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The Bruce Irons Archive, By Zak Noyle

More gems than a jewelry store cage

Be it football wide-receivers, UFC fighters, or baseball pinch hitters, there’s an inherently prepared confidence among its players – swagger, even a little ego, call it what you will – to step into the arena and get the job done. So when it comes to Pipeline’s elite photographer crew, why would that confidence be any different?

No photographer today is as synonymous with gladiatorial courage below thundering liquid teepees than Zak Noyle, who has worked extensively with Bruce Irons and other Pipe legends for the last decade. We recently caught up with Zak in Oahu, where we’ve been itching to get this archive post of Irons’ work out to the public. There’s always been magic brewing between these two RVCA connections and former roommates, two icons in their own craft.

How were you introduced to Bruce?

I got introduced to Bruce a loooong time ago. But it wasn’t until Pat Tenore brought him onto RVCA last year that we became close. Then we became roommates [Laughs].

Do you recall any distinct memories of the first photographs you saw of Bruce surfing? For me, it was the Volcom poster of him doing that tailblow, I think at Lowers.

The main one that sticks out is a certain photo of Bruce at Pipe, before I shot a lot of surf. It’s a black and white photo, I believe, by Brian Bielmann. It’s such a nuts photos. Bruce’s fins are completely detached from the lip.

Ohhhh, yeah! That was from an old Transworld Surf Photo Annual. That was shot on Scala (black-and-white slide film), maybe around 2006-ish. Brian nailed that. How about personal photographs you shot of Bruce? What stands out in your mind?

I think when I shot that cover of Bruce last year for SURFER [The Interview Issue, April 2016]. That was a special moment, for sure. It was just after the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout. At the time, Bruce and I were roommates at the RVCA house, right in front of Off The Wall. This was right after his heat. We paddled down the beach. It was one of those rare magic sessions where Bruce got wave after wave after wave. I still visualize him standing tall, the light was perfect, and it was just classic Bruce. That had to be one of the sickest sessions I’ve seen.

So what do you think makes Bruce, Bruce? Does he sit in different places? He seems to attack Pipe when he’s on out there.

Bruce is pretty casual when it comes to Pipe, or Backdoor. He’s definitely one of those guys who can paddle out and just be completely in sync with the ocean. And to your point, yeah, he does attack it. He rides it like he stole it with no cares or concerns.

What was your first photo published of him?

From back in the day, a small fisheye shot at Backdoor. DC ended up using it as an ad in the print magazines. I think that’s my earliest memory.

So what’s it like traveling with Bruce on a trip? You guys are both on RVCA, so I assume you guys get on some team trips together?

I do travel with him quite a bit. He’s a funny guy. Almost always late for everything, but when he’s in the water, it’s on.  One thing about Bruce: he loves to wait until the sun is just going down to go surf [Laughs]. It’s a photographer’s worst nightmare sometimes, but you have to shift your thinking and make it work.

What are your overall thoughts on photography right now? Where do you want to take your photo skills with a subject like Bruce? 

With digital, it is getting more difficult to produce unique or unseen imagery. But it’s still more than possible. You just have to try harder. I am all about trying to find that Wow Factor that blows the viewer’s mind. I want to use different lenses in ordinary places. I’m trying to get away from the standard fisheye shot here and there. There are too many standard angles and shots these days. I want to baffle the reader and make him question how the photo was taken. It’s getting harder to do, but it still can be achieved, I think. Recently, I’ve been trying to shoot my 50mm lens where everyone shoots fisheye. Sometimes it’s way too close, but sometimes it’s just insane and different.

Last question, and I’ve always personally wondered this: when it comes to shooting some of the heavier hitters, do you pull out of the wave earlier to not chandelier the lip? I think Andy used to have a big issue with this. He hated when photographers got their housings too close to his face or the flip.

I actually try staying in as long as possible to get the best shot. I think regardless, if I know they’re going, I’m waiting as long as possible and doing my job. Most the time these guys are going to want me in there.