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Oct 04, 2018

The Inside View with Zak Noyle

As an acclaimed surf photographer and Honolulu native, Zak Noyle has carved his niche shooting the most dangerous surf conditions imaginable.

A rare breed in the photography world, Noyle's built his body of work shooting deadly lineups like Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Teahupoo—from the water, swimming as close to possible to the destruction. Over the course of the past decade and a half, Noyle's has taken his award-winning perspective as a staff photographer for Surfer Magazine, RVCA, Red Bull and various over media outlets across the world over. Most recently, his work—along with pro surfer, artist, and fellow photographer Daniel Fuller—appeared in a pop-up show at Ward Centre titled Water and Light, as part of The Summer Slide, our seasonal celebration of all things surf. Recently, we caught up with Noyle to get his take on a life lived in the lineup, building a legacy, and what's going to be falling in the crosshairs of his lens next.

How did you get your start in photography?

My father, Ric, is a commercial photographer and I grew up around cameras. But what really drew me in was my love for the ocean. Like so many of us fortunate enough to call Hawai'i home, I grew up surfing, swimming, bodysurfing, and spending most of my free time having fun in the ocean. Once I realized that I could capture and share that kind of beauty, something clicked for me and I fell in love with sharing my perspective to the rest of the world through the photos that I capture.

If you had to pick a highlight moment in your career, what would it be?

I'd have to say shooting the Eddie Aikau big-wave event at Waimea. I've been the primary water photographer for the event since 2008. (It's only run twice in that time). But when the event's do go, being apart of capturing it has been the biggest honor and achievement of my career. To be trusted to photograph these historic moments from the water, and really to just be a part of such a legendary day that celebrates the life of the sport's most legendary waterman, is something that I will always cherish.

You've made a reputation for taking photos from deep inside the impact zone. Can you describe what it's like to shoot from the water and some of your job's inherent dangers?

Well, I'm not necessarily putting myself in the danger zone just for fun. It's all very calculated. I know exactly where I am in the lineup and how to get myself out of a bad situation. There are dangerous consequences to what I do, but I prepare for the worst and always hope for the best. Between shallow reefs, massive waves the fact that—if I'm doing my job right—I'm always on a potential collision course with a surfer. There's definitely a lot more to pay attention to, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

You've also taken a lot of effort to give back to young photographers and host workshops and events in the community. Can you talk about that a bit?

I got into my job for the love, not the money. Giving back and helping others find their passion for the ocean and photography is what it's all about. If I can help unlock this world and better someone's life through the power and beauty of photography and the ocean, then I've made a real impact on my career.

Where do you see photography going, now that so many people have access to a quality camera through their smartphone?

My dad always said, "the best camera you can have is the one you have with you." I'll literally will swim out to Pipe with my iPhone just for the challenge and fun. We need to utilize what we have, always. A smartphone is something that just about everyone has on them at all times. To me, I see smartphones or smaller POV cameras as something of a gateway into photography. It allows people to get a taste and further fall in love with photography and get into it more.

How would you like to be remembered as a photographer?

I want to be remembered through my unique imagery and pioneering the way I give back with my workshops something never-before-seen on this level in water photography. I want my images to be identified through my style and looks that I have created.

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