Photographs fade, but memories last forever


For most, surfing is not about the photograph. When you get the best wave in your life, you do not need the accolades. It’s between you and the ocean.

Though a beautiful picture of a magnificent ride can be great, the feeling from the experience is greater. Proof of a great ride is how you feel afterwards. Surfing is a fleeting moment that lasts forever.

Some of the best rides in history have gone unrecorded. Way back when, the father of modern surfing, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, rode massive waves on the south shore of Oahu. Witnesses claimed to have seen Kahanamoku ride a wave estimated at 30 feet high for well over a mile. Amazingly, Kahanamoku did this while surfing a heavy, wooden surfboard with no fins.

Not only were no photographers around to record Kahanamoku’s historic feat, it is doubtful there were any camera lenses at the time that could have taken a good, clear picture.

Greg Noll rode a wave at Makaha that some say was the largest wave ever paddled into. Though no one got the shot, there is more to the story. Noll was shocked to see a skinny, red-headed teen-ager coming out of the water as he arrived.

Apparently, this brave teen had been surfing the huge Makaha waves all by himself. The teen came in from surfing possibly the largest waves ever and paddled into like it was no big deal. Though no one has photographic evidence of the teen’s big wave rides, does this mean it did not happen? Noll says it did.

Getting a photograph of your best rides is not that easy even when you bring your own photographer with the best equipment.

Mainland Mexico is a haven for big-wave surfers in the summer. Strong southern swells pound the coast producing some of the most hollow and powerful surf found anywhere.

With no lifeguards, nearby hospitals or even phones, few surfers brave Mexico’s high surf. Big-wave vet Greg Russ took on the challenge, his friend on the beach with camera in hand to capture the moment. Russ got the wave; his buddy did not get the photo.

With waves breaking well over 20 feet, Russ had to time his go out perfectly to get through the crashing shore break. Once outside, there were no other surfers to line up with, so Russ had to remain super focused and aware just to catch a wave.

After what seemed a long time, the entire horizon rose up as the biggest wave of the day came toward Russ. Like a guided missile, Russ shot down the face of an extremely hollow wave. Before he could make it to the bottom of the wave, the top was already pitching out well overhead. Holding his line like a man possessed, Russ traveled inside the barrel all the way to the shore.

After this truly death-defying ride, Russ came in, adrenalin flowing, super pumped. This was one of the best - if not the best - tube ride Russ had ever experienced and definitely one of the best tube rides ever recorded in mainland Mexico.

Excitedly, Russ asked his ìfriend with the expensive camera equipment if he got the shot of his once-in-a-lifetime ride. His friend it turns out did not. Though he picked up the camera and had it trained on Russ, he was too much in awe to press the shutter. The best ride of your life, your friend on the beach with a good camera, and he does not take the shot? Go figure.

Interestingly enough, sometimes surfers do not want their photos taken.

During a big swell at Jaws on Maui, professional big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton stopped catching waves when a helicopter flew an unknown photographer overhead. Hamilton was not about to let someone he did not know take pictures. Hamilton wanted to keep control of his image and who could take photos.

Surfing is the individual experience all surfers share. It’s a personal relationship with nature and life.

In surfing as well as life, many of our best rides go unrecognized by others. What will not go unrecognized will be the inner growth of courage and humility gained from positive achievements.

More important than what others think is what you know. Though others may not see our best rides, they will see the results in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Photos can fade and accolades can wane, but the feeling of a good ride goes on.

See you in the surf.

E-mail surfing experts Michael and Milton Willis at