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One Flew Over The North Shore Nest

Photographer Jimmy "Jimmicane" Wilson on capturing the recent W Pipe fest from the sky

[Words by Jimmy “Jimmicane” Wilson]

I've been coming to the North Shore for a decade or more, probably 12 years, but I've never traveled here outside of the Triple Crown window. I've always been there sometime between November and the end of December. I've never been there without the full-on scene. I saw all my Hawaiian friends who I hang with during the season, but there were really only a few people from other places who came out for these recent swells. There were the Gudangs, Alex Gray, Damien Hobgood – that's who I was cruising with. It was all guys like Koa Rothman, Koa Smith, Nathan Florence, Jamie O'Brien, Mason Ho, picking the bombs.

Mike Ho. Photo: Jimmicane

That first swell was super west, with a lot of closeouts. There were hardly any Backdoor waves. It was pretty much all Pipe. They were tapering off, more than normal, and they weren’t running as long. Even without the circus in town, it's still hard to get a wave at Pipe. The pecking order out there is tight. I’d say Mason was the standout of that swell, for sure. He tended to get all the craziest waves where it looked like no one was around him. This year, it feels like he stepped up his game to a new level.

This was my first time shooting with a drone. I didn't think much about getting one because I knew that it would just add another thing to my travel pack, and you're talking more money on baggage allowance. It’s just another thing you have to deal with. So I was kind of opposed to it for a little bit, but then I bought one right before they closed Surfing Magazine. I was doing a lot more video and I wanted to have that extra potential to get B-roll. Just a couple shots here and there. I brought it on a family trip to Kauai for Sebastian Zietz’s wedding. Whenever I had down time, I sent it up to get some cool shots. I found myself shooting a lot more photos than video with it. And it all came out pretty darn well, considering that I paid $1500 for everything, which comes out to about the same as I’d have spent on one helicopter flight.

I didn't grow up playing video games, and I feel like operating a drone is like playing Halo or something [Laughs]. I feel like anyone who was a legit gamer could get a drone and be instantly good with it straight out of the box. It's taking me a little bit of time, so I was kind of flying it safe and keeping it a little higher. At one point, I think I counted 8 drones in the air at the same time. Eventually these things are going to be crashing into each other. It's basically already happening.

Tanner Gudauskas. Photo: Jimmicane

At one point, when Pipe was going off the hardest, a military helicopter flew directly over the break about 50 feet above the lineup, maybe lower. I saw it coming in and was like, "Holy sh-t," and I started flying the drone up as high as I could. I swear, if it came maybe a couple minutes earlier or after, this huge helicopter probably would have wiped out five drones at once.

The strategy of shooting from land or the water compared to shooting from above is completely different. I'm more trying to capture action. At Surfing, I shot pretty much everything – honed in, pulled-back, lifestyle. But with a drone, you're trying to mess around and shoot a bunch and see what you like afterward. When you take the pictures, the screen goes black anyway, so you don't exactly know what you shot, because you're shooting bursts. I was really having fun with it because it was something new. I've been shooting photos for 15 years now, so it was just a cool, fun experience that I was excited about. Every chance I got, I would just fly it up until I ran out of batteries.

Gavin Beschen. Photo: Jimmicane