Surfer’s Point, Ventura California
My regular shooting partner Ed Conde and I decided on a dawn shoot at Surfer’s Point, across the street from the Ventura County Fairgrounds, in Ventura California. This is about 30 miles from where I live. Ed is an ex-surfer and was very familiar with the area, while it was totally new to me. I love dawn at the beach any anywhere, and being here where the surfers were near enough to capture easily was a nice treat. We arrived before the sun and were able to capture some great silhouettes before there was too much light in the scene.
Capturing images in the dim dawn light was a challenge at first, particularly of the moving targets. I quickly got into the groove and caught some interesting shots like this ghostly image of two surfers trying to decide where to enter the water. They looked like a cross between the ghostly apparition of Jacob Marley and laid-back vibe of Bob Marley. An oddly-fun mix indeed!
The beaches in Ventura are all eroding quite heavily and the County is undertaking a project to “nourish” the beach with cobble stones from grapefruit-sized up to nearly the size of bowling balls. These large rocks protect the beach from erosion, but they are quite exciting to try and cross barefoot as the surfers must. They tend to shift quickly and can smash a toe or even a whole foot, so the surfers have to make their way precariously across the carpet of cobbles to reach the waves. Their slow, careful procession makes them easy to capture.
Not all of the boards are long boards, but the surfers here seem to favor them. I remember tremendously tall narrow boards in Hawaii 30 years ago, and they aren’t in that class, but they are not the shorter boards I see farther South in Santa Monica, Oceanside, and San Diego. Also, these photos were taken in mid-March, and while everyone pictures California as a place that is always warm (it usually is), the Pacific Ocean along the coast of California is fed by waters that come straight down from the Gulf of Alaska, and the water is downright chilly. Everyone is in a drysuit to avoid hypothermia.
Besides just the cobbles, some of the beach had rocks already there the size of washing machines and down to the size of the cobbles being added, so there were rocks of every size. Stones smaller than the cobble were fewer since the pounding surf smashed the rocks together, and the smaller rocks would soon be reduced to sand. It is all a cycle. Yet another cycle the surfers have to take a minute to get in tune with is the cycle of the breakers. It pays to walk out when they are at a lull between sets so you take less of a pounding near the rocks. Falling and being washed back into those by the breaking waves before you could stand would NOT be funny at all.
My shooting buddy Ed has a different shooting style, post-processing style, and shots different kinds of cameras than I do, but we enjoy each other’s work. Ed shoots low and inside, usually with wider-angle primes, while I shoot higher, with wide-to-normal zooms. Visit his about.me/edwardconde page and jump to his Flickr stream to see his style. Some interesting stuff in there, particularly if you like “retro-looking” processing reminiscent of old film images. Of interest, his entire workflow is mobile, based on his iPad and a distinct sequenced workflow of apps that cover his images from capture and upload through processing, posting and backup.
I liked this shot of the couple above the rocks. The woman is handing him his cell phone for him to take a last-minute call before heading out surfing. An interesting thing about the surfers at Malibu and farther North, they average dramatically older than the surfers further South. I am not sure what cause this demographic shift, but it is interesting to note. It isn’t uncommon to see folks heading out into the dawn surf that look to easily be in their late 70s or early 80s, but age is not precisely easy to guess among beach-goers. The action of the sun ages people’s skin and can lead you to over-estimate people’s age.
As the morning wore on and the temperature rose, more beach-goers arrived to have their turn at the surf. Since it wasn’t so chilly out of the water, the late arrivals were not dressed quite as warm, but you could see them “jump” when they hit the water. Even though the air temperature was 15 degrees warmer than just three hours before, the water was exactly the same 52 degrees it was at midnight….
One of the other things that never ceases to amaze me is how far away you can tell a man from a woman in a wet suit. You would have to be pretty observant to miss the difference up close, but at long range, the thing that stands out (at least among surfers) is the difference in size. At first I thought it was fathers and daughters because of the incredible height difference, but that wasn’t the case. Surfer girls tend to be lean and trim, and for some reason are short. I can’t say why, just that I am curious as to the reason. Perhaps I’ll talk in greater depth with the surfers and investigate the cause…
Another thing not too hard to predict was that there would be some exercise fans out early. I wasn’t disappointed, but they were in the minority in comparison to the surfers. Runners were far more common, but far less interesting, or at least images of them would be. Most were headed away from me, and shots of people from behind are not my bag.
When the temperatures are lower, the mist rising from the beaches must be amazing, but this morning they were enough to be nice without obscuring any of the coastline. They added some interesting atmosphere, but still allowed the low-angle sun to warm the beach down to the pier instead of becoming a blanketing fog.
Ed loves his 9mm Body Cap Lens (BCL), so much so that he created a flipboard magazine and Google+ Group for people to post their BCL shots called “F8 and Be There” (after the famous Arthur Fellig [also known as Weegee] quote). These lenses are fixed aperture f/8 lenses that provide an inexpensive, but fun look for MFT shooters. I wish there were an equivalent for the Nikon full-frame cameras. I can get something very near with my 20mm Nikkor prime, but the effort makes it different.
Something that has taken the coast by storm over the last few years has been the SUPs or Stand-Up Paddleboards. These wide, long, high-buoyancy boards are a not as maneuverable, but they are safe, and apparently amazingly good exercise. I see them touted as great beginner boards for the frail elderly to get on the road to recovery of their senses of proprioception and core strength. Another great thing about them is that they ride even the smallest of swells like shorter, narrower boards would a perfect pipe. Since they are also able to ride smaller, slower swells, they come in like a high-speed riverboat chugging in toward the beach. Their riders pierce the waves with their paddles and use them to steer like a tiller, and it is fun and relaxing to watch.
I’ll close with this shot of a silhouetted rider bringing his SUP in using what looks to be the most fun and relaxed posture I saw all morning among the surfers.
Enjoy your day on the beach, and try to beat the sun here. Even in mid-March, there was plenty to see at dawn, and as soon as we could see the water we could see that there were surfers already out catching waves….