Rebecca Hawkey found the viewfinder and ignited her love for surfing.

Words and photos by Rebecca Hawkey (@rebecca_hawkey)

It was a Thursday and the forecast was looking average/good for an afternoon surf, according to my hourly surf checks. In the past year, this has become something of an obsession. After scraping through an A-level in photography, and years of sporadic-at-best shooting, I finally picked up my age-old Nikon with purpose once again. Three years down under had me shooting parakeets and party waves at Bondi, so landing back in the motherland I found myself aimlessly combing the shores for some decent swell/subjects, with no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t the only one.

Thanks to Covid and the need to find a socially distanced hobby, there were a few more photographers lurking along the tideline than I remembered. This was a blessing in disguise, and in a bid to stay out of their way I retreated. I was a local, but I was also a rookie. Taking to the fields and winding pathways beyond the breaks allowed me to see the bigger picture, a beautiful expanse laid out before me, full of possibility of what it might look like in the frame. Golden grasslands, surfers locked in a peaky left, endless blue ocean with an indistinguishable horizon. Pink, marshmallow clouds and a bright silver moon filled the sky, casting eyes upwards and beyond. After a busy few months packing up my life and being somewhat distracted, that feeling of awe, anticipation and exhilaration for something had returned once more and sank her claws into me, I was hooked. Seeing all these surfers having so much fun through the viewfinder ignited my own love for surfing.

Growing up in Cornwall the ocean has always been my go-to cure for almost all things, dipping beneath the usually icy surface does wonders for the mind and soul, exploring the craggy coastline and becoming one with the blue world, but never on a board. That was until I learnt to surf whilst in Australia, which is definitely a requirement of living down-under and luckily my snowboarding skills translated well. The crystal-clear sandy breaks of Noosa are buried deep in my psyche of epic surfing trips, with the shores lined with the lush greens of tropical trees it’s easy to see why. I have surfed more this past year than I ever did in those warmer waters, mostly due to the tribe I have found since coming home, likeminded women who share the stoke for pushing themselves and learning something new, I don’t think about anything else in those moments, much like shooting. The pure joy I get from surfing with friends is just as addictive as capturing it from the shore.

Something I believe to be true for almost every surfer is the idea of catching ‘just one more wave’, which ends up being two or three at a minimum. I know I say that to myself more often than not when I on the board. This exhausting, annoying inner drive apparently comes into play when I am behind the lens as well. It wakes me up at stupid o’clock, on the hunt for some delicious dawny light. It keeps me up past my bedtime just in case I miss the wave of the day. I am utterly, completely addicted to sitting in a field, in single figure temperatures, wrapped in a sleeping bag, waiting for a set to come in just so I can get ‘the shot’. Second-hand stoke is real, whether I know the surfer or not, usually the latter. The vibe is palpable through the ether, I can hear shouts and hollers from others in the line-up, competitors and companions in the same breath. Onlookers clap and yell, regardless if they are a fellow surfer or civilian, they can’t help but feel the buzz in their bones.

Finding a new angle, and a new perspective is half the fun and a never-ending puzzle.

Back at the office on this nondescript Thursday, knowing that a small crew of locals were already suiting up, had me jumping out of my seat come 5:30 pm. Luckily, I work mere yards from this particular break, which at this moment I’d never been more grateful for. On this day I was due to test out my new camera, after pushing my Nikon the last few months I figured it was time to splurge on some new kit. The Sony Alpha 7iii series, with additional 300mm lens. My new toy. Charging towards the sea, half-heartedly apologising when bumping shoulders with locals and tourists alike, I made it just in time to catch them jumping in. Launching themselves into the depths with the sweet sound of my shutter. A few minutes of respite, while they paddled into the line-up, gave me a chance to get closer. Finding a new angle, and a new perspective is half the fun and a never-ending puzzle.

Taking a few deep breaths, I tried to calm my breathing, not being a fan of the tripod, I had to have some steady hands. The waves were surfable, fun even, and I tried not to get too excited at the prospect of them picking up. I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve. Impatient to see the photos before I’ve even taken them, and how pumped the folks in the line-up will be if I manage to capture a moment that was over in a flash, full of exhilaration and stoke, creating a memory to look back on and laugh. And it really was one of those nights. I found myself laughing from the shore at a wipeout, or swearing at a drop in or missed wave. As if the camera connects me over the ocean, feeling a part of the action. Time stands still when I am behind the camera, I feel no hunger, thirst, or fatigue. Focussed solely on the pulse of the sea, waiting, patiently, desperate not to miss it. The sun started to set and the chill creeped closer. I needed to move.

In a bid to avoid the rising tide and the fading sun I drove, quickly, to another spot just in time. The light was dreamy. Hues of pink, purple, orange, yellow, red, white, licking the surface of the water. Set on. Sam was in the right spot and on his feet, holding on to a tight right, my camera clicks on instinct and then it’s over. Another wave down. It was only when I got home that I saw the crystal-clear roof of water that shone tones of cerulean behind him, arching in a near-perfect wave, the sunset dappling on the ocean around him. One of my favourite shots to date, at a break that garners respect thanks to the risky reef lurking beneath, a spot I shan’t be surfing at any time soon. The waves weren’t crisp and clean that night, but the vibe was on point, that is what I remember and what I keep going back for. I have had a handful of moments like this since picking my camera back up. It feels like a thread, connecting me to the big blue and those who try to tame her. Photographs tell a story, and there are so many more I want to share.