Around the World in 6 Surf Shots: Morgan Maassen’s study in Fijian stormscape
Morgan Maassen rose to the fore in the highly competitive world of surf photography shooting the likes of Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson on Quiksilver trips in the early 2010’s, often using a different approach to the standard action photography norms of the time. While his subjects were the most high performance, photogenic surfers in the world, his images were equally unmistakable. With a special regard for everyday beauty, water textures, towering cumulonimbus formations, moment between the moment poise from the sport’s biggest names, Massen’s look was soon imitated with every push contrast filter on every blog in surfing.
Longtime friend and collaborator of Santa Barbaran waterman Trevor Gordon, Morgan chose an image he captured of Trevor by chance on a remote Fijian reef in a tropical storm to help us on our photographic journey Around the World in 6 Surf Shots.
Morgan picks up the story:
I was 19 years old at the time, I’d been shooting about a year and I was still trying to figure out how not to have to go back to graphic design, to make it in surf photography full time.
I had a somewhat successful blog about film, photography, design and stuff, and one day I got this comment on the blog, “Would you like to come sail around Fiji on a super yacht? And if so, how much can we pay you?”
I was like, “If you can cover my costs, instead of paying me, can you let my two best friends come…?”
So we flew in to Fiji, and after driving across the main island and getting boats and ferries and making it all the way across island hopping to the NE atolls to meet this boat, we were thinking maybe it was all just a scam, a catfish.
But we got there, and there’s this beautiful 45m power sail yacht, with chefs, staff, the real deal.
We spent a month cruising and surfing and navigating whole E and N island chains, seeing endless surf set ups that nobody was surfing. We’d drop anchor at a place in front of perfect waves, and locals would come out and ask for t-shirts in return for the anchorage. They’d tell us that no one had ever surfed here.
We passed this one set up that looked insane, but it was way too big at the time, it was actually getting both north and south swells, and just way too chaotic.
So after about a month, we finished the trip and we decided we had to go back and check it out. So we got this crazy dingy ride over open ocean and finally get to this island. There’s nothing there but a little half built eco lodge, that this Kiwi guy with dreadlocks was building. He’d been working with the prince of the island whose dad owned it. We camped out there, sleeping in these half built huts.
Across the channel, 3 or 4 kms out was the horseshoe reef that we’d seen from the boat. We spent a couple of days surfing it but it was pretty windy and small, we were ready to leave. It was tiny and blown out, but we went out for one last session anyway, and the the wind switched, and it turned into this little left rip bowl. We were getting little turns and barrels, but nothing to write home about, kinda like waist-high Restaurants.
Then suddenly the sky grew really dark as this crazy storm rolled in, out of nowhere. I paddled back to get my housing to take photos, and the wind started howling, and I was thinking ‘Shit, we gotta get back to the island while we can.’
But I loved shooting clouds and stuff and I was determined to try and get one shot.
So Trevor took off on this wave, and for a perfect split second, the face went glassy, the water was glowing, the sky had black patches with crazy light illuminating the water, everything lined up.
We made it back to the boat, and it pelted with rain for two days… we would’ve been lost at sea if we’d left it any later to bail.
When we looked at the shots from the trip, I thought I’d have some cool clouds from that sesh. A few days later we surfed that spot huge, like Teahupoo, just crazy. Trevor got messed up, injured that day and I thought those photos would be insane from the big day.
Anyway, when it came to editing through, weirdly, the one that stood out was this crazy looking shot from the storm. I’ve spent thousands of hours in the water since, and have not come across anything like that in the last decade, never even got close.
“We would’ve been lost at sea if we’d left it any later to bail…”
I showed it to Patagonia and they put it on the cover of their summer catalogue and on their marketing stuff for a couple of years. I sent it to bunch of mags, Surfer Mag and so on, but they were totally not into it, just indifferent. No surf mags would touch it.
In the time I’ve been shooting since, it’s become one of my shots that transcends surfing. 4 or 5 years after I shot it, I transitioned out of shooting surfing, and folk really appreciated it, people who have no concept of surfing. It’s the one surf shot that non surfers seem to like, it’s gone a lot of random places.
The whole thing happened in about 7 minutes, it was just a surreal, hyper frenetic moment in time. To me that just makes the photograph even weirder, and even more appealing.