When I started shooting surf from the water in 1994, no one else in New Zealand was. There had been others, but at that time I became both NZ's best water surf photographer and it's worst.
It was almost impossible to find out what to do and how to do it, back then surf photographers were notoriously protective of their techniques and formulas. This is why I actively mentor new up'n'comers now. I could say I learnt the hard way, but that's not really how I see it, it remains a fun challenge. If I'm not actually surfing myself, swimming out into the surf with the camera is the next best thing, in fact sometimes I'm frothing more to get water shots than actually surf.
Swimming about and getting images like this makes it all worthwhile
From 1994 to 2007, that's 13 years, everything was shot on film. That meant when you swam out you only had 36 frames on a roll of film- you learnt fast to shoot carefully and make every frame count!
Making it count with Former National Champ Blair Stewart on film, in the Pacific 2006
This was a huge reason why water shoots were held in such high regard. In 2007 digital was finally viable for the water, now we all swim out with a memory card that holds over 1000 high resolution frames- gotta love it!
Current National Champ Billy Stairmand caught with pixels 2015
Of course, there's another reason water shots are held in high regard, it's more dangerous than standing on the beach with a big lens. There's the ever present thought bitey things that might want to take a sample, the worry of housing springing a leak and then there's just the waves themselves.
Pacific reef pole drive 2004, severed ear lobe, face grate and a dislocated shoulder, I saved the housing though! This is one of the most commented shots in the book PhotoCPL
Every time you swim out you do it knowing that to get in the right place you have to be in the impact zone. It's exciting, it gets the blood pumping but it also means you're probably going to go over the falls or have that sinking feeling of slipping down the mine shaft... what, you don't know what that is, well here's a little video from my last outing.