Behind The Lens

Zak Noyle takes you behind the cover of our September Issue

Photo: Noyle

Koa Smith, inside out there at Teahupoo. But Zak Noyle was deeper. Photo: Noyle

Zak Noyle and Koa Smith recently lined up one of the most extraordinary photos of Teahupoo we’ve seen in some time. Noyle defied the conventional methods of shooting one of the world’s most dangerous lineups, and that earned him the cover of our September Issue.

Take me behind the cover.

Well, we were in Tahiti with Koa Smith and some other Hawaii guys and we were hoping to score solid Teahupoo, but we didn't really get the waves we were hoping for. It was a fun trip with fun waves, but it wasn't all-time Tahiti by any means. This photo of Koa turned what would have been just a fun trip to Tahiti into something I'll never forget.

That’s by no means the standard way to shoot Teahupoo. Walk me through the angle here.

I'd been dreaming of this angle for a while now, but I haven't had the opportunity to get it. It's one of the crazy Scott Aichner angles that really places you and the viewer in the barrel with the surfer. I hadn't had a whole lot of luck getting this type of shot in the past because it’s so difficult. Everything has to line up just right. So we had a session out at Teahupoo—it wasn't all that big, maybe 4 to 5 feet—and Koa went on this one and everything just lined up. Immediately, I could tell that this wave might allow me to position myself deep enough and throw wide enough for me to get the shot. So I went for it and it all worked out.

How hard is it to get in this space and hold your composure long enough to frame the shot?

It's really hard. And it's pretty dangerous, too. You'll see a lot of guys who shoot from the water swim out toward the channel at Teahupoo when a set comes. That's sort of been the standard angle. But for this shot, I had to swim inside and deeper as the set came in and time it just right. If I would have mistimed it, I probably would have gotten washed up on the reef and pretty beat up. But I was able to hold it long enough to watch Koa fly by me and capture the moment. It really all came together perfectly.

Did you know you had something special right away?

Well, I thought I did. But I don't like to get too excited until I can get back on the land and really check it out. That said, I thought I had something special and told Koa right away that there could be something there. I didn't want to hype it up too much or anything, because you never know. But when we got out of the water, I took one look at it and knew that it was special.

You have a few SURFER covers. How does this one compare?

It's always a surreal feeling to get the cover of SURFER. It'll never get old. Ever. But yes, this is my favorite cover shot. I think it's the most difficult shot I've had to get, all my other ones sort of felt like they were all leading up to this photo. Plus, it's of Koa, who's a good friend of mine. To get a cover shot of one of your friends is just about as good as it gets. I feel like this angle can appeal to anyone who appreciates photography. I think surfers and non-surfers alike can look at this and understand that this is a really unique photo, so I’m just super stoked it all worked out the way it did.