Spotlight: Good Waves, Good Company, Good Times

Updated: Nov 23, 2019

I never know what I will capture until it unfolds in front of me. Nothing is premeditated, however, past experience indicates the images will likely be a surfer, wave, or landscape.

Shooting analog surf photography doesn’t give me the advantage of a continuous shutter. Unlike digital, I can’t just spray and pray. I get one shot. If I can advance fast enough, maybe two. I mostly shoot in the South Bay of Los Angeles where the waves are mutant, unruly, and fickle. The summer here is---well, it’s Los Angeles ---the beaches are a nightmare. During the summer solstice I leave my local water holes and venture to less crowded lands.

Good things happened during this year’s Summer travels.

I spent a week in Mexico with a few amazing surf families; Adam, a surfboard shaper; and Tatsuo Takei, a very talented surf photographer who has been documenting longboarding for the past 20 years. Tatsuo (portrait below) was a wealth of knowledge and his story and persistence made a lasting impression on me.

The journey was sparked by a random invite from my friend Shawn, a ridiculously good surfer and noserider. His children surf with a natural, effortless, style which they must have inherited from their father. A father who drove countless hours through Baja so his son and daughter could experience a surf paradise. The waves were small during our trip but ankle-high perfection for the groms. Every morning my daughter Marley and her new surf friends would paddle out together. For that week, they owned the ever perfect right-hand point break.

During the trip, I shot color and black and white. I grabbed a lot of expired film for this trip - I wanted grain…I wanted grit. Before the journey, my friend Eric (@conspiracy.of.cartographers) sent me a mixed bag of expired 35mm. I was excited and packed as many as I could fit. I carried several cameras, including my Nikonos III and V, as well as, my Hasselblad 500c. I brought a board bag and a single backpack, filled mostly with cameras and film.

The days were hot. The sun was bright against the pale sand and desert landscape. The location was a joy photograph, however, I felt I had merely scraped the surface. I look forward to revisiting.

There were several magical moments on the trip. One of these moments was seeing a 7, 10, and 12-year-old girl sharing a wave together. I tried to shoot it, but I didn’t exactly nail it---the image is fun, but what I saw a split second after I took this image will forever be burned into my memory. Three girls slid down the face of the wave, towards me, passing with smiles full of pure joy.

That moment captured the essence of why I love shooting in the water. Not every wave is perfect. Not every surfer is synced perfectly to the rhythm of the ocean. However, when that element of perfection is achieved, I can’t help but cheer and be stoked for that person, who, in that moment, is walking on water.

Photography is an interesting thing. You can shoot the same location everyday yet consistently produce varied results. Film stocks and cameras can easily alter the look and feel. Surfing is the same. Tides and seasons change; no two waves are the same. As I said before, I never know what I will capture until it unfolds in front of me. Regardless, the capture serves as an artifact---documenting an experience---a treasured, personal, moment in time.

A week ago, Shawn, who coordinated the trip, sent me a message. It read:

June 12, 2020 4 AM departure. Ready?


I am scattered, disorganized, without shoes and possibly missing the mark with development, yet I continue forward. Self-taught, sentimental and nostalgic to all things old I gravitate to analog cameras. The heavy mechanics behind film photography helps influence the stillness within my compositions. As a surfer, I feel very connected to the energy of the ocean, using the opportunity to find space and clarity. My photographs provide a sense of calmness the ocean provides me.

See more of Vania's work on IG: @surfmartian

Also, check out her podcast "All Through a Lens" (@allthroughalens.podcast), a podcast about film, travel, zines and nonsense!

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