As I roll out of bed from another clammy sub-par tropical sleep, I ask my roommate Matt ‘’What’s happening today man?” He replies, ‘’Same as every other day dude. A coconut and banana smoothie for breakfast as we check the swell models. If there is anything even remotely possible, we will take the boat for a surf check. Maybe a free dive, maybe not – or you could go and finish that deck you started, remember?’’
‘’Yeah yeah, it will get done before I leave. Just remember that I am going to kick your ass in cards again tonight.”
As you can imagine, three months of this tropical Groundhog Day gives you plenty of time to think about shooting something new. Don’t get me wrong – while I was living on Kosrae there was plenty to do, but you just don’t have the distractions that you do back home.
We were surfing a special little reef pass that was the key to getting these images. We would surf it pretty much every time a swell would steam across the pacific to us. The wave itself is like no other I have ever seen before. It comes from deep water to produce a below-sea-level bending slab of a barrel. The best part was, once I’d watched a few sets come through, I could visually mark my position on the reef and fight the current to stay pretty close to where I needed to be. The problem was, we were shooting these images at night, so that theory kind of went out the window.
The light bulb moment came when I was looking at all my gear and thought Hmm, that little Sola 600 focus light that I haven’t used in years has a really good spread of red or white light. I looked at Matt and said, ‘’Could we?’’ He knew straight away what I was thinking.
‘’Yes, we could surf for longer with that thing, but could you shoot it?’’
‘’Not sure man, but let’s try anyways.’’
The next problem was how to mount the light to Matt’s board. Well, it just so happened that Matt’s friend Ryan was on the next flight with a bag full of custom BRLS Gopro mounts that he had recently invented. ‘’Mmm, that could work dude.’’ So off we went to the local hardware store to try and find a bolt to attach the light to the mount. ‘’All sorted, this one is perfect. Now all we need is a clean, 3-4ft swell on a high tide at sunset.” Not too much to ask, surely.
Our first chance came not too long after we first came up with the idea. The key was to get the tide in the evening, so I could get dialed in to the swell before we lost the light. As the light started to fade, the reef became more eerie, more menacing. Nonetheless, we persisted and managed to link up on a few waves in that session. After every wave Matt would paddle back out to me and say, “holy shit, being inside the barrel with this crazy light is like being in a kaleidoscope of craziness.’’ I can only imagine what he was seeing inside these short yet timeless tubes. But with only one or two shots that where semi-close to what I had in mind, we needed to try again. It was a good starting point, but just not what I wanted. I did learn from that session that timing was the key: Too early and the sky was not dark enough for it to be a night shot, too late and I was really struggling to get a sharpish image without pushing the ISO to unmanaged levels.
We waited and waited for another chance to shoot, but for some reason the swell and tide was not working with us.
‘’There is swell coming on the models, the only problem is that the tide will only work for us super early in the morning. But we have to try as we don’t have the shot yet and this may be our last chance,” said Matt. I was a little hesitant, as shooting from before dawn to sunrise was going to be much harder than the other way around, since we would not be dialed in at all to the waves. But we had to try.
The alarm went off at around 4am. It was pitch-black and the thought of getting into the boat, driving out to the reef and getting into the water to shoot a guy with a light strapped to his board did seem a little stupid at the time. Nonetheless, we went for it.
We arrived at the break and could only hear the waves – not too big, not too small, just perfect. I swam towards the sound of the crashing water cautiously. Matt’s screams of excitement as he paddled to the break were also filing my ears. I had a little chuckle inside my head and thought to myself, this guy is crazy. By this time there was just enough light to make out the whitewash. I could see Matt out the back with the light patiently waiting for the right wave, knowing that we only had a short window before the sun came up over the horizon.
I had set my camera up to what I thought might work (settings-wise) and we got lucky. Matt came past right in front of my dome port and I fired off the frame. As he paddled back out past me, I said ‘’Dude, we just got it.’’ We continued to shoot for the next twenty minutes until it was too bright, and scored one or two more shots, but nothing quite like the Time Traveler. I know these images wont be to everyone’s taste, but I can say that they are most likely one of a kind.
If you would like to see the actual article that was written by Matt Rott that goes with some of these shots, not to mention all the other incredible images and stories, then head over to White Horses and order your copy.