SURFER Staff Photographer Todd Glaser is used to being in precarious situations. Call it "Occupational Hazard," but when you put yourself under the lip at a heavy slab, with a bulky water housing in tow and a fiberglass plank flying towards you, accidents are bound to happen. When Glaser trained his lens at Craig Anderson on the wave of the day in Tahiti a few months back, he ended up getting a little more than he bargained for, including the cover shot for our July issue.
So how did you get that beautiful blue image presently on our cover?
That day was kind of cloudy and about 3- to 4-foot Teahupoo, so not very big, but really west. When it's really west it's a lot more hollow, so it seemed like a great day to shoot underwater photos. So I was shooting mostly underwater photos until I looked up and saw a bigger set coming, almost twice the size of anything else that had come through that day. Craig took off, but I was stuck inside and I had two options: I could swim underneath the wave and not shoot it, or take it on the head and try to get a shot. I swam as fast as I could and barely got up under the lip. I was in the barrel looking up a Craig, shot the sequence, and then tried to get deep enough underwater that his fins would miss me. Most of the time in waves like that, guys are riding thrusters, so you only have to get about three inches under the surface. But Craig was riding a single fin with a 7- or 8-inch fin, which ended up nailing my camera port underwater. Luckily, he still made the wave, but I was too far inside and ended up getting sucked over the falls. I came up and my port was scratched, and I saw cracks in it, so I had to get back to the boat to make sure it didn't start leaking. That ended the session pretty quick.
Those housings are pretty heavy duty. I'm surprised that didn't stop him dead.
Yeah, they're pretty bulky, but I'm guessing that he had enough momentum that his fin just pushed the housing underwater. I was pretty worried in the moment because he was filming for his movie and that was the only wave like that, so I was hoping that I didn't knock him off and waste the wave. When Craig got back out, he was really apologetic, saying, "I'm so sorry, that's never happened before! I'll pay for the port!" And I was freaking out too like, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to mess you up on the wave!" But he ended up making the wave, getting the clip for his movie, and getting the cover of the magazine, so it all worked out in the end [laughs].
So you said you got tossed by that wave. When you're shooting from the water at waves like Teahupoo, how often do you find yourself in that situation?
I don't think I could give you an exact ratio, but it definitely happens. It's something that you train for, and try to avoid, but in the end you just have to accept the fact that it's inevitable when you are swimming at waves like that. When it happens, you just hope for the best, and try to keep yourself from hitting your head on the reef. The scariest part is when you get held down for a long time, because when you are surfing you can usually tell which direction the surface is because your board and your leash are pulling you that way. Without that, it's easy to lose your sense of direction in the turbulence and not even know which way to swim. Getting this shot, I ended up in one of those situations where you pop out the back and then you get sucked over the falls. But there weren't any waves behind it, so it wasn't too bad.
Did you know when you first saw the shot that it was something special?
It's tough to tell exactly what you have when you are just looking at it on a camera screen. You could open that image in Photoshop and realize that the photo is soft or that there was a drop of water on the port, or any number of different elements that you can't really see on the camera in the moment. I was trying not to get too excited about the shot, because you never really know until you can look at the high-resolution version on a computer. But it definitely looked like it had the potential to be something special.