I love images that can tell a story in a single frozen moment. This one only does half of the job, though, because (as usual) there was a lot more going on than meets the eye.
I was on a magazine assignment in New Zealand with pro surfer James Pribram and filmmaker Vince Deur in 2007. We were there covering a story for the Surfer's Path Magazine about Whangamata, a wave that was in danger of being bulldozed by a marina project. We traveled down to Wellington to meet with members of Parliament, and urged them not to back the proposal to expand the harbor at Whangamata.
The weather was not normal for this time of year in Wellington, which is on the southern end of the North Island. Usually the wind here blows incessantly from the frigid southwest, but we were graced with three days of north wind and nice temps. The day after our meetings with government officials, we drove east of the city to this gorgeous, unspoiled stretch of coastline. Our friend Mads Naerra (a Dane that I met in Madeira years before, oddly enough), had given us the tip to check out this spot called Lake Ferry, a sandbar at the mouth of a large estuary.
The waves looked good, but the tide was rushing out and the current presented some serious challenges to surfing. The photo opportunity was fabulous though, and there was no question that James was going to paddle out and I was going to snap photos. There was no one around at all. James paddled across the estuary mouth to the other side and tried to reach a place on the sand bar that was ideal to paddle out given the challenging current. The only problem was that a 1500-pound sea lion was sitting on the beach between him and the paddle-out spot, and the sea lion had no intention of budging whatsoever. Every time James took a step in the sea lion's direction, it reared up above him and barked loudly, and James tucked and ran backwards while Vince and I laughed and heckled from our spot on the beach.
Finally James got the guts to run past the territorial sea lion and dash for the water. I snapped this photo when James was on the end of the sand spit checking the surf, slightly before his sea lion encounter. At the time I was so focused on getting the money surf shot that I didn't much think about this image. But after I returned, this turned out to be the image that endured. It even made an album cover for surfer/musician David Haynes.
Below are a few more shots: one of the wave, and the other of the stand-off with said sea monster.