Cataloger catches a wave

Picturesque Pupukea, on the north shore of Hawaii’s Oahu island, is known for pristine beaches, scenic cliffs, and pounding waves that only enhance its raw beauty. But capturing that on film isn’t easy when water is thundering around and down on you. Turtle Bay, HI-based photographer Sean Davey did just that. To accompany a field essay about Pupukea in Patagonia’s new Surf catalog (see “Surf’s up for Patagonia spin-off,” July issue), Davey caught what he calls a bomb — a big wave — just as it was ready to crest.

Davey went to Pupukea in January and took 35 shots over the course of about an hour, using a waterproof housing to keep his Canon camera and 15mm fisheye lens dry. The photo that ran in the Patagonia catalog (right) was the final image from the series and was chosen because it showcased the land, says Tim Davis, photo editor at Ventura, CA-based Patagonia. Davis says that choosing which of Davey’s pictures to use was actually easier than expected. It ultimately came down to a democratic decision among those working on the catalog. The only requirement: the image had to be an authentic depiction of Pupukea.

To get the shot, Davey swam behind the wave, held his hand over it, and just managed to capture the image. “Most land-based people don’t get to see anything like this. It does a good job of showing what it’s like out there,” says Davey, who admits that he was skeptical of his ability to get a usable photo that day because of the strength of the waves.

This particular wave was about 10 feet tall, with the lip about one foot from the camera lens. “I just like the way it sweeps away from the view and gives you an expansive view of the wave,” Davey says.

Tracking down photographs from a location can be tough, Davis says. Patagonia rarely hires photographers for a shoot. Instead Davis first scours the 50,000 images in its database, then branches out to the field reporter for suggestions, and if that search turns up empty, he will use a National Geographic image. In the case of Davey’s Pupukea image, Davis says he searched on Google for Hawaiian photographers and found Davey’s Website.

Including a full-page picture of a wave in a catalog may seem strange for a traditional mailer, but Kevin Churchill, Patagonia’s director of merchandising, explains that each of the merchant’s catalogs include between two and four essays about an adventure sport experience or environmental topic written by the sports participants or environmental advocates. The essay accompanying Davey’s photograph was written by Oahu native Jack Johnson and detailed the plight of Pupukea residents attempting to save the area from mass development by Osaka, Japan-based construction company Obayashi Corp.

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