The Straight Story

Technique, craft, and sweat-equity on the WSL trail.

Light / Dark

Most contests, I’ll pay to change my flight so I can leave the same day the event ends. Tavarua is a whole different program. I paid to stay on longer. A wild swell was en route, and with Slater sticking around I wanted to see how he’d go out there. I was…entertained.
Swimming out to the Box in Western Australia, I’m generally shitting myself the whole time. Same for swimming in—I’m just crying, wondering what the hell I am doing out there. Once lined up and locked in, though, it’s pure excitement, and you forget the hazard. Jack Robinson.
You can tell when guys are really feeling it at a location. When I watch John in Tahiti he looks comfortable. The guy is so relaxed it’s like he’s half asleep. He talks a lot about the importance of getting away from distraction. The spot at the end of the road is about as far away from distractions as you can get.
Orange County, California, is the least rugged zone we go to all year. Yet it’s the one where I pack my whole life into my backpack when heading down to the beach. I get down there in the dark before sunrise, carrying everything with me to go all day long: water- and land-photo gear, clothes, battery chargers, and enough food and water to last all day. I typically leave after sundown. John Florence, Lower Trestles.
This was from the backup contest site in Rio de Janeiro. The wave had so much backwash in it. All the competitors hated it. I absolutely loved it. It made for huge ramps and Julian Wilson used them to go sky high.
Jordy Smith never ceases to baffle me. He is the size of Shrek, aand to watch him get going on a surfboard is wild. His air game is right up there with the best of all the guys on tour, but it’s his power surfing that’s magic. When big boy meets big section, it doesn’t disappoint. Gums, Ehukai Beach.
Joel Parkinson, The Box. This was my fifth time ever flying this drone. I flew it once the day before departing for Australia and crashed it into some trees within an hour. Second time was on the Gold Coast and with so many people and shit going on around me it totally freaked me out. I landed it immediately and packed it away in my luggage. West Oz was the perfect place to fly it with no one around. The day after this, I landed that little bastard in the ocean. It was very windy offshore and the poor little guy just couldn’t make it home in those hard offshore winds.

13 Lines About The Best Photographer You’ve Never Heard Of

The radiant and robust Ryan Miller. 

I had lunch in Bondi with Ryan Miller just as he was establishing himself as a photographer on tour. I would guess the year to be 2010 or thereabouts. We were divinely alone and Miller gripped his eating utensils as if he was a hunchback abusing himself in the dark.

He revealed to me his opinion that John John Florence, then 17,
was destined to rule the world. I snapped back that John John was a sad-eyed intellectual abyss and that no Pipeline tube could erase that fact. And if I’m to be completely transparent, I felt that Miller, despite his enthusiasm, would be a passing addition to the game, kicked away and possibly ridiculed. 

Seven years later?

“The way he attacks every day is inspiring,” says Jordy Smith, whom Miller has worked with for 12 years. “There will never be a moment where he is not on it.” 

If you don’t know Ryan, who is 39 years old, you’ll know his photos. The hard-working ice-cream store owner from New Jersey travels to each event and…works it. His game isn’t the oblique or the abstract but straight sports photography. Ryan doesn’t misfire. And, every single day, his photos are uploaded and distributed across nearly every print and digital surf title in the world. 

But he is different:

1. The tour made Miller fat. He realized his figure was ruined just after he turned 30.
Miller woke up in tears. “I was treating every day like a vacation. Three hundred and sixty five of them! ‘Two desserts?’ ‘Why not!’ ‘Huge cheeseburger baguette, with French fries for lunch?’ Gimme two!’”

2. And this realization turned him into a stud with a sensational torso and curved hips. Swimming. Biking. Crossfit. “I love it all,” he says. “I don’t even really care for one thing or another, as long as it checks two boxes: One, that I can sleep well at night; and two, that I don’t die of heart disease. I was born a chicken not an eagle so it will always be an uphill battle for me.”

3. The tour is a notorious hierarchy, which makes it difficult for a beta male to assimilate into the group. Instead of lying on his back and displaying his balls, Miller “made a firm decision that I was going to be myself and everything else could sort itself out. If someone didn’t like me because I didn’t suck up to them, that wasn’t going to bother me. I act the same way around my wife as I act around Jordy or Kelly or Carissa. Everyone knows I’m a freak and they just take me at face value.”

4. Julian Wilson and C.J. Hobgood have been unusually kind to Miller. “I view C.J. as my family more than any guy on tour,” he says. “Julian is one of the most walled-off guys on tour. I think he is a mystery to a lot of the other surfers. He has a really good sense of family and takes care of his own more than most people do. He has really looked after me in some big ways in the past. Even little things, like—he always makes sure I get out of the boat okay with all my gear, and helps me carry it up the beach.”

5. Wiggolly Dantas has been the least kind. “My first year on Tavarua coincided with Wiggolly’s first year as well. The comp had ended, the swell was small and nearly everyone had left. I was out surfing my first session ever at Cloudbreak. It was barely head-high and being a below average goofyfooter I was in heaven. Wiggolly paddled around me 100 times in a row. I came back to the island nearly in tears.”

6. How did he penetrate John John’s inner sanctum? “I just put it all out there. Everyone knows what all my faults are as a person and how much of a dipshit I am. I can’t really go any lower than what they have already experienced. I’m not going to surprise you with anything.”

7. A lack of talent separates Miller from other photographers. “I gotta be the worst photographer out there. If not, I’m very close to the bottom. I make up for it with preparation and then working hard. Because I’m not that good, I’m willing to stay and shoot all day long then process photos all night long after that.”

8. His personality? “Every photographer is a weirdo and I can outdo them all.”

9. The tour excites Miller for many reasons. “I wake up happy every single day doing this. Nailing it down to one would be the relationships I have had with guys on tour. If I just did freesurf trips, I would have never met Andy Irons, Freddy P., Bede, Mick, or Joel. I’ve enjoyed learning their stories.”

10. Miller uses mind-control techniques to fight loneliness on tour. “I decided a while back to just wake up and take everyday for what it’s worth. I make sure to have the most fun and make the best photos I can on any given day regardless of the conditions or location.”

11. If you follow Miller’s Instagram (@badboyryry_) you’ll discover he often flies business class or better. “I’m super methodical on how I work the system all year with one airline,” he says. “I get to Executive Platinum status with American Airlines every year. It takes a big spreadsheet and a few big credit card spends but I always make it. I’ve been training up people on tour how to do it and now they are competing with me for seats up front.”

12. Miller’s fondest memory on tour was John John’s world title in Portugal. “I couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy to see a year’s worth of hard work come to a conclusion.”

13. His least fond memory was “being rained on for 10 hours straight in shit surf on the boat at Teahupoo. I still had to make good images for my clients that day regardless. I can’t even explain it or expect anyone to believe me but it felt like Chinese water torture. I nearly called it quits that night, just changed my flight and quit surf photography. But the next day was blazing sun and I got over it.”

Miller in working attire. “I take the Speedo with me to every event around the world. It helps me keep the vibes high when I’m far from home.”
Slater at Cloudbreak, as precise with contingency as he is with Plan A.
These small nothings between big moments are the ones that mean the most to me at the WSL events. They’re what I see when I play the rewind tape in my head. John Florence, Cloudbreak.
We get a lot of below-average days during an event’s waiting period. You have to really try hard to make something happen. Mick Fanning, J-Bay, South Africa.
Conner Coffin, Rocky Point. This was one of those in-between days on the North Shore—too washed out for Pipe but not large enough for the big-wave spots. I had met up with Kelly and the Coffin brothers at Haleiwa. It wasn’t really doing it. Kelly mentioned, half joking, that Rocky Point could be really good. Then he went off to go look at some weird waves. Me and the Coffin boys went to Rockies. This shit went down plus a few stand up tubes. When I texted Kelly the photos from the back of my camera, he was driving to surf Rockies for the first time in who knows how long.

[Feature image: Wade Goodall, Off The Wall. A pure luck moment in a stock location.]