Behind the Scenes with Susan Seubert and National Geographic Traveler

Aloha!  While I was on assignment last August in Honolulu for National Geographic Traveler Magazine, I was fortunate enough to have a few things that had to be photographed either from or in the water.  One of the images I thought would be interesting to make is the classic photo of the traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe rides with Diamond Head in the background.  This has been an iconic image of Waikiki since the early twentieth century as evidenced by a story that ran in the New York Tribune in 1908.  Honolulu has changed enormously since then, however the ocean and the waves, along with the geologic feature of Diamond Head, remain intact.  When I arrived on Oahu, I decided to head down to the beach and try to figure out a way to get in the water on a surfboard with a giant water housing and surf alongside the canoe.

How Did You Get That Shot?

Outrigger Canoe rides are one of many attractions for tourists on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI.  Waikiki is one of the only places where anyone can ride waves in traditional outrigger canoes.

Outrigger Canoe rides are one of many attractions for tourists on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI. Waikiki is one of the only places where anyone can ride waves in traditional outrigger canoes.

The locals are one of the most invaluable resources to a travel photographer.  We, the photographers and journalists, get our names placed in the magazine, but I’m of the opinion that we all owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the people who are open to sharing their knowledge and expertise with us, the interlopers.  Waikiki turned out to be no exception.  I surf – a little – but not nearly enough to be able to safely operate a surfboard and camera in the crowded line up at Waikiki.  When I got to Waikiki Beach, I stood in the middle of the crowd and hung around, watching to see who was the best stand-up paddle surfer.  One man stood out immediately.  He could easily navigate the crowds, he caught wave after wave and it was clear that he knew his way around the ocean.  When he came out of the water, I asked if he’d be interested in taking me out on his SUP so that I could make pictures.  Without hesitating, he said, “sure thing,” and the next thing I knew we were off for a test run.  I had brought my GoPro with me to take a few test shots and also to see what it would feel like to sit on the front of a surfboard while making pictures.  The test shots were a success, so we made an appointment to meet up the next day and arrange with the outrigger for us to follow them while they took out their last round of tourists towards the end of the day when the light would be good.  It was a fantastic experience to ride the waves and be able to concentrate on composition and lighting while the driving was taken over by the talented local beach boy, John Paul.  Here are two behind-the-scenes pictures to illustrate the crowds and how I had to ride on the front of the board shooting with a Canon 7D in an underwater housing as JP navigated us through the crowds.

Surfing through major crowds at Waikiki, I was grateful to have a very talented driver to negotiate the waves and the surfers.

I’m sitting on the front of the paddleboard, as JP navigates us along side the outrigger canoe, all the while trying not to get into a wreck!

Me and JP coming in at the end of our photo shoot with the outrigger canoe.  Aloha!!!

JP and I coming in at the end of our photo shoot with the outrigger canoe. Aloha!!!

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