“Try swimming at night,” Lucia Griggi tells me, when I ask her how the hell someone prepares to go to work in an office that constantly threatens to drop 30ft water bombs on their skull. “You need to learn to move with the energy of the ocean. As a surf photographer, you’re so low in the water that you can’t see what’s behind the wall in front of you. You need to work with the waves without being able to see them.”
It’s advice that really puts our gripes with the rattling air-con and stinky work fridge to shame.
The 36-year-old internationally renowned award-winning surf and adventure photographer is talking to me through a heavy case of jetlag from her home in St. Ives, Cornwall. It’s a home she’s barely seen over the last 12 months, after a packed-out 2019 trip list that included Antarctica, Miami, Panama, the Arctic, Colombia, and even London. Despite this, and a client list that includes Red Bull, Billabong, Warner Brothers, Conde Nast and more, you won’t find her calling it ‘work’ any time soon.
“You need to learn to move with the energy of the ocean”
“I’ve really never had a ‘job’,” she says. “After handing in my dissertation at Uni in London I jumped in a car, drove to Newquay and started working on the beach, hiring boards and teaching surfing. I started taking my camera with me in 2004, and, in 2007, like pretty much every surf photographer you’ll speak to, I saw my first published photo and that was it.”
Since then Lucia’s photographed not only the surfing world’s elite – Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, everyone else – but land-lubbers too, such as skate legends Tony Alva and Jay Adams, and even Hollywood royalty, like Matthew McConaughey. And then there are the far flung places and faces she captures too, such as penguins and polar bears leaping from ice flows, and indigenous Indians in the deepest central American jungles. It’s a career we could spend one long month talking through, rather than just this short hour we’ve promised to keep her awake. But goddamn, we gave it a good go…
Here, Lucia pulls out ten images that stand out in a 15-year-or-so career of epic-ness, from perfect-ten waves to people that few western eyes (and lenses) will ever see, by way of gorgeous Icelandic rivers and waves that never were, and never will be again. Strap in, this one’s a biggie…
The Big Leap One
Unknown surfer, Pipeline in Hawaii, 2008
“I’ve spent so much time shooting at Pipeline. I used to head to [Hawaii’s] North Shore for a few months every year. It was always a highlight on my calendar. I would stay at a friend’s house, which has this incredible tree growing up through the middle, and get up every morning before sunrise, sometimes around 3am, just to check the swell.
“He’d never seen anyone move so fast in the water”
“I loved the rawness and the freedom of it all. In the beginning, I would spend a lot of time photographing from the sand, and watching other photographers going in to shoot the riders from the water. I didn’t know anyone at the time, so had to work out for myself that you needed to jump in from the far side, then work hard with the vicious current. To be honest, me swimming it just felt kinda stupid. A guy I was working with, Scott, must’ve sensed that I wanted it, though, and one day asked “So you coming in today?”
“I had a waterhousing for my camera, and plucked up the courage. I really felt like I stood out as I walked past all the guys, as Kelly Slater and Taylor Knox got into the water, to get to our entry point. The bright yellow helmet I was wearing probably didn’t help. When we got there, Scott said “When I jump, JUMP. And then swim as hard as you can.” So I waited for his call, leapt in, and swam as fast as I could. When I finally stopped, Scott was miles back – he later said he’d never seen anyone move so fast in the water. It was all worth it, because this was the first shot I ever got at Pipe, from the water. It’s nice, clean, sharp and colourful. It’s definitely a special one for me.”