Clark Little: 5 things I love about shooting North Shore surf
The famed North Shore surf photographer shares his passion for shooting Oahu’s waves.
Clark Little never dreamed his lifelong passion for riding North Shore Oahu surf would ignite an award-winning career in wave photography. In the late 1990s a self-described “crazy surfing shore-break man,” Little would charge into massive, board-sucking shore-break surf, regularly get thrown onto the sand, and risk the breaking of bones or worse. It was dangerous fun. But the chance to gaze straight into the maw of the North Shore’s famously thundering ocean beasts made the risk worth it.
By 2007, Little’s unique view into the barrels of Oahu’s winter waves had inspired a nascent photo hobby. Several years and multiple television, gallery and magazine showcases for his work later, Little’s shore-break photos are world-renowned.
To get a perfect barrel shot, Little will often spend two to three hours in the waters off North Shore beaches. The task requires being adept at swimming, holding your breath and maneuvering powerful surf while avoiding a hit by an 8-pound camera, but Little loves the feeling of being tossed around and slammed by 8- to 15-foot waves.
“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” he says, laughing. Little’s version of candy shopping has resulted in a knee injury, a shoulder separation and a close call with death. “But I couldn’t be happier than when I’m in the water taking pictures. It’s actually an addiction.”
Bad days, explains the Oahu-raised photographer, are few when your work hours are mostly spent in the ocean. His Haleiwa gallery offers a record of his best days in the surf breaks.
“I can still feel the wave coming and thinking, Oh, my gosh, I think I got a gem!” says Little, glancing at one of his shots. “You’re out there, see the beauty, go home and get to see it again. It’s like getting a double shot of this perfect wave.”
5 things I love about shooting North Shore Oahu Surf
“In the winter, the sun drops right down off the North Shore horizon. It’s just absolutely breathtaking. The waves, sunset and backdrop come together with gorgeous color. It’s magical.”
“Some days, the clarity of the water is crystal clear. There’s also the texture added by offshore trade winds that come in. If I can capture the sunset, the barrel and all of the other elements—the backdrop of the mountains, the white sand—I have everything for a perfect picture.”
“Winter, for the North Shore, equals waves. That’s what it’s all about over here. That’s what I look forward to. It starts in the fall and runs all the way through spring. That’s when I can shoot fun waves on the North Shore. In the summertime, I’ll shoot beautiful turtles, dolphins and sunsets. Winter waves are a big part of my photos, but there’s more. Because the water here is still beautiful (year-round), I can expand (my shooting) to other things.”
“Over time you get to know North Shore ocean conditions. Luckily, I’ve been surfing for most of my life. And being raised here on the North Shore, I know where to go and where the best spot is going to be. That kind of experience helps me capture that perfect wave.”
“North Shore breaks are powerful. I don’t think there’s anywhere that compares to our waves and the way the sand is sucked up into the wave. North Shore waves have multiple faces, different layers of water, different looks on them because there’s so much water and power involved.”
Clark Little Photography & Gallery
66-111 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, Oahu, (808) 626-5319, clarklittlephotography.com.