It’s our job here at SURFER to find and tell the most intriguing stories in surfing. But those stories, most which you can find in the glossy pages of our print magazine, would be a little dull without the stunning surf imagery captured by our talented crew of staff and contributing photographers. Since John Severson created the first 36-page magazine back in 1960 (titled “The Surfer”), surf photographers have been stoking out the surf masses by providing us with drool-inducing visuals.
Much has changed since Severson first published that ground-breaking issue. Attention spans have thinned, content is now curated for Instagram and we all seem to be possessed by the tiny little screens we keep in our pockets. We “like” images instead of ripping them out of magazines and tacking them to our walls. But despite all that has evolved over the past few years, there’s something about the photos in an actual hold-in-your-hand magazine that capture our imaginations the most. Surf photographers can transport us to surf spots all around this big blue planet, be it to a far-flung reef pass in the South Pacific or a remote pointbreak in Iceland.
Below we salute our finest lensmen and celebrate our favorite surf photos of this year’s volume.
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One of the opening pages of each issue of SURFER is titled “Mindsurf”, which features a surfer riding a wave that can and will induce the most intense form of mind-surfing. For our Fall 2019 issue, we chose to run this images of Ryan Burch, slicing up a runner at Cloudbreak on one of his pickle-forked nosed handshapes. You’re mindsurfing this wave right now, aren’t you?
For our “Someplace like Home” feature in SURFER 60.1, we asked six surfers to talk about the waves they connect with the most, including Josh Mulcoy, pictured above tucked inside a cold drainer somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. “My home away from home is the Northwest—it’s just my comfort zone,” he told us. “I took a trip to Oregon and Washington when I was 18 and every place we surfed was just perfect. It was the best trip I’ve ever had, actually. It set something off in me. I used to work at a landscape firm, working as hard as I could to get money to drive, fly, whatever it took to get back there. In the Northwest, even if the waves are average, I feel like I’m scoring. When you’re sitting out there by yourself, looking at snow-covered mountains and you’re getting waves to me that’s perfect surf. Someone else might look at it and say, ‘You’re out of your mind, Josh.’ But when the waves are actually perfect, there’s nothing that beats it. It makes me feel alive.”
For the same feature referenced above, Greg Long was asked about his lifelong obsession with the coastline of Baja. “My fondest childhood memories are of the many winter trips my family would take in our ‘71 Volkswagen bus to the remote point breaks down in Baja,” says Long, pictured here under the hood of a screamer somewhere just south of the border. “Ever since then, I’ve been enamored with the rugged desert landscape, amazing people and endless surf potential that spans the peninsula. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I have crossed the border in search of waves, adventure or just to seek refuge from the Southern California hustle. But I do know that my smile inevitably broadens, the same way it did as a kid so many years ago, every time I do cross the border—especially when a big west swell is running down the coast.”
This mesmerizing line-up shot of a spot in Cape Town, South Africa originally appeared as the “Perfect Day” feature in SURFER Volume 60, Issue 3. “This time of year, this wave usually isn’t so perfect,” South African photographer Anthony Fox told us of the photo above. “It’s very unusual to have those west swells and a southeast wind. It does get crowded, but when it gets over a certain size the crowd thins out dramatically. I shot those images over a two-day period and the first day was about as big as it can handle, so the crowds were minimal. The tricky part about surfing here is that it’s pretty sharky. Of the last three times I’ve surfed down there, I’ve been chased out twice by a great white.”
Grant “Twiggy” Baker, sending it on a mammoth-sized Mavs wave. The big-wave hellman scored one of the opening spreads of SURFER volume 60, issue 1.
“This image was shot from the Torrey Pines Gliderport during a larger northwest swell in the middle of December last year,” says photographer Todd Glaser, who shot the image above that ran as a “Perfect Day” spread. “This spot is famous for having a deep water canyon, which will take a straight and walled west swell and create A-frame peaks up and down the beach thanks to the refraction underwater. One of the interesting things about this beach, in particular, is it’s a heavy beach break, so depending on who you talk to during the session, one surfer might say he had the best session of his life–like the guy in this photo–and another person might say he broke two boards and didn’t catch a single wave. Everyone’s session is totally different out there.”
In surfing, style is the indefinable quality that separates the good from the great. And when it comes to flawless, unflappably cool, backside barrel-riding, Hawaiian powerhouse Billy Kemper is clearly among the best–which is why we chose this photo as the cover to this year’s style issue.
On the cover of the January 1993 issue of SURFER, Josh Mulcoy is shown doing a stylish backside bottom turn on a dreamy-looking left. The photo was taken during his inaugural trip to Alaska, where he and his fellow travelers lucked into an empty, almost-never-ending pointbreak. Almost three decades after his first visit to the Last Frontier, Mucloy found himself back in Alaska and onto Page One–this time standing in front of a possibly never-before-surfed righthander (which you can read about here)).
This photo of Cliff Kapono originally appeared in our style issue, in the feature titled “Of Perfect Waves and Their Keepers”. Kapono traveled to a certain under-wraps wave and talked to locals about the area’s future, which is on the brink of development.
Ray Collins is a coal-miner-turned-photographer and has become known over the past decade for bringing new angles to oceanic imagery. This shot was featured in a breathtaking photo gallery titled “Ocean Abstracts”, which you can view and gawk at This shot was featured in a breathtaking photo gallery titled “Ocean Abstracts”, which you can view and gawk athere.
Another surreal image from the “Ocean Abstracts” feature, this one shot by East Coast photographer Matt Clark.
Bryce Young, onboard a frigid freight-train somewhere along the coast of Scotland. This image was used as the opener for “Style Points”, a gallery of (you guessed it) stylish surfing featuring the likes of Young, Mikey February, Torren Martyn and more.
This wall-hanger of style master Kaniela Stewart was taken at Waikiki by Hawaii-based photographer Tony Heff for the feature titled “The Kids of Queens”. Stewart is among a stylish crew of teenagers born on the South Shore of Oahu taking the logging world by storm. Ain’t hard to see what’s captivating about this shot.
Laura Enever has had a busy year chasing down the world’s most terrifying waves for her soon-to-be-released movie “Undone”. Here she’s seen in the belly of a beast somewhere along the coast of New South Wales.
Jordy Smith, tucking his large frame inside a hypnotizing righthander somewhere in Mainland Mexico.
Another photo of Ryan Burch made our top-20 list because, well, look at him. He’s as stylish as they come.
“This particular day was as big as I’ve ever seen at Desert Point—the type of day where there are far, far more surfers on land mind-surfing the wave than there are in the water actually surfing,” says Ryan “Chachi” Craig, who snapped this absolute gem at Indonesia’s most mythical left for our most recent issue. “The swell seemed to become more and more consistent throughout the day and by the early afternoon, a handful of guys gave ‘The Grower’ section their best attempts. Only a few waves were ridden successfully and there were lots of ‘almosts’–including this wave of Kayu Vianna’s. He got bucked off when the wave breathed and hit a little backwash. There was so much current that Kayu lost his board (never to be found again) after snapping his leash. All the onlookers were yelling at him in praise and in fear, urging him to swim as hard as he could so he didn’t get swept back into the impact zone. Once he got down to the beach, a couple of the guys carried him on their shoulders and everyone started drinking beers and claiming it was the biggest wave they’ve ever seen at The Grower.”
Koa Rothman landed the cover of SURFER Volume 60, issue 1, which celebrated the coastlines we call home. Koa was having one hell of a year when we chose this photo, bouncing all around the globe chasing swells and gathering footage for his Vlog. But when the waves in his own backyard turned on, he back home pocketing memorable waves like the one above at Pipe.
Ben Thouard is a master of the underwater shot. If you look closely at this one, you can spot the majestic coastline of Tahiti on the other side of the tube.
As if getting stylishly tubed on a self-shaped board wasn’t challenging enough, Flores takes it five steps farther by doing it switch stance. We profiled the 18-year-old shaper earlier this year for our feature “Scions of Style“, which highlighted six young aesthetes who are drawing some of the most interesting lines of surfing’s next generation.