There is just so much talent out there today.
Both in the water and those who are documenting it.
We recently hooked up with photog David Gomez from Maui after noticing his work around the web and on socials. We hit him up with a few questions and he took a minute to fill in the blanks with some very thoughtful responses.
He also sent over a few of his favs for your enjoyment. It’s unfortunate that so few print opportunities exist these days as there are some absolute gems in here which require a much bigger canvas than our janky website can offer.
We’ll do the best we can to bring them to life.
What Youth: Born and raised in Hawaii?
David Gomez: I was born at home in Kula, Maui. A year later my mom moved us to a three bedroom plywood cane house down a dirt road in Haiku. The owner was some rich trustafarian guy that lived on the Big island and rented to my mom for 250$ a month. He didn’t raise the rent the whole 15 years we lived there. It was a blessing since my mom was raising four kids on her own. She worked most of the time selling retail, cleaning condos, basically whatever it took. That left us to fend for ourselves often, you could call it “Free Range” parenting. Most of us who lived down our road were in similar situations so we all kind of just raised each other. Our stomping grounds were from Peahi to Paia or as far as we were willing to bike, skate or hitchhike. I grew up skateboarding and boogie boarding most of the time until my mom got me my first surfboard for my fifteenth birthday. From then on it was Ho’okipa everyday. That pretty much sculpted me and my love for surfing, the industry and the lifestyle that I have today.
WY: Currently reside?
I’m living with my girlfriend Lehua and our two dogs, Coconut and Ehu. We live in a cool old neighborhood at the base of the west Maui mountains and about 10 minutes away from Maalaea Harbor. Maui’s all about the road trips to get the best waves on any given day. Being centrally located definitely has its privileges.
WY: What got you started in photography?
DG: All the old magazine photos and movies that featured Hawaii always made me want to document our adventures too. I always dreamt of getting a camera but chose to spend my money on surf trips instead. Eventually the first GoPro came out and I started using it for videoing myself until I finally discovered the burst mode feature. From there I started shooting empty shore break which eventually led me into the lineups taking photos and videos of my friends. I felt most comfortable shooting when we were by ourselves so those were the spots we were drawn to.
WY: Who were some of the photographers who got you inspired?
DG: Erik Aeder was always the guy when I was a kid, his son Xander and I were friends growing up. We’d be at his house and I’d see him working in his studio with all the equipment and photos on the wall. it was cool to see where taking photos could take you and how you could support a family doing it. Dustin Humphrey and Insight with their Dopamine campaign were some of the best ads I ever saw and really showed where being creative can get you. Also, Epes Sargent and Tai Vandyke, I always looked up to those guys. I remember Epes would swim a mile out to sea with one a roll of film, 36 shots. I always thought that was impressive. He had a lot of unreal photos published in Surfing magazine that inspired me a lot. I really enjoy seeing Tai’s photos and how he highlights the beauty of the waves all around Hawaii, and all the cool work he’s done with Volcom. I grew up watching him and the boys surfing Maui in the old Veeco movies. Those were influential for sure. Zak Noyle really got me motivated to start training and to treat water photography like a profession. He showed how to give back to the community and his Aquatography workshops and Changing of the Tides contest were a big influence on pushing the limits of my photography. For him to take time out of his busy schedule to help out aspiring photographers is admirable.
WY: You surf as well so is it hard to sit on the beach and shoot when it’s firing?
DG: I invested the money into a camera and housing and wanted to approach photography as a potential career. I knew there would have to be some sacrifices made along the way. I would always bring my board out on the rocks with me and stash it in the trees just in case it was perfect. Sometimes I’d surf before or after swimming but usually surfing was on the back burner and it was all about getting the shot. To be honest I kind of prefer taking photos when the waves are really big or a spots super crowded. I can still be part of the action without having as much anxiety of feeling like I need to catch a wave. Lately, I’m back in the water and I’ve learned to make surfing the priority again. The more you surf the better you surf and you can’t expect to perform if you’re not surfing often. How’s the saying go? “you don’t stop surfing cause you get old, you get old cause you stop surfing.” Something like that.
WY: Any images that stand out in your early memory as a frothing grom?
DG: Erik Aeder would get some images of Maui published in Surfer magazine that would get me extra pumped as a kid. There’s something special about seeing your home on the pages of a magazine. I remember I was around fourteen and I was looking through a magazine when I came across a photo of Laird Hamilton doing a cutback on a camouflaged yellow Gerry Lopez surfboard. The wave was breaking against a lush green cliff and the caption read “Wall of Voodoo.” Something clicked. I’ve had surf photos plastered on my walls ever since.
WY: Most of your Instagram feed looks like it was shot in Hawaii, are there any “bucket list” places you haven’t been to yet that you have planned?
DG: No trips planned at the moment. A Costa Rican road trip I had planned got canceled over COVID. I was thinking on the lines of a more fun and less death-defying location where surfing is the priority. Chasing new waves with friends while documenting the surfing and in-between moments along the way. Tavarua one day, that’s the dream trip.
WY: How does the local crew respond to published photos of certain spots?
DG: I used to see photos of these spots in the magazine when I was a kid but times change and more surfers means less resources so some places became off-limits. Some of these waves only get good once a year and they’re located in the middle of nowhere, miles out to sea. If shit goes down you’re on your own. The spots are heavy, raw, and known to take care of themselves. When it comes to photos being published I guess the main rule is no shots posted on social media. It’s just too easy to share and remind people of spots they might have already forgotten about. Print only was the original rule. I think on the basis of that is that it’s not as easy to share a magazine as is a social media post. Not to mention how prestigious a shot in the magazine is amongst your local crew. Let’s just say the person in the shot being published will always have the best response.
WY: Any favorite surfers you like to shoot?
DG: Clay Marzo is an obvious choice just because of his raw talent and explosiveness. There’s never a dull moment and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll capture some gold. Matt Meola and Albee Layer are some of my favorite surfers to watch out for and if you’re lucky enough to find them out you know your gonna see something special. Sai Smiley is a tube Guru and he’s always on it when it’s good. Sai’s one of the best barrel riders I know and stuff of legend when it comes to Pipeline. Tai Vandyke is always on the best waves at the bay and his power turns are unrivaled, and he could have probably been a standup comedian in another life. Jimmy McKinney is a down-to-earth family man that charges some of the bigger waves ridden at some of these spots. He’s always my go-to dawn patrol partner and there’s never a dull moment on the way to the surf. When it’s big Jimmy and Sai are usually the standouts. Tide and Kiva Rivers are twin brothers that grew up being best friends with Eric Diaz. After Eric passed away they have always tried to live their lives to the fullest. They’re always comedy to be around and down to mission around the island to find a new wave. My first published photo was a double-page spread of Kiva packing a screamer at Honolua bay. We were high-fiving and celebrating for months after. Connecting with your friend on a good wave is one of the best feelings in surf photography, which is probably why my favorite surfers to shoot are my friends.
WY: Everything is so focused on digital these days, do you crank a roll or two of film from time to time?
DG: Film is something I’ve always wanted to get back into. I took a photography class in high school and we had a darkroom in class it was pretty cool doing the developing process. I feel like it gives film more feeling and soul, I love the graininess of it. I recently was looking online for a Nikonos V waterproof still camera for sale. I couldn’t find one for the right price but I did find an old Eumig Nautica super 8 camera on eBay. It’s waterproof and made in the ’70s. Things built like a brick. I also purchased some old film and it ended up being outdated and would be a couple hundred bucks to develop and take six months to get back, if at all. Turns out you can get the right film off B&H for thirty dollars and process it for around the same. I actually just shot some 8mm during this last south swell. I still need to send it in to see if the camera even works. If it does I’ll be looking forward to using film in some editing projects in the future.
WY: A lot of creative work gets “borrowed” on social media these days. How do you feel about that and do you have to chase down unauthorized reproductions very often?
DG: I think if someone’s sponsors want to share your shot on Instagram then you should be reimbursed if not money then maybe some product of equal value. If a major brand shared my photos I’d usually hit em up for a box. But if someone’s sharing it just so more people can see your work and aren’t directly profiting off of it then that’s fine. One of those you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours situations.
WY: Last words?
DG: If there are any aspiring surf photographers out there reading this, my advice would be not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Find a night job that pays the bills so you can enjoy photography as a passion. Make it less about likes, views, and follows and more about capturing special moments in time and sharing them with friends.
Good stuff David. Thanks for your time.
Follow David on Instagram here