Years Surfing: 7 years
Year shooting surf photography: I have been shooting surf photography for the past three years. I started underwater photography about seven years ago whilst diving. I loved it so much that it has led me to expand into surf photography and general in-water photography.
Favorite Camera: I use a canon 5D mark 3 and a wide angle lens 16-35 in the water. The housing I use is SPL and it is fantastic for achieving under/over shots which I love doing as it connects the underwater world to the land based world.
Photography Website: www.clarejamesphotography.com
Who got you started surfing? Since I was little I have always been addicted to water, as soon as I could walk it became the running joke that even on a winters day I would somehow go to the beach and come back soaked, yet still fully clothed. Dad was a windsurf instructor so I grew up windsurfing. However, I only really discovered surfing at the age of 20 when I went to university down in Falmouth, Cornwall.
One weekend myself and a few friends hired some swell boards and went to the local beach. My favourite memory from this session whilst wallowing around in the white water was looking up to see one of my friends up and riding, woo then I realised she was beelining towards me, laughing, I dived under the board just missing the fins. Upon surfacing I see another gleeful smile as Emma rocketed towards me and also proceeded to run me over! After this session I was hooked and the rest is history.
Emma and I still surf together today, since that first surf we have continuously pushed each other to improve and 7 years later we still share many moments in the sea, both in Cornwall and on crazy surf trips. Having a surf buddy at your level I highly recommend, especially in the UK. When it is cold there will always be one of you eager to go in.
Best wipeout story? One of the wildest places I have spent time surfing was in South Africa, I was lucky enough to get offered a job out there for 2 years teaching Scuba Diving and working as a wildlife, underwater, sports, adventure photographer and videographer. The town in which I was based, Mossel Bay, had two reef breaks which is where the wipeout happened.
Early one morning I paddled out with a friend of mine, we had peeling right handers about head high all to ourselves. The reef is super shallow, urchins everywhere, usually I try to pull of the wave in time in order to make sure that I don’t hit the reef. However, this time I was having far to much fun, as the wave came to a close I felt myself get sucked up into the lip and over the falls. Throwing my arms around my head to protect myself I knew this was going to hurt. Hitting the reef I bounced and started to swim for the surface, just as I broke the surface I felt my leash pull taught, I had a millisecond to take in the next set wave coming towards me and half a breath before it pulled me back underwater. As the wave rolled overhead it clicked that my leash had snagged on a crack in the reef, having minimal air in my lungs I managed to take a larger gasp in between waves and then turned and dived down to where my leash was trapped. The sharp reef meant that I did not want to lose my board, I was determined to free it. Just as I thought I was going to swim for the surface to take another breath I felt the leash move and thankfully another tug freed it. Relief! I shot to the surface and took in lungful after lungful of delicious air, whilst paddling like crazy to avoid the next set.
It took me all my willpower not to get straight out of the water and call it a day. I knew that I had to get back on a wave and end it on a good note so paddled back to the peak, where I caught another wave to the keyhole and got out exhausted and shaken. Since this moment I have vowed never to take the ocean for granted, its power and unpredictablity are awe-inspiring, which is why I keep going back for more.
What do you love/hate about surf culture as it pertains to female surfers? The thing that infuriates me the most about surfing in the main stream is the sexualisation of the female surfer. However, the women who I surf with every day are removed from the main stream stereotype of the female surfer. We paddle out regardless of weather, in five mil suits, there is nothing glamorous or sexy about cold water surfing, climbing into a wet wetsuit in just above freezing conditions, squeezing your hair and face into a hood, losing all feeling in fingers and toes, mild hypothermia setting in are all part of it. Through my work in photography/videography I am trying to promote the real side of female surfers.
How has your surfing life in the water affected the rest of your life on land? I work as a freelance videographer and photographer. I started shooting underwater whilst teaching diving. The majority of my work is ocean inspired, discovering surfing I have noticed an increase in my creativity and energy. It allows me to think outside the box. No matter what problems I face during the day either in personal or work life as soon as I feel the water on my face and the movement of the waves, all worries are washed away and I come out feeling invigorated, refreshed and having usually solved the problem that was previously troubling me.
What inspired you to take photos in the water? I already had a love of shooting in-water and in my free time I try to surf everyday. Therefore, it seemed like a natural progression to give shooting surfing a go. As it was also an excuse to get out in the water and get paid doing what I love to do. Buying the surf housing has opened up a world of work which allows me to shoot in water often and I now have a variety of interesting clients, such as ULU Dry bags who make dry bags for wild swimming, Odyssey Innovation who make Kayaks and are about to release a new product, the hand plane, out of marine recycled plastic, wetsuit brands and more.
What is your favorite time of day to take photos? I love the early mornings when there are few people in the water and the light is diffused, throughout the season the light changes. I love an autumnal, slightly misty beautiful sunrise morning, shooting or surfing is one of the best ways to start the day. However, for underwater photography shots it is better if the sun is high in the sky in order to make sure that you get most light underwater. One of my favourite things about shooting in the ocean is the way that light plays and dances underwater and on the surface, it is so magical. Whilst shooting in the ocean, I feel as if time stands still, it is my escape from the real world and helps me to relax and destress.