This winter the El Nino weather phenomenon is creating ideal conditions for big wave surfing photography. By pure luck I was offered space on a charter boat that was going to be out in the lineup during a big wave surfing tournament being held the next day. I jumped at the opportunity but this would put me on the 405 freeway by 1 AM to make it to the boat dock in Mexico at 5 AM. The schedule worked but unfortunately it didn’t include any time for sleep until sometime the next evening. Sleep is overrated anyway right?
The surfing tournament was held to coincide with the arrival of a large pacific swell formed thousands of miles out in the pacific, its track and intensity influenced by El Nino. The swells travel unimpeded and slam into the reefs forming waves that can reach 20, 30, even 40 feet on the face.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Professional big wave surfers and their equipment. Sigma 24-105 Art lens, 1/1000 s. f/8 at 68mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
Professional big wave surfers use waverunners not only to access the surf breaks but also for pickups to take surfers back into the lineup. My Sigma 24-105 Art lens gave me a perfect perspective I was looking for. In the foreground are backup big wave boards attached to a buoy while a wave peels off in the distance.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Californian Dane Gudauskas coming off the bottom of a aquamarine wave. Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 360mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
The low angle perspective from the boat really makes this wave look massive and the backlighting really brings out the water color.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Jamie Mitchell from Australia catching a wave during the contest with another contestant scrambling to get out of the way and make it up and over the wave. Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 270mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
The wave at this location breaks on a shallow reef with a deep water channel running alongside it. This channel makes a safe spot for a boat that is really close to the action. It looks a little sketchy since the wave looks so close but when done properly it actually is safe.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Mark Healy from Hawaii dropping in backside on one of the larger waves of the day, Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 450mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810. Surfers from all over the world were out at Todos on Sunday to tackle challenging conditions. The swell slammed into the island in the late morning and peaked in the early afternoon.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Jamie Mitchell surrounded by an explosion of water. Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 450mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810. The low afternoon light really brings out the great detail in the whitewater. Once the rider makes the drop down the face of the wave the lip of the wave will break and create an explosion of whitewater. If the surfer doesn’t time it right the explosion will launch the rider and board into the air.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Photographing surfing from the water really gives you a true to life view, almost the same thing you would see if you were out there on a surfboard yourself. The low angle looking up at the surfer on the wave really gives you a good sense of the size of the waves. Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 490mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Coco Nogales is a mexico’s most well known and well respected professional big wave surfer who competed against surfers from all over the world at this event on Sunday. Sigma 150-600 sports lens, 1/1600 s. f/8 at 600mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
© 2016 Robert OToole | The surfing tournament was held at Todos Santos Island at a surf spot called Killers that breaks off the rocky northern tip of the island, 11 miles off Ensenada BC Mexico. This might seem like a strange place to hold a public sporting event but this surf spot is very well known to surfers all over the planet and is known as one of the birthplaces of big wave surfing on the west coast.
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Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com