You hear hurricane and most people head inland, but for surfing enthusiasts like Nick Denny, it means just the opposite. When Hurricane Leslie skirted the east coast in September this year, causing waves to pound the shores of Ocean City, it drew the 27-year-old to the water. And that’s pretty normal… when your two passions are surfing and photography, like Denny.
Taking pictures was initially a hobby for Denny, who moved to Ocean City in 2004, but when an extended injury prevented him from surfing, he began spending more time on the beach photographing surf riders. As a result, Denny received lots of compliments on his images, and after fellow surfers and different publications contacted him about obtaining his pictures, he decided to focus on photography full-time.
How does Denny capture the surreal shots of riding the wave?
Denny uses Canon DSLR cameras with an underwater housing. Once in the water, he can only adjust the shutter speed and aperture. The housing weighs about eight pounds, so he has little use of his arms. He propels himself by kicking his legs and using his swim fins, maneuvering to where the surf is big. To assist, he looks for rip currents, which helps get him to where he wants to shoot, while wasting little energy. In the winter months, he has the additional burden of wearing boots, gloves, hood and a heavy wet suit, which can be hard to swim in.
Other times, when the surf is really big and impossible to swim out, Denny will get an assist from a jet ski, which drops him where the waves are breaking. Should he get sucked out to sea or caught in the impact zone, the jet ski will come and pick him up.
Denny feels his knowledge of surfing allows him to do what he does as safely as possible.
“In Ocean City, the beach breaks can be very unpredictable… the waves will be breaking in one spot for 30 minutes. Then a big set will come in and break further out,” Denny said. “So you have try to swim out as fast as possible or you’re going to get hit.”
He added, “Sometimes when you swim out you can get sucked even further out. I’ve had a few sketchy situations where I have hit a wave, lost my swim fins and been sucked out 30 yards past the surfers in full winter gear and it took me over an hour to swim in.”
And while anyone can photograph surfers from the shore, the real challenge lies in shooting in the water, something Denny finds gratifying. “Anyone can stand on the beach and snap pictures if the waves are good and there’s someone surfing good,” he said. “It’s completely different when you have to work in the water for your images, but the reward in much greater.”