Among the many great things the Philippines has been known for are the beautiful beaches that can be found all over the country. Sure, other countries have their own share of eye-catching shores, but what we have here are so unique that many international celebrities who stop by here whether for work or for leisure make sure to soak up our sun and our sand. But aside from the stunning views, there is another thing that has been drawing locals and tourists alike to our shores—the waves. Most surfers will attest that the Philippines has been blessed with great waves. Too beautiful, that some photographers make it the primary focus of their work. They are the ones called surf photographers.
Just recently, Siargao-based surf photographer Gaps Sabuero made a buzz in the international photography scene when out of 34,624 images from 120 participating countries around the globe, Sabuero’s photograph of a surfer at Siargao Island made it as one of the top 55 finalists in Red Bull Illume 2016's Masterpiece by Yodobashi Category last September at the Art Insitute of Chicago. “I feel so out of place to be honest; like I’m not supposed to be there. All the photographs that made it as finalists were from professionals on big assignments, high end gear, high end talent, top athletes… the big names there, my God. Mine was taken with a GoPro during my first few months of shooting.”
The photograph that got Sabuero into the Top 55 finalists of Red Bull Illume 2016's Yodobashi Category
“Lots of people, non-surfers and even surfers, only see how cool the pictures are. Beyond that, very few know and respect the not so cool amount of work involved to create them,” says Sabuero on the challenges that come with being a surf photographer. “Those who are doing a great job at it have been born to surfing. The people who I am learning from have been surfing their whole lives. That long time exposure to the ocean makes your body evolve into something made for the ocean. And, you get all the knowledge about the ocean through that lifetime of experience as well.”
He adds, “Surfing has its physical and mental demands. Treading the surf takes more though. I’ve seen lots of fit and athletic people, even those who have been surfing their whole lives, struggle to endure treading the surf to capture images. It is not easy, and as much as we like to fantasize that we are creatures of the sea, we are not. Learn the ocean and how to be in/on it. The impact zone, that is where surf photographers make rent and get the next meal from. We have to make sure we are in good physical condition for the water. The impact zone where everyone with boards paddle so hard to get out of, that is where we are. We are sitting ducks hoping that we can dive through under every set that comes or if ever we take waves on the head, we hope that we don’t scrub, slam ourselves or our gear on the reef. It is either a broken body or a broken rig.”
As for the most challenging thing he had to face to get that perfect shot? Sabuero says it is, "Fear. Well to me who is just an upstart, the surf will only get bigger. I recently surfed, swam and photographed the biggest swell I had so far. Again, I am only as good as the the last photograph I took. That’s how I see life in general. And yeah I want the next one to be as big or bigger to get used to it. It’s always fear. Well, you get used to the fear then you get to manage it."
Siargao-based surf photographer Gaps Sabuero
Sabuero, who was an out of school youth who doesn’t find traditional education appealing, got into photography early in his life. “When my mom bought the family a camera, it never left my hands. I had too much youth angst, I guess, that playing guitar in punk rock bands wasn't enough. So, then came photography which sort of gave me direction." Soon he found himself falling in love with surfing and taking photos of the waves.
“What I love most about photography and surf? I am only as good as the the last photograph I took. Seeing it that way, it becomes an adventure. It's a roller coaster ride, physical, emotional, and mental. I love that nothing is certain about it. You just live in the moment. It may sound corny but it's the only way to call it.” He says. “There are times when surf predictions may not be promising, but waves are good and the other way around. Lots of times you think you've read the ocean right, but suddenly a wave comes crashing down at you proving you wrong. The ocean, its beauty, and its punishments come in the weirdest times so you have to move with the moment, no presumptions.” And the top five places he loves to surf at and shoot?
Siargao, of course. Number 1 in my heart.
Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii
Tahiti, French Polynesia
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Photographs courtesy of Gaps Sabuero and John Barber