My decidedly unscientific view is that the forces of a powerful ocean wave crashing into shallow water are similar to a tornado or hurricane – incredible force and violence swirling around a calm, safe and even quiet. At least that’s what it feels like inside the tube. Especially one that is bigger than you are comfortable riding. As the lip of a wave lifts overhead, there’s a split second of eerie silence, then the crash of water slamming into the trough beside you, but all that power and this fury erupt on the other side of the water curtain. As long as you stay inside the tube, no matter what else the wave does outside the tube, you’re fine. The eye of the storm, in a way.
Clark Little has surely spent more time inside creepy crashing waves than anyone else on the planet. He makes a living standing in water up to his shins as the ferocious shorebreak swirls and swirls above his head, his hand defiantly pushing a camera through the middle of the maelstrom.
The photos he produces are amazing.
Little, the brother of the late big wave star Brock Little, grew up on Hawaii’s North Shore, home to some of the most beautiful yet terrifying waves in the world. Not the ones most surfers surf either. Waves like Waimea Shorebreak, the hellish explosion of shallow water that breaks over the sand after the swell breaks outside on the famous big wave reef called Waimea. Even nastier, and arguably more dangerous as it’s just a short walk from the famous Pipeline, and therefore crowded with tourists, is Ke Iki, with his three-lipped horror show of a wave.
Incredible because he doesn’t like big waves. Is terrified of them. His brother was one of the greatest big wave surfers in history, but Clark wasn’t into it. He didn’t like the idea of being tumbled in deep water, where big big waves were crashing. I can’t blame it, because it seems bottomless and horrifying to be pushed into the dark by house-sized waves. But being beaten by the waves when he could repel the shallow bottom? It’s good for him.
Little just stands there and takes it. Drop several tons of water on him, all for once. Amazing, because apparently he got into it just to save money on art for his house. His wife brought home a picture she had bought at a department store one day. A large framed picture of a wave. Little, a lifelong surfer, looked at the photo and said, basically, just give it back. I’ll take a better one. At the time, he was working as a landscaper. A few years later, he was flown to Dubai to meet the Crown Prince, a huge fan of Little’s photos and one of his two million Instagram followers. Little is no longer a landscaper, you guessed it.
He is releasing a new book. Clark Little: The Art of Waves. It’s a bit of a coffee table affair, with a foreword by Kelly Slater, probably the only person who’s been in the barrel as much as Little. The images below are taken from the book, along with the dreams of every surfer on the planet. Not all of his shots are in soul-crushing juggernauts; many of his images are of small, beautiful moments in small waves, or of sea turtles ending up in the past. He is in love with the sea as the following images suggest.
Get your copy here. All photos by Clark Little unless otherwise noted. Used with permission from the publisher.