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“This was late fall in New Jersey on the first of five days of fun surf,” says photographer Seth Stafford. “Conditions were perfect yet inconsistent, which made those few moments of perfect light stressful. You want everything to come together so badly, but you need the right wave. I was frantically swimming to put myself in position. This one’s color palette made the effort with it.” Photo: Seth Stafford

"There is no other way to see and comprehend the mechanics and magnitude of Donkey Bay, Namibia, than from the air," says photographer Alan Van Gysen. "Laid out like a great boardgame, the 2.1-kilometer playing field is visible from takeoff to blowout. It's like nothing else I've ever seen." Photo: Van Gysen

In addition to wild mustangs, this barrier island in the southern Outer Banks used to be home to a world-class shore break. The setup, seen here, was extremely fickle, only breaking a handful of days each year. “Boat access only,” says photographer Matt Lusk. “No roads or houses. Unfortunately, the island has been eroding over the last several years, prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to pump sand onto the outer bars, making this wave a thing of the past.” Photo: Matt Lusk

As professionalism, market shares, media attention, sponsorships, and highly organized competition took hold in the late 1980s, certain sub-currents within surf culture began to react to the perceived commercialization of wave riding. In Santa Cruz—then and now a stronghold—one disgruntled local made his feelings known with a not-so-subtle rolling billboard. “It was 1989,” recalls Jeff Divine, “and there were a series of events in town. Apparently this guy just couldn’t get behind the Surfing Industrial Complex.” Photo: Jeff Divine

Corey Colapinto, matching approach to craft in Orange County. “He was riding a semi-finned design by Jon Wegener,” says photographer and TSJ assistant photo editor Shawn Parkin. “It has two very small and low profile fins, so it’s all about controlling the slide-outs. Corey managed the board well, doing layback tail slides and recovering.” Photo: Shawn Parkin

For the drier segments of society, ocean-side property values seem to mainly consider the view, not adjacent wave quality. Clearly, some lucky landowner purchased both. Central California. Photo: Seth de Roulet

“This is my little studio,” says photographer Sacha Specker of this Cape Town slab, which is located right in front of his house. “Come rain or shine I find my happy place out here. It’s deep water all around with a few patches of kelp surrounding this little rocky bowl that gurgles up on any bit of swell into ever-morphing, flaring, wedging drainers.” Photo: Sacha Specker

It’s a pretty simple equation. If you’re paid (usually minimally) to guide visiting surfers into the best conditions your local zone has to offer, you’re also bound to run into a few resources that slip past the nose of your clients. Mainland Mex surf escort, Fito, leveraging the fringe benefits. Photo: Laserwolf

“We were doing a campervan trip along the coast of the lower South Island,” says New-Zealand-based photographer Rambo Estrada. “We were due to drive back up north the next day, so we parked up at the beach the night before, even though it was freezing. We wanted to do a quick dawny before hitting the road, and were certainly glad we did.” Photo: Rambo Estrada

With so much of our attention focused away from the sand, it can be easy to forget about the scenes that develop at our backs. It can also be easy to forget how lucky we are that the majority of the beach-going public rarely extends their final destination beyond the shore break. “This is the main beach in Mt. Maunganui, where I live,” say photographer Rambo Estrada. “It’s not usually a particularly busy place, but that photo was taken on New Years Day and it was a scorcher. I hauled my 400mm up Mauao, our local mountain, to get this perspective of the masses.” Photo: Rambo Estrada

Calculation, couched in the incalculable dynamics of the ocean, can be a tricky business. But it’s also an asset that can set a surf photographer, and thus his images, apart from the masses. “Frigid offshore winds and even colder water,” says photographer Dylan Gordon. “Solo sessions on the log are always worth braving the conditions.” Photo: Gordon

Sometimes a guy gets on a run. Brazilian Stephan Figueiredo, for example, had a solid year in Hawaii, preceded by an epic score way off the grid in Java, then managed to land on the cover of TSJ’s sister imprint in Brazil, and also happened to rotate through California for this slingshot peak at the Wedge. “It was a diamond-in-the-rough kind of day,” says assistant photo editor Shawn Parkin, who shot the image. “There was some bump on it, but he was definitely a standout in the pack that morning and found a bunch of really good waves.”  Photo: Shawn Parkin

Influenced by nearby structure, a small patch of ocean—typically formless—begins to compose into a configuration of it’s own. Newport Beach waveform. Photo: John Lucarelli

North Atlantic storms can hit the Azores with unkind force come wintertime. Local surfers do their best to play the islands from every side, attempting to find a sheltered pocket of clean surf wherever the wind happens to be blowing offshore. Usually, promising conditions align for only few hours at a time, so when Evan Geiselman lucked into a three-day run of surf at this cliff-side wedge, he stayed put. Photo: Stafford

The perfection of Sandspit is double edged. Because of its machine-like mechanics, the wave basically allows most competent tube riders to lock in for the 200-plus-yard duration (once, of course, they’ve managed to wrangle a set wave from the masses). This means that lineup hierarchy can be tricky, often pushing the takeoff zone deep into the wave’s only imperfect section—a vicious explosion of backwash that refracts off the jetty. Here, potential takers eye the success-to-failure ratio, calculating the odds of navigating short-term obstacles for long-term benefit. Photo: Nick Liotta