Surflog — Challenging myself in the water and behind the lens

Last July, I booked my first surfing lesson on a Sunday morning in Pacifica, a small coastal town just south of San Francisco. I was hooked.

I decided to start keeping a log of my visits to the sea using Twitter and the hashtag #surflog. I’ve tried journaling a few times in the past but it never stuck with me. However, the limiting format of the tweet seemed like a reasonable and less daunting way to track my oceanic exploits. I soon began adding photos to these mini-journal-entries and realized that I had unwittingly given myself a photography challenge because 1) everyone takes pictures of the ocean and 2) I keep returning to the same locations. My hope is that working within these constraints of repetitive and cliche subject matter will help me improve as a photographer.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the past year:

Linda Mar, Pacifica, CA

I visit Linda Mar more than any other spot. It’s the de facto beginner break for the San Francisco Bay Area and is where I got my start. It is quite often blown out by wind and overrun with people but I think it has a certain charm. Because I’m here so often, avoiding photographic repetition is tough. I found that while the general landscape of hills and the sea tends to look similar from day to day, the sky’s personality is more shifty. On this particular day, the kites on the backdrop of a blue gradient caught my eye.


Linda Mar, Pacifica, CA

I think this shot captures that cold grayness so characteristic of early morning sessions in Northern California. I find them invigorating and beautiful.


Pacheco Street at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA

Ocean Beach runs 3.5 miles down the western edge of San Francisco. Thus, many of the surf spots are referred to by the streets that intersect Great Highway. This is the view from the crosswalk at Pacheco Street. Ocean Beach is a beast of a break where it frequently takes 15–30 minutes just to paddle out; I welcome the challenge.


Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA

I imagine this dog and I share the same joy running into the ocean.


Salmon Creek, Bodega Bay, CA

These are probably some of the biggest waves I’ve surfed thus far. One of the locals gave me the advice to “get more uncomfortable” — translation: take off on the wave when it is steeper and the risk of wiping out is higher. It worked.


Big River, Mendocino, CA

This photo is quite heavy on the HDR, but whatever. I was the only one in the water when I entered that day. You really feel small when it’s just you and the ocean.


Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica

I took my first international surf trip to Costa Rica and I must say it felt almost too luxurious and comfortable to surf without a wetsuit. I didn’t want to leave my phone unattended on the beach at Avellanas so I took an inexpensive instant camera instead.


Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Lastly, I took this shot in Bali using an old smartphone stuffed into a waterproof case. I feel like taking photos from the water brings the viewer much closer to that otherworldly feel of being out there.


This last year in the water has been a learning experience and an adventure.

I’ll end with a quote from William Finnegan’s (highly recommended, Pulitzer Prize-winning) memoir, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, which poignantly articulates surfing’s appeal to me:

It’s just pure. You’re alone. The wave is so much bigger and stronger than you. You’re always outnumbered. They can always crush you. And yet you’re going to accept that and turn it into a little, brief, meaningless art form.