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Zak Noyle

Even if you don’t know who Zak Noyle is, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his photographs. They’ve been published by ESPN, Transworld Sport, National Geographic and the BBC, not to mention in surf publications including The Surfer’s Journal and Surfer

At just 31 years old, Zak’s career has already included a meteoric ascension to one of the most hallowed positions in surf photography: Zak is now the Senior Staff Photographer at Surfer and he regularly takes on assignments to travel and shoot with some of the best surfers in the world.

We caught up with Zak to learn more about his work and what drives him. He talks very fast - almost breathlessly, sounding like the CEO of the hot new startup that is basically his life, excited to share his story and his plans.

Zak's journey into photography was catalyzed from a young age by his father who was a commercial photographer and who passed on some of his wisdom and a few tools of the trade. Zak began shooting photos in his single digit years and by high school he had had his water photography published in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Transworld Sport, where he took a full time job after graduating. At the age of 25 he started working at Surfer and now combines his day job with running his own photography business and a seemingly endless string of brand collaborations with the likes of water housing company SPL, surf company RVCA and swim fin company DaFin. 

“I grew up on Oahu and I came out of a swimming and water polo background. I had a natural swimming ability, but I hated it. I hated swimming laps and I used to hide in the shower. It’s come full circle now - swimming and learning that discipline has been important.”

Becoming one of the world’s top water photographers means becoming one of the world’s top swimmers by pre-requisite. The playing field  for taking groundbreaking surf photographs is most likely in the path of a 20 foot breaking wave, half a mile off shore and bobbing a few feet above a sharp, potholed reef.

“You want to be prepared,” Zak told us. “I swim 3-4 times a week. I swim a lot of laps, half of them with swim fins on to train to have my feet comfortable in fins. I view myself as an athlete now, so I need to be in optimal shape. A bunch of my friends are doing underwater breath holding training and I want to get into that too. In the end it’s the ocean and you need to respect it!”

Although the list of his achievements is frighteningly long already, Zak pulled off something of a career highlight at last winter’s Eddie Aikau Invitational in O’ahu. Pummelled by 30 ft waves closing out Waimea bay, Zak swam and shot the historic contest for 8 hours straight, capturing through his actions and photographs a truly memorable moment in surf history. 

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The Eddie Aikau ran on February 25th, 2016 in waves that were so big the safety of the contest itself was called into question. That’s pretty rare from the organizers: ‘The Eddie’ demands a minimum of 20ft waves before it will even run, honoring the fearless lifeguard and surfer in whose memory it is named. 

“I had never swum into 30 ft waves but I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could handle it,” Zak explained. “A lot of the times with waves, it’s strength and training and the experience that keep me calm. I knew physically I could do it, but mentally you have to be calm.”

Aside from the endurance required for this feat, Zak also truly understands the media demands of the modern surf audience. When The Eddie runs, O’ahu basically shuts down for the day with crowds of thousands gathering on the beach to watch. For those who can’t be there, internet livestreams, social media and TV broadcasts let people tune in from around the world. 

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Zak shot the Eddie on his DSLR in a water housing, but he used his iPhone from the water to wirelessly send the images he was capturing to the Quiksilver social media team. From there, they could combine them with the TV broadcasts or upload them to be shared on social media. “In between the sets, they need something else they can use to keep the excitement going,” Zak explained, “so I could send that to them from the water with my phone.”

We asked Zak how he had prepared for the day. “I had water and snacks packed and ready to go on the jet ski, but I actually didn’t eat or drink anything on the day. I hydrated heavily the day before with electrolytes and water. I packed extra batteries and a bought an extra phone so I could transfer the sim card if my iPhone died,” Zak told us.

With literally no food during the 8 hours he spent in the water, we wanted to know how Zak managed to keep shooting. “I was just fueled by adrenaline on the day. If the surf is good you have to shoot conservatively. You don’t want to have to go in and change your memory card because you might miss the shot!” Zak continued, “I was so mentally spent for days afterwards I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even look at the images for 3 or 4 days - I just gave the photos to my agent.”

We asked if Zak took any major beatings out in the water that day. “I was nauseous with adrenaline and I did get completely worked. I got worked to the point where I had my hand on my rip-cord, but I didn’t want to inflate it, get dragged in and miss a wave. I’d waited seven years since the last Eddie Aikau Contest ran and I wasn’t going to miss a single moment out there. I wanted to be in the water, and just enjoy it. I have a photo of when all the skis came charging in on that closeout set and I just dived as deep as I could under the rolling whitewater. I had to dive 25 feet to get under that. It was pitch black and I couldn’t tell which way was up. That was a 2 wave set. If it had been a 5 or 6 wave set, I would be washed in on the rocks. For sure,” Zak laughed. 

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We were thrilled to meet Zak and see him participating in the RVCA artists program at the Unsound Pro event in Long Beach. His level of stoke, energy and enthusiasm seem boundless and he talks as if he’s only just getting started. Watch this space!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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James Katsipis - Three Frames

James Katsipis, or "Catspiss" only to his closest friends, has a photographic sensibility rather more delicate than his nickname. He is truly dedicated to the craft of photography and has made a name for himself as one of eastern Long Island's leading lensmen. We asked him to share three of his favorite shots from the many years he has spent documenting oceanside life on Long Island and would you know it, he sent us a bonus shot we just couldn't keep to ourselves. Over to James for the back stories. 

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"The winter brings deep blue and shimmering silver tones to our line ups. This is my take on an early morning surf check at out local break, Ditch Plains."

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"Historic winter storm Juno hit the East Coast on January 27th 2015. There was a total travel ban across New York, but we knew the waves were going to be pumping. A few brave souls ignored the ban and fled to the ocean to be greeted by perfect, overhead, barreling waves. It's all about dedication to the love of our sport." 

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"Every surfer knows this perspective: the paddle out, waiting to take the first duck dive and get their first head-freeze to determine how cold the water actually is that day. This was one of the coldest days swimming I can remember. My hands were so cold they actually felt like they were on fire. I was shaking my hands underwater to try to get the blood to circulate in my fingers. The only way I could tell I was hitting the shutter was to listen for the sound of the camera firing."

BONUS SHOT

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"It has been said that the Montauk Lighthouse is our Eiffel Tower. Nothing is better than swimming out off the coast of Montauk and seeing it from a perspective you just can't get from land."

Many thanks to James for digging through the archives to share these beautiful shots. Head on over to his site to see more of his work. 

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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Mike Nelson - Three Frames

A couple of times now we've convinced local photographers to dig into their archives and share a few of their all-time favorite images with us. Last year were stoked to share selects from Matt Clark and Fiona Mullen who also told us about the extraordinary circumstances that sometimes lead up to making a really memorable image. 

We're kicking off 2017 with another photo series, this time from Long Beach lifer, Mike Nelson, one half of the duo behind Unsound Surf Store. 

Mike's photography is truly rich, showing off the accumulated wisdom from uncountable sessions and endless hours spend shooting and surfing the length of New York's coastline. Yet, his work is so full of passion, excitement, color and drama, you might think he'd only recently picked up his first camera. Mike possesses a quality often found in truly talented artists - the ability to produce accomplished, professional work and yet somehow hold on to the childlike wonder at the subject of inspiration. In his own words, Mike talks us through three of his favorite shots below. 

"Long Beach NY, sunset. Sometimes its just nice to get away from the crowd and watch Mother Nature do her thing. This photo was taken a couple months ago during one of our hurricane swells here in Long Beach, NY. The photo is not cropped or edited at all, just the way the big man upstairs wanted it to look. And it's perfect…"

"Winter storm Mars, 2016. Mars was a significant swell and even though the conditions were challenging I was lucky enough to get a couple great shots. This one in particular is a shot my good friend Vic took with my secondary camera body, I asked him to hold it while I set up my bigger lens in a “sheltered” area near the boardwalk in Long Beach NY. He snapped a couple of photos as I tried to track Balaram Stack out in the water. Kinda cool how it came out and I think it really embodies what we all go through here in NY during the winter surf season." Amen - Ed.

"Sam Hammer, NJ. This photo was taken two winters ago. All of us up here in NY and NJ seem to chase the wind on any given swell event. New Yorkers are always running down to Jersey as soon as those flags turn westerly, and likewise when they swing around to the North all the Jersey boys migrate the other way. Given our somewhat stagnant NY Metro traffic, this can often take 2-3 hours each way. For me that time is spent with images like this one of Sam Hammer running rampant through my head. When I finally walk over the dunes in New Jersey, this is what I'm hoping to see."

We highly recommend you avail yourself of a few minutes checking out some more of Mike's work on his website. 

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

portrait, feature, surf session

Fiona Mullen - Three Frames

Finding surf photography that goes beyond the classic barrel and beach shots is a rare pleasure. Waves themselves and the act of surfing can be so visually compelling that the bigger story gets lost, but one photographer pushing to find new angles and narratives in New Jersey surfing is Fiona Mullen. We invited Fiona to send us three shots and tell us the stories that led up to each one. We're stoked to share the images and their stories with you here!

Bradley Rain

Bradley Rain

"On a gloomy day in early June, some of my friends were surfing the jetty down my street. I put on my spring suit for the first time of the season, hopped on my bike, and headed for the beach. While swimming I saw these clouds coming from the distance and knew something crazy was about to happen. Lighting, thunder, hail, and rain all arrived at once. The waves turned on and the few of us that were out there were just amazed by what was going on. Even though it might not have been the biggest day of waves, I still got some of my favorite images ever. The solitude and subtle moments of surfing are what I love to capture the most."

Bradley Sunrise

Bradley Sunrise

"When there's waves in New Jersey, most of us are up at dawn to check the surf. This means endless sunrises, watching the sun rise above the horizon from the water. Every year, there are those select few mornings when the sky does some amazing things. This specific morning while waiting for the tide to change, we experienced the most colorful sky I had ever seen- with a rainbow and even lighting out in the distance. These moments make getting out of bed in those early hours so worth it. Being in the right place at the right time is what its all about. Not everyday in New Jersey is a perfect day for waves or weather, but when those days do come around we appreciate them that much more."

Long Branch

Long Branch

"The combination of fear and adrenaline before swimming out on big days like this always makes me question what I am about to do. With three feet of snow on the ground, straight brown water, and perfect barrels, I knew I had to document it. The passion and dedication surfers have in New Jersey is like no other place. People who don't do it think its crazy and most likely they will never understand why we go out in below-freezing temperatures. I think a little bit of craziness and adventure seeking is only healthy; life would be boring without it."

To see more of Fiona's work (highly recommended), check out her Instagram.
For our updates follow @icecream.headaches.

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Matt Clark - Four Frames - Part II

Following on from Part I earlier this week, here's the second installment of four photos from Long Island Photographer Matt Clark. 

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Matt was shooting at a shallow, left-breaking reef in Indonesia when, by chance, he turned to look back at the beach, risking a closeout on the head. Jesse kicked out of a wave at the same moment. “I shot the sequence,” Matt explained, “and when I dumped the memory cards to my hard drive on the boat, I saw one that just captured this weightlessness, balance and tranquility that seemed special.”

When Matt returned home to New York and edited the images, he found the image more powerful when it was rotated through 180 degrees. “Finding this being, suspended in time looked beautiful to me,” Matt told us. “Often I won't find the most beautiful moment until months and months later when revisiting my work. I spend a lot of time looking for these moments and editing them over and over again until I feel satisfied.”

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

Aged 14, Matt took this photo of his friend Tom paddling out to bodyboard Long Beach. The photo was taken with a disposable waterproof camera. He submitted the photo to Bodyboarding Magazine and they ran it in the reader photos section. “I felt a duty to represent the place I was born and raised and felt as if I needed to prove to the world that you can be a surfer/photographer from New York,” Matt told us. “Nearly 20 years later and I'm still here doing it.”

To see more of Matt's work, check out his website

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