Reinventing the surf photo – incredible first look

Mark Mathews and Taj Burrow try to reinvent surf photography and risk everything in the process.

The idea was brilliant. Send two surfers – one of the world’s best in big waves, and one of the world’s best all-around – for a massive swell at an incredibly dangerous surf spot, get them to catch the same wave, shoot a photo and you’re done. Just like that, you’ve got the most interesting – and coincidentally, the most daring – surf image ever taken. On Friday August 1, 2014, a photo that had to that point only been a dream, suddenly turned to reality.

Mark Mathews would have the camera in hand, responsible for capturing the image that would change the way we thing about water photography and the lengths photographers are willing to go to in order to get ‘the shot’. Mark has surfed The Right, an infamous beast of a wave in Western Australia, more than anyone else not living in that part of the world. He is familiar with its ins and outs, its moods, its fickle nature. Taj Burrow, on the other hand, lives three hours away and had never surfed there. And for good reason.

The Right is currently the last wave in the world that hasn’t been paddled, and is the wave that gives more two or three-wave hold-downs than any other in the world. But even knowing that – and as scary as that may be – it's still the perfect wave for this style of shot. Because of the size of the barrel you can literally fit two people into the tube who can make it out cleanly.

Taj was meant to take off in front of Mark on a bomb and it was meant to become the best surf photo of all time. And on a number of waves, that happened. They got the shot. This was not one of those waves. Mark was swallowed whole by the wave and experienced all the anger in the sea. He surfaced with a gash on his face and a ruptured eardrum – widely considered the most serious injury in surfing due to its effect on the body’s equilibrium (see: which way is up?). The full story of the expedition to The Right in pursuit of the greatest surf photo of all time, and surely the most daring, will air in a mini-doc this month, exclusively on RedBull.com/Surfing and Stab Magazine.

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