In the Mikala Jones Manual for Freesurfing Photo Pros, this is the latest chapter:
Chapter 13: "How to Work When No One Else Will."
"I just like being able to be productive on my own," says Mikala, annoyed that I made up a fake book by him. "It's a fun, artistic challenge and you come back to the beach feeling like you accomplished something."
Sure, you've seen shots of guys holding their own water-housings in the tube already. Brian Conley. Skindog. Wilbur. Between still cameras that shoot HD video and Go-Pro 3Ds producing frame-grab quality stills, it's basically just another page in the freesurfer's operating manual.
But what you may not realize about those photos is that they're a bit of a production. You can't paddle in while holding a water housing. So you need your buddy to do it for you. With a Jet Ski. And gas. And that buddy will also want a turn. And then the Ski will break down. And then you'll get a ticket for running over a baby-seal. It's a whole big thing.
Mikala doesn't use a Jet Ski. He just paddles in with the housing in his hand. Pretty ridiculous stunt, actually. He pins a water housing to his board with his chin, presses up one-handed, pulls into a six-foot tube and stares off into the sunset all romantic-like.
It ain't pretty. It ain't easy. And it ain't being done by no one else. But the photos are just the opposite. Pretty. Easy. And spreading like butter.
Stay tuned for Chapter 14, when we talk about "Hair Styling to Extend Photo Career." Until then, enjoy these self-portraits from the pit. —Nathan Myers
SURFING: How'd this get started doing this?
MIKALA: Well, I bought a tail-mount a few years back and was going for the tail-mount shot. But then I just figured it was easier to hold it.
Was it hard to figure out the photography aspects?
Yeah, with water housings I had to learn about avoiding spray and keeping drops off the port. There's a lot to it. I asked some photographers for help with the settings and they were like, "No, figure that out yourself." But then another friend just wrote it all down for me.
What about holding the camera when you paddle.
I just put it under my chin, keep my head down and try to grab it as my hand's leaving the rail. I drop it most times, and then get sucked over the falls with it. When it's not in your hands anymore it's just a ten-pound, floating brick going over the falls with you.
A lot harder than just posing in the tube, yeah?
Yeah, there's definitely more going on. I've never done a whip in for it, but I know you can get some pretty epic shots that way. I've paddled it up to about six-foot. Once it's over eight feet, the drop gets pretty critical and there's a bit too much going on.
What's your motivation?
It's just something different. You get the feeling of accomplishing something — looking in the camera and hopefully seeing a nice shot. I wouldn't mind doing an exhibition, at some point. For now, my family appreciates the photos.
You've been waking up early trying to score a sunrise barrel shot — what's the window of opportunity on that?
Less than a half an hour. Then you have to go in and change all your settings. The tail-mount is the hardest. You have to set the mount up, screw it into your board, get the remote shutter taped to your board and paddle out on a 7'6" and try to make a drop and get barreled. Then it's like having a big pendulum on your board, too.
Think we'll see a lot more guys doing this in the future?
Guaranteed. The new HD Go-Pro is going to be able to do stills and video. I hear they have a 3-D camera coming up — really small with pretty good quality. It's crazy. It's almost gonna be effortless. Jamie Sterling told me everyone in Puerto has one on their board now getting video of huge barrels. Three hundred bucks — that's all you need.
No backhand shots yet?
Well, you can't grab the rail or drag your hand. It's too hard. I mean, getting whipped in is the solution to everything. Can't catch the wave, get whipped in. Can't grab the rail, get whipped in. It makes everything so much easier, but then you're not doing it alone anymore and there's a lot more production going on. I like this ’cause it's something I can just work on my own.
Have you scored the shot you're dreaming of yet?
I've got a few decent ones so far, but it's just a process. I've definitely got a long way to go, but I learn a little bit more each time I try it. It's like most artistic pursuits — you're never completely happy with it, and that's what keeps you motivated to keep pushing yourself.