For our Extreme Photo of the Week, photographer Ray Collins was awarded the 2012 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year award for his image of Australian surfer Mark Mathews riding the wave known as “The Right” in West Australia. The award recognizes the “best of the best” in the Australian surf photography industry.“This day was strange,” recalls Collins. “It was very late season for Australia and the swell was a touch off angle.” Collins had traveled with surfers Mathews and Ryan Hipwood. “There were some extremely tense moments. Ryan was held under the water for 40 seconds,” says Collins. Hipwood surfaced and recovered.The swell was estimated at 15 to 20 feet. After capturing this photo, Collins immediately showed Mathews the frame. “I knew it was a special image right away,” says Collins. After seeing the image of himself riding into the close-out wave, Mathews exclaimed: “That doesn’t even look real—it looks like something from National Geographic!” Collins used a Canon 7D camera body with a 70-200mm, f/2.8L lens.
We caught up with Sydney-based surfer Mark Mathews about what happened on the rest of his ride.
Adventure: What were you thinking at this moment?
Mark Mathews: I don’t think I was thinking anything at this point. It was all happening so fast I was more or less acting on instinct. The first thought I remember having was as soon as I was underwater just as the wave was about smash me. I had a conscious thought, “This is going to be really violent, I need to relax.”
Adventure: Seriously, weren’t you kind of freaked out?
M.M.: Very freaked out!
A: How big was that wave?
M.M.: 20 to 25 feet
A: What do you hear in a moment like this?
M.M.: You can hear the cracking of the lip as the wave breaks.
A: Things got a little messy after this moment, right? What happened?
M.M.: Super violent washing machine lots of tumbling, but surprisingly it didn’t last long.
A: Was this the biggest wave you’ve surfed? Or maybe the scariest? Was it worth it?
M.M.: I’ve ridden taller waves. But sheer volume that was one of the biggest for sure.
A: Were you out this day for fun or a competition?
M.M.: Fun/work. I love it, and it’s what my sponsors pay me to do.
A: What’s the deal with “The Right?” Is it always this huge? Had you surfed it before?
M.M.: Yeah, it doesn’t break until it’s 10+ feet. I’ve been surfing it for the last few years—that was one of the scarier days. It was late in the season which makes for lower tides which makes for less water on the reefs which makes for scary wipe outs!
A: Where are you based and why?
M.M.: I live in Sydney. My favorite wave in the world breaks off the opening of Botany Bay, so it’s nice and close. And its near the airport so I can quickly get to anywhere the waves are going to be pumping!
- Nat Geo Expeditions