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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

Dane Kealoha, Pipeline, as photographed by Jeff Divine. “During the late 1970s and into the early 80s,” says Divine, “the magazine photographers pretty much camped out at Backdoor waiting for the revolving door of great surfers to come through to shoot. Dane Kealoha would make the drive out from Honolulu and arrive about 10-ish. His quiet, confident walk to the narrow paddle-out channel was soon followed by a dominance of the small takeoff area on the Backdoor peak. In this shot, during a 1979 Pipe Masters heat, he seems to be communicating to a higher power.” Photo: Jeff Divine

Santa Barbara's Donnie Hedden dumps speed through the cove at Rincon with a Ryan Lovelace shape underfoot. "That day was the first real swell of the winter for us," says photographer Nick Liotta. Photo: Liotta

Nearly 15 years ago, we ran an article that followed Chris Malloy, photographer Seth Stafford, and North Shore lifeguards Todd Sells and Jeff Johnson on a trip deep into unexplored territory in the South Pacific. The area was so remote, in fact, that instead of relying on normal modes of transport, the crew planned to strip their gear back and swim a leg of their journey along a stretch of uninhabited coastline at the base of towering cliffs. Towing little more than a few cans of tuna and rice on inflatable mats, they camped and bodysurfed for days, scavenging food and sneaking in through keyholes when a welcoming cove presented itself. “Jeff had gathered enough information to surmise that the prevailing currents should be with us for the first two-thirds of the swim,” read the accompanying words. “We guessed that the last third of the journey would be, at best, slack current. At worst, the final leg would stop us dead in our tracks or sweep us out to sea.” This image of Johnson, somewhere in the thick of it, is an outtake from Stafford. The entire piece, “The Body Will Suffice,” can be found in TSJ volume 10.3. Photo: Seth Stafford

Photographer Bruce Jamieson turns his back on the less desirable elements at Blacks—the crowds and sneak sets from the Canyon—and aims his lens at the straight dope that so many surfers in the lineup fiend for: a clean South Peak runner through crystalline water. Photo: Jamieson

At most Southern California pointbreaks, it’s either equipment or timing that provide the necessary crowd separation to tilt a session from frustrating to fun. With a late fall mini-swell on tap, a hefty slab of foam underfoot, and afterglow to light the way, Adam Instone tips the scales to his advantage at Swamis. Photo: Bryan Timm

One of the draws of the Outer Banks (along with its hollow, beachbreak thump) is its ability to spread the wealth. With miles of sandbars, committed dune climbers and sand drivers can usually find an empty wedge, even during a much-hyped swell. Here photographer Seth Stafford trains his lens on the kind of view most surfers in the zone are hunting for. Photo: Stafford

Donald Takayama (left) and David Nuuhiwa (right) left Hawaii for California in 1957 and 1961 respectively. They were both just kids at the time. No one could have predicted then the overwhelming influence the pair would cast, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s undeniable that many surfing lives would be poorer had they never set foot on the beach. Pacific Beach, San Diego, 1966. Photo: Leo Hetzel

“Barry Kanaiaupuni would lay his whole board into a turn and then go straight up into the lip,” says TSJ photo editor Jeff Divine of BK’s performances at Sunset. “He was doing that a good eight years before the Australians arrived and laid claim to this ‘new’ style of surfing the North Shore.” Photo: Jeff Divine

New Zealand has no shortage of back-beaches and exposed reefs to feed on throughout the year, but on burly winter swells the dependability and visual appeal of Raglan pulls in a loyal international crowd. "Originally I was drawn to Raglan by its rocky left pointbreaks and ridiculously consistent surf," says NZ-based photographer Rambo Estrada. "But the town itself has such a good vibe that, these days, I’m just as happy to go hangout when there’re no waves."

Photo: Rambo Estrada