Paddling out Waimea is no joke. Especially on one of the day of days like Saturday's XXL swell. Now, imagine being a senior in high school (he's 18-years-old, FYI) and deciding to swim and shoot out there. Budding lensman Jon Reiter was treading water for six hours as this thing exploded around him – and if the shots he sent in are anything to go by, this young lad's got a future ahead of him.
During his first shoot in the morning, Jon, a competition swimmer, got a lift out from the lifeguards on the back of a ski. Once out there, Waimea was all guts and glory and Jon got some close encounter of what it's like shooting the equivalent of an Eddie swell. And though one of surfing's most prestigious events was cancelled, it sure could have run on Saturday.
See Jon's Waimea gallery HERE.
Anyway, we wanted to check in with Jon, who's been feeding us images from Pipeline and Waimea from the past few swells to talk exactly what it's like to capture Waimea as it went full Eddie, the North Shore community and how he managed to make sense amongst all that carnage. Here's his story.
A lot of people would have looked at the conditions and thought, I’m not going out in that, what made you want to get amongst it?
Yeah of course! So the main reason I wanted to shoot maxing Waimea was because I didn’t want to feel the regret of not going out.
I would have been so bummed if I had to watch the waves from the beach. My happy place is being out there in the surf and I would have beaten myself up if I had been a spectator on the sand.
And how did you get out?
So I did two sessions on Saturday; my first session was four hours in the morning and my second session was two hours in the afternoon. I was very thankful to get a jet ski ride out with the Waimea Lifeguards for my first session. For my second session, I ended up paddling out. I completely mistimed my swim out and I ended up getting smoked by the biggest close out set of the day. I took five of the biggest walls of water I’ve ever seen directly on the head. After getting worked, one of the Water Rescue Patrol skis picked me up and took me out to the lineup.
Any times you were out there, you thought, this is too sketchy?
Aside from my super gnarly workage during my second swim out, I remember when the ski was taking me out during my morning session and a huge close out set came. The ski driver decided to commit to getting past the set and we caught air on the backside of the wave.
I almost flew off the back of the ski which would have put me in a sketchy spot right over the impact zone. Although it was not nearly as crazy as the crazy Himalayas clip that went viral, this moment definitely got my heart rate up.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into surf photography and how long have you been doing it for?
Yeah for sure, so I’m actually a competitive swimmer so I believe a lot of my training seems to transfer over to my ability to handle big surf.
I’m a senior in high school so I was super psyched that I didn’t have to skip school for this once in a blue moon swell [laughs]. So basically my photography career began as a young 10-year-old trying to take pictures of my friends bodysurfing in the shore break.
I used a GoPro HERO 3 with a float case handle at Makapu'u Beach Park and Sandy Beach and slowly progressed. I then took the next step and bought a low quality Sony DSLR and a plastic water housing to fit it. After taking pictures for about a year with the crappy camera, I figured I needed to invest in a much more trustworthy camera and housing.
After saving enough money, I was able to purchase a quality Canon DSLR and a professional top-grade water housing to fit it. Over the last year, I have been honoured to shoot some of the most talented surfers on the planet at some of the most prestigious and famous surf breaks on the island.
A lot of people said that if the Eddie would have run on Saturday, it would have been the best competition ever seen, what do you think?
Absolutely, no doubt in my mind they would have run it. Everyone I talked to both on the beach and in the water said that it would have been a legendary event. I got the chance to talk to Mason Ho and he said that they would have definitely run the event. At the same time, it was an incredible experience to allow the amateur surfers a chance to surf Eddie size waves.
And what’s it like being out there when the conditions are like that? The sea must feel like it’s going crazy?
It was the most energy I’ve ever felt while in the ocean, hand down. There was so much water moving and some much power behind each and every wave. I’ve shot Waimea over a dozen times and I’ve never felt anything like that before. There were several boils that caused turbulence at the surface making it even more critical for the surfers to ride.
Walk us through your day, what time did you get up, check the conditions?
Oh boy this is going to be a good one. So the craziest part was I actually had a two hour swimming practice that very morning.
I texted my coach the night before asking if I could skip practice because there’s a big swell but he said no. So I ended up going to my practice and drove directly up to Waimea afterwards just to swim for another six hours [laughs].
The entire North Shore had the eerie vibe that only someone who has experienced it knows about it
The entire North Shore had the eerie vibe that only someone who has experienced it knows about it; basically, I could tell that the waves were absolutely bombing. After I got my first glance at how big it actually was, my heart began pumping tremendously.
There were at least a thousand people on the beach watching and another thousand watching from up on the hill. The atmosphere surrounding the entire Bay was something similar to the Super Bowl.
The pics are incredible though – are you pumped with how they came out?
I’m beyond psyched on how the pictures came out. I took a grand total of 4,000 stills throughout the day and I haven’t even finished looking through them all.
What’s your favourite from that session?
My favourite shot has to be this shot of Davis Knowles. It was the very first wave I shot after paddling out in the morning, I could have swam in after this wave and been completely satisfied. [laughs]