We’ve spent the last week taking one final look at the iconic moments of 2016 through the lens of SURFER's staff photographers. From Todd Glaser, Zak Noyle, and Ryan “Chachi” Craig, the selections have been mesmerizing. Up now is SURFER Photo Editor Grant Ellis, whose year was punctuated by historic moments, both in his personal life, as well as in his day job as a surf photographer with almost twenty-five years under his belt. "I was busy with my family a lot this year," says Ellis. "My wife and I had our second child, and I didn't get the opportunity to chase swells all over the place. I just had a few key opportunities to go shoot, so I was trying to make the most of my time." And make the most of it he did, documenting everything from a budding Jamaican surf scene, to a shark-fighting world champion, to hardened, road-weary locals in the Great Lakes, to one of the most insane Eddie events in history, where competitors like Makua Rothman rolled the dice with a maxed-out Waimea Bay. "Makua was one of the standouts for the day at The Eddie, for sure. He got pretty unlucky with that big collision, and that probably would have pushed him up the ranks a little bit. He was charging. I like how you can see (above photo) how fast he’s moving at the base of the wave, and how crazy the wave looks behind him. I mean, it’s massive.” - Interviewed by Ashton Goggans


Previous Photo: Haile (Left) and Nekoy Henry, Jamaica. "These were two of the kids who got boards from the Positive Vibe Warriors board drive. We got to shoot all the kids getting their boards, getting stoked, and going surfing. Haile and Nekoy are brothers, and that’s them riding their first surfboards."

Tyler Warren, Nicaragua. "I shot with Tyler quite a few times this year. This was a trip to Nicaragua for a project we worked on together. There were these amazing little barrels, and Tyler paddled out on this funky, beak-nosed, sort of '70s-looking pintail that made the resulting image look really cool and complimented the water color."

Pipeline, North Shore

Bruce Irons, Pipeline. "This photo ran in a feature interview that Sean Doherty did with Bruce last year. I shot this on one of those Hawaii afternoons. The waves were pretty good, and Bruce walked up and sat down, just checking the waves, eventually deciding to paddle out."

Mavericks, Northern California. "This was the morning of the Mavericks contest. At dawn, it was a little stormy and slow and smaller than people were hoping, but they gave it the green light and everyone started heading out into the lineup. This was the first real Mavericks wave that came through, just as the heats were about to start. I love the guy in the channel throwing shakas. It got everyone psyched - got the vibe going."

Clyde Aikau, Waimea Bay. "I've shot every Eddie contest since I've been at SURFER, and this was the best one I’ve ever seen. I think that picture of Clyde kind of sums the whole thing up. He’s what, 67 years old? And he’s air-dropping in, just dealing with these enormous closeout sets. It was an impressive performance by that guy. I feel like he should have gotten even more credit than he did."

Jack Robinson, Pipeline. "This was in late-season, and Pipe was firing for two or three days. Just really, truly, perfect Pipe. There were these second reef bombs coming through. Jack cruised into one, from outside second reef, just eased into it and came into the bowl, into this perfect Pipe barrel."

Alex Gray, Minnesota. "This is Alex Gray on a wave that does not look like it should be in a lake. This trip, we flew in the night before, got into the hotel pretty late, and then got up in the dark. It was freezing cold, there was snow on the ground, and it was firing. Like, full-on Lowers in a lake. There was no reference point as to when the wind was going to switch, or when the swell was going to die, so there was this panic to the whole thing, getting the shots before it disappeared. When you're in that mode, it's hard to slow down and focus and try to take pictures that tell a story. You’re just trying to get a shot. You’re trying to take five or six different types of shots at the same time. I was trying to get lineups, trying to get shots of people getting into the water, the whole deal. I think I was shooting with another camera, and Alex got this wave. He got a little cover-up right before this, but I was switching cameras. I was so glad I got this shot. He's doing a proper turn and there's plenty of face on the wave. I saw him pull in, grabbed that camera, and got the sequence. It might have been the best turn of the day."

Great Lakes Locals, Minnesota

Jojo Roper, San Diego. "I was shooting with my 14mm, which is a challenge. Even though it’s a fish-eye, you have to compose the shot, otherwise things get distorted in the wrong places. It’s a great underwater lens, but it’s really hard to compose. It has a cool look when it’s done right. The perspective is different to a normal fish-eye, in that it’s truer to what's really going on. It doesn’t distort everything as much. It puts all the elements in the right place, the distance between things. It’ll push the background further, but won't warp the wave to make it look more flared out than it really was. Everything has to be right for the photo to work. You can’t fake it with a 14mm. I’m not able to shoot water that often these days, so when I do, I try to go for something a little different."

Tyler Warren, Southern California

Pipeline, North Shore. "This Pipe shot was from the same swell as that Jack Robinson shot. It's always fun trying to find new angles, or new perspectives, on a wave like Pipeline. We all have these undisclosed little locations we shoot from. This evening though, there was this crazy sunset, like I'd never seen there before. It was beautiful."

Mick Fanning, SURFER "Reborn" Cover. "With Mick, I wanted something that made him look powerful and dominant, but also a little grittier. Mick’s not full of himself. He's got confidence, not cockiness. And I didn’t want to make it this cheerful and happy portrait, because he had a fucking year. I wanted some somberness to the image, nothing too celebratory. I haven’t shot portraits of Mick before, but one of the earliest events I went to when I was shooting the World Tour was at Bells, when Mick won it as a wildcard. It was really early in my travels as a surf photographer, so to see him do that, and now to shoot a portrait of him in his position today, was a meaningful addition to my body of work."

Waimea Bay, Hawaii. "This isn't the shorebreak - this is outside, off the rock, and over the years I’ve seen that wave break many times, but I can’t remember seeing big whitewater explosions like this. It shows the power of the waves coming into that bay and how much energy is moving around out there."

Dane Gudauskas, California. "Dane has a friend, Elizabeth Zykowski, who does a lot of the airbrushes on his boards. He threw out the idea of her painting this huge mandala, with him in the middle of it. I shot it on a 6x6, medium-format Hasselblad. I like shooting portraiture, when I can, on medium-format cameras, or large-format cameras, because of the feel it gives, the compression you get from it. Subjects seem to engage better. People are so used to getting their picture taken nowadays. I feel like they work harder for you when you're shooting medium- or large-format."

John Florence, Waimea Bay. "I flew over the day before The Eddie, and was lucky enough to stay with some close friends right on the point. I was checking it at midnight, and it was already starting to pick up. I woke up at around 4:00 AM, and was sort of getting ready, walking around with everyone in the dark. It’s funny, the way people talk about it now: Waimea has become almost non-frightening to people, which puts into perspective how gnarly everyone’s gotten. I love the shadow on the face of this wave, and the wind blowing up the face and catching John's board."

Pat Gudauskas, locals, and the Wilmot family car, Jamaica. "The Wilmots are the most surf-stoked family on the planet. They all rip, and the dad is a legend. Back in the ‘80s, he was a reggae star and is really well known around the island, and he takes care of all the local kids. They come from all over the island and come hang out at the house. He and his sons are really patient with the kids, teaching them to surf, and there's this great little wave out in front of their place, a perfect spot to push people into waves and give them that that feeling. As far as the vibe, it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited. The older crew in Jamaica is just such an inspiration. They’ve all grown up scrapping together whatever they could for their families and the community. They make it work."