My first love in photography has always been reportage and documentary.
Having the opportunity to shoot for the Australian Surf Rowers League (ASRL) as the official photographer of their Western Australian events, takes me back to the purity of the medium and its ability to tell a story and immortalise a moment.
Surf boat rowing is a mean, physical feat. Watch a crew, colloquially known as “boaties”, take a boat into the ocean, and you soon realise that you’re looking at a well-oiled machine working like clockwork: four oarsmen and a sweep operating in syncopation to drive the vessel out beyond the waves, around the cans and then back to the beach as fast as they can.
As a photographer, you can only respect the raw physicality of what these men and women do by getting into the zone with them.
When I photograph surf rowing events, I get close to the action, heading into the water, widening the field of view of my lens (I shoot 24-70mm). I shoot low, bringing the camera eye level to the boat, taking the viewer into the crew’s “playing field”.
Surf rowing is replete with moments of drama and tension: the crew holding the boat fast against the waves at “guns up”, their bodies tight in anticipation of the crack of the starter pistol; the torsion of muscles hauling on the oars as they urge their boat to speed; the moments of sheer exhaustion and elation as they spill out of their vessel after making it first through the finish.
It’s photographic manna for me!
Photographing the events this season has also been a unique experience as I’ve been photographing the first outing of the new City Beach Surf Club boat – the Stephen Slattery. Named after an officer in the Australian Navy who lost his life while undertaking the provision of aid to the tsunami-hit region of Sumatra, the Stephen Slattery is a veritable red rocket when crewed by the boys from City. On her first competition outing, the third round of the Navy Boat Carnival at Fremantle, she took first in in the finals. More of this fantastic outcome can be viewed at the City of Perth SLSC website.
While image making has its own personal rewards — the “highs” that come from your realising that you have just caught the moment when everything falls into place — there are other “highs” to be achieved in photographing events that resonate so strongly with a community of people. The feedback received on the photographs have been nothing short of inspiring:
“Let me congratulate you on some of the best surfboat photos I have seen. I have been rowing surfboats for 20 years and the pics you took at Secrets [Secret Harbour] and at Leighton are superb. Keep coming down to the boat carnivals and keep up the g…ood work. I can’t wait to see the shots you take when there is a good wave running.” (Dave of Secret Harbour SLSC)
“I want you to know what an awesome job you do with the photography of the surfboats. You are single-handedly inspiring people to row as they can see themselves in a photo… I just want to say thanks for your effort and dedication to covering the surf boats.” (Shane of City Beach SLSC)
See you at the beach!