Behind Zak Noyle’s Unique Images of Tahiti Surfing

July 17, 2012

By Conor Risch

© Zak Noyle

Surfer Magazine recently published its annual “Big Issue,” which showcases some of the best surf photography of the year in a large format edition of the magazine.

Among the standouts in the magazine this year are unique images by staff photographer Zak Noyle that show just how close surfers are to dangerous reefs as they ride wives in idyllic Tahiti, an island in the South Pacific.

Noyle made the images using a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, a Canon Fisheye 8-15mm lens, and a custom housing built by Sean LaBrie at SPL Water Housings. As Noyle notes, it was the housing that allowed him to capture images that let viewers see the action both above and below the surface of the water in the same photograph. According to Noyle, LaBrie built the housing with a 10-inch port, nearly double the normal size. “He basically doubled the surface area in order to get the shot,” Noyle says, adding that the housing effectively floats halfway above the surface of the water. The custom housing and port cost Noyle about $3,000, he says.

“I wanted to show people that although it was gorgeous above the water and looked ‘easy’ to surf, the reef was a lot closer than anyone could imagine, and if you fell it would be dangerous,” Noyle told PDN.

“The water clarity of Tahiti is what really makes this all possible,” Noyle says. “It is some of the clearest water in the world.”

Given the picturesque subject matter and the number of people who are making surf photographs, Noyle says it can be challenging to do something unique or different with the genre. “I like adding my own flair to my images, whether it be shot from a surfer’s view, or in a very critical place, using an unconventional lens to get a standard angle and make it different,” Noyle says. “Nowadays everything has been shot over and over again, so to create imagery that has not been shot in such a way is something that I strive for.”

Early on in his career Noyle’s ability as a swimmer and his willingness to challenge himself to find unique perspectives helped define his work. “I would just put in my time on the North Shore of O’ahu and swim into spots that nobody else [would]. I swam competitively throughout most of my childhood and into high school. This made me very comfortable in the water and gave me the stamina to stay out for many hours at a time,” Noyle explains. Eventually Grant Ellis, the photo editor at Surfer took note, and brought Noyle in as a staffer.

Says Noyle: “Surfer Magazine has long been known as the premier surf magazine in the world, so to be able to work for them was a dream come true.”

For more about Noyle and his work, check out this short documentary.