Spectacular Drone Footage Show Surfers Riding Giant Waves

This photographer uses drones to capture stunning footage of Hawaii, Tahiti, and other top surf destinations.

Tahiti local Raimana Van Bastolea rides an enormous barrel at Teahupo'o.

The view of the world changes from above. Drone photography proliferated visual storytelling in recent years and continues to evolve the way photographers, filmmakers, and storytellers capture images of our world. Outdoor and adventure photographers were early adopters of the technology and continue to explore what visuals can be created from the sky, taking us to otherwise inaccessible moments and locations.

Filmmaker Eric Sterman is pushing drone photography to new limits in Hawaii, Tahiti, and beyond, creating films of surfers and watermen pushing their own limits with drones in tow—or in some cases, the drones literally tow the surfers. Sterman was born on the North Shore of Oahu, which instilled in him a love for the ocean. “Watching its continuous change in movement, color, and size is what truly holds my captivation,” says Sterman.

A drone tows a surfer into waves.

Though glistening ocean waters regularly called him to the sea, it wasn’t until a trip to Bali and a happenstance sighting of a drone that Sterman became an early adopter of the technology. “The first time I saw a drone, I was on a trip to Bali, Indonesia. I saw a guy flying a drone with a camera, capturing aerial shots of what was around him, which I thought was the coolest thing!” At that time, drones had not yet become common, and Sterman jumped into aerial videography. Today he is regularly working on documentaries and commercial work. “I had so many ideas flowing through my head that I couldn't stop thinking about all of the possibilities there were with this [then] new technology,” recalls Sterman.

Jamie O'brien carries a drone while riding a giant wave at Teahupo'o in Tahiti.

As drone technology has become extremely accessible—parents capture family vacations as often as extreme athletes climbing the toughest mountains in the world—social feeds are flooded with aerial visions of the world. Sterman sees this flood of content as a positive creative challenge. “Aerial photography and videography have become popular, creating much more competition these days. I think in a lot of ways this is good competition because it has allowed people to become much more creative in what they are capturing. People are traveling to such cool places and showing their skills, ideas, and individuality through their content captured. Seeing others create amazing work really inspires me to continue to create content, travel more, and keep growing my creativity as well.”

Heavy rains flood Oahu's Waimea Valley during the wet season. In December 2016, surfers worked with locals to dig a ditch, releasing Waimea River floodwaters into the sea. The path created a man-made wave pool. Kelly Slater is seen riding the remarkable waves.

What's next for drone photography? “In the next five years drones will basically be autonomous with just a tech guy—push of a button to take off—or gimbal operator only. I think VR is gonna be a huge thing and more of a focus,” says Sterman. Until then, he’ll continue to explore the ocean from above.