BEHIND THE LENS: Aichner & Hennessy's 2008 Photo of the Year

It’s a shot that at first glance requires a double take. The fiery-blue lip cascading down upon the lens; the surfer, deftly slotted in the background, perfectly poised within the heaving lip, readying himself to make a dash for a non-existent exit. The photo—shot by Scott Aichner and composed of Hawaiian surfer Robert Hennessy tucked inside a meaty Mexican lip—would go on to win the Photo of the Year Award at this year's Surfer Poll. But the shot that took everyone's breath away was oh so close to never happening. We got the inside scoop from Hennessy and Aichner on the story behind the 2007 Surfer Poll Photo of the Year.

What was going on that day when the photo was taken?

Scott Aichner: Yeah, we were down in Puerto and it was kinda closing out. Nothing too special but we decided to go out anyway. Then this wave came along and Robert was going so I went for the shot. The lip didn't really come down on me at all like it looks in the photo. It actually went right over my head and you can see that in the next few frames.

Robert Hennessy: Yeah, that day wasn't anything special. I remember I was sitting on the beach with Aichner and a couple of other guys at around dawn, the waves weren't that good…we almost decided that we weren't gonna go out. It just looked like it was closing out. It was kinda hazy and only like 3 to 5 foot. But we decided to paddle out anyway. I remember that was a pretty solid wave, a nice double-up closeout. Anyway, Aichner and Daniel Russo were right there battling for position for the shot and it was actually more of a right closeout than a left. Greg Long was down the line from me and I thought he was gonna go right and try to get the shot. He paddled for it and then decided he was over it, as you know it was just a closeout. So I kinda just went, pulled in and got slammed right on top of Russo. I remember I was psyched 'cause both Aichner and Russo seemed like they were in the spot and both were hooting a bit after so I was just hoping to get something out of it. But with photos, you just never really know.

What did you think when you saw that shot the first time?

SA: The photo is actually a slide so I couldn't really tell what it looked like until later. But when I saw it I knew it was something special. A lot of times you'll get a really good shot but then there's some water out of place or something like that, but not this one—there's really not a drop of water out of place.

RH: I was still down in Puerto and got an email from Steph [Koehne] who was back in the States telling me that Aichner said he got an "Oh My God" shot of me. I thought Steph was just messing with me—he likes to do that—so I told him to get real and that he was a dick for telling me that. He persisted and I told him I was gonna kill him if he was lying. Anyway, Aichner eventually sent me the photos and I was just like "Yes!" I was tripping that a photo like that could come from a straight closeout. I was really psyched and relieved actually because I had nothing at that time and it was a big accomplishment for me personally. It really showed me that hard work and faith in yourself and others pays off. I was just so stoked to get a good shot that might get run in a mag. I had no idea it would get used as much as it has.

How’s it feel to win Photo of the Year?

SA: I was blown away when I heard I had won. It's something I've always strived for and it feels really good to get recognized. I'm just really stoked on the whole thing.

RH: It feels good and kinda weird. Aichner told me it was in the running for Photo of the Year, but he wasn't sure it would win, as some shots in the past he thought would get it didn't. He told me he'd let me know, but then I didn't hear anything from him so I figured I didn't get it. But then on the day of the SURFER Poll Awards I had just gotten out of the water at home and had a bunch of text messages and missed calls from guys telling me I got it. I couldn't believe it: Photo of the Year! I wish I could have been there. I know it's a lot of prestige for Aichner as he took the photo, but ya know, I was just the lucky guy to be in it.