves is nothing new – Art Brewer was a pioneer 50 years ago and Clark Little and Jon Frank are modern masters – Ord has made the form his own.

Yes, there are plenty of photos of people riding waves in this book, but even then Ord tends to focus on the majestic power of the ocean as much as the rider, especially the so-called “Waves of consequence”, like that of Shipstern. or Pipeline. But give me daily the texture summaries that make up the first 20 pages of this book.

I have been a Surfing Australia / Nikon Surf Photography award judge for several years now, and I can tell you that Ord, Frank and company are by no means alone in this quest. But I know a real master when I see one, and you are, Russell.

Time to change

Almost eight years have passed since a small group of Noosa surfers and stakeholders met with National Surfing Reserves founder Brad Farmer to discuss the creation of a Noosa National Surf Reserve.

I led the steering committee that was formed to make this happen in 2015, and the stewardship council that followed that managed to get Noosa approved as the 10th World Surfing Reserve in 2017 and dedicated in 2020. Since his dedication, the stewardship board has been even busier, creating a surf code to address safety and behavior issues, securing funding for the installation of end-to-end defibrillator units of the NWSR and working with local and state governments to ensure the maintenance and protection of our surf assets.

The work continues, but it’s time for a change, so last week I stepped down as president of the Noosa World Surfing Reserve. I loved every minute of working with a talented, energetic and dedicated team, which always includes the members of the Di Cuddihy Foundation, Libby Winter and Chris Doney, and I look forward to continuing to help from the back bench.

Next week at Noosa Today you will meet the new president.


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