Located in Tasmania at one of the most ferocious slabs of water surfers have ever dared to ride, Chiz focuses his lens. Thrill and risk naturally run through his veins as the white wash crashes against the cliffs of Shipstern Bluff. Acclaimed surf photographer Andrew Chisholm quenches his thirst by pushing the limits, floating out on 14 ft dinghys to capture epic moments during Shipstern’s ferocious 30 ft+ swells. He describes this mutant wave as, “scary and mesmerizing at the same time.” One such photograph of Kelly Slater all too comfy scoring giant waves at Shippies this April spread like wild fire throughout global media, as Chisholm’s images breach the surface of viral photographic decadence. Another striking shot of madman Kyron Rathbone deep in a Western Tasmania slab recently landed the cover of the May 2013 issue of Surfer Magazine.
Andrew Chisholm‘s ability to capture raw power, piercing color and to freeze the pinnacle moment in a surfer’s routine goose chase into the green room make him one of the top photographers in the world. When the surf is flat, Chisholm is either working his day job on the deckhand for an abalone diver, pulling up bags of abalone off the bottom with a rope and clip, or he’s exploring miles of untouched natural beauty searching for a new angle to fire off the camera. “Chiz,” as some call him, kindly took the time to share the intriguing details about his Tasmanian endeavors and wild encounters at Shipstern Bluff with The Surf Channel for an exclusive interview.
Full Name: Andrew Chisholm
Home Break: Boilers
Arsenal for ocean photography: Essex 7D water housings, with fisheye dome and a 16-35 mm port. Surfboards, jet skis, 24 ft runabouts and 60 ft cray boats to shoot from… and the occasional dinghy.
Describe Shipstern’s in 3 words: Cares for no-one.
The Surf Channel: What was life like growing up?
Andrew Chisholm: I was sports mad – hockey, football, soccer… anything. Then I picked up a basketball right at the time “His Airness ” (Michael Jordan) was at his prime and I played that for years. The drive to win at all cost is what pushed me. Then body boarding took over and I started shooting some booger mates of mine. A few years later, a chance meeting the original shipstern charger Andy Campbell and his mate James Polly changed my life forever.
The first big waves I ever shot were at a secret 12 ft mile long point break down south of Hobart, and that’s how it really started.
When did you decide to be a photographer?
Chisholm: I don’t think there ever was a moment… I tried to emulate some of the images that I saw at a friend’s house back in the late 90’s. I think after that it was more of an excuse to go surfing and chase the bigger stuff with my friends… the age when big waves were evolving, especially slabs such as Shipstern. When Shipstern came along I knew there was a chance to become what you would call, a ‘photographer’ and I took it. Around then there were offers for apprenticeships, jobs, etc. I would be way better off now, but the adventures we had are worth way more than what money could ever be.
How has surfing influenced your life?
Chisholm: My work as a deckhand for an Abalone diver allows me to work when the swell is small, and have fun when the swell is big and offshore. Everything I do is for surfing; without my current job, there would be a 9-5 job for sure… RANK.
You photograph many subjects other than surfing. What attracts your eye?
Chisholm: Tasmania is a very beautiful place. Around every corner on any road or walking track, there is potential. Of course, light is the key here. Early morning is the best. I love trying to find rare angles for landscapes, especially on the West Coast as the area is so remote. I was around there working last weekend, dead flat and no wind; it was amazing.
What makes surf photography unique?
Chisholm: It’s an addiction for sure. It’s that split second moment of being in the spot and finally making that special moment happen. You need a feel for the ocean… the way it moves, currents here and there, tides, everything a surfer needs to understand.
Shipstern’s is a dark monster of a wave. When did you first witness it break?
Chisholm: Campbell and Polly took me there in a 14 ft leaky dinghy in maybe 2000. The swell was huge, and this was before jet ski tow-ins. 15 ft gurglers were roaring through. I remember Campbell getting 3 waves and Polly paddling for some mammoth things, but not getting anything as the steps drew out too hard for them to get any of the sets… scary and mesmerizing at the same time.
Where’s the best angle to justly document Shipstern?
Chisholm: Either from the boat, mostly, or water. From land, you can work some good angles, but nothing beats a rad water shot.
How dangerous are the conditions?
Chisholm: Towering sea cliffs make the big waves look small from a distance. Then, once under the cliffs, you feel like you’re in the land of the giants. Huge boulders are scattered around the front ledge and masses of white water come crashing into the cliffs. Everything oozes power down there. It is so special. The waves are only a small part of what is happening.
What are some of the biggest challenges of your profession?
Chisholm: Getting surfers to man up! (Laughs, joking)… There is a heap of spray from the rocks when shooting from land that has ruined many (potentially) epic images; from the boat, keeping on top of the driver to get you in that spot; from water, getting close enough with the fisheye to make it look epic. That place scares the bejezus out of me.
Have you surfed Shipstern as well?
Chisholm: I’ve caught 3 waves out there; tow-in at 6 ft was the best thing I did all year, but doesn’t count as my friend Marti Paradisis whipped me in. Still scared sh*tless (laughs).
What’s the most rewarding part about your job?
Chisholm: Hopefully keeping the lads employed as surfers. And with all the effort you put in (as a photographer), to finally get the reward of a good shot makes it.
Have you witnessed the Aussie Storm Surfers surfing Tasmania?
Chisholm: Yes, I actually shot for Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll when they came down. Funny guys and never seem to slow down.
How did you get your nickname?
Chisholm: Last name Chisholm, “Chiz” was self explanitory. Another nickname is Zor… not sure how that one came about, possibly my addiction to Counter-Strike.
You have the best seat in the house. Are you ever nervous about being so close?
Chisholm: I really need to find this shot of our boat airborne off the back off a massive wave… Yeh, we get too close sometimes. Hopefully we will never really get too close (laughs).
I do get myself in dicey situations by myself. I would never put my friends in dangerous positions, especially driving cars. I’ve had a few near misses with climbing rock faces, trying to find a new angle or new surf spot. Driving a jet ski around the South Coast of Tasmania in a 6-8 meter swell was pretty mental. We missed being cleaned up by a 30 ft set by about 2 minutes; we were so, so lucky.
Walk us through Alex Zawadzki’s wipeout.
Chisholm: I shot 23 frames; we all get a bit nervous when Alex is on a bomb, as you never know how he’s going to end up. This wasn’t long after he made a recovery from a spiral fracture in his lower leg… At times, you just get that feeling something (bad) will happen, and this time it did… Probably the worse sight I have ever seen and the feeling was, ‘Wow, he could be dead.’ The next 20 seconds were pretty worrying.
Did he pop up soon after the wipeout or were rescue teams on the search?
Chisholm: His tow partner went in and got him; he was in heaps of pain. Marti and myself were shooting from a little 13 ft rubber zodiak – rather stupid in 6 meter swell and gale force winds, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. We got him aboard, moved some camera gear around and laid him down across a seat. We had to call in the chopper, but when they got there they wouldn’t pick him up. So it was a bumpy ride from hell to get him back to the ramp when the paramedics were waiting. Pain killers (temporarily) dulled some of the pain shooting up from his legs.
Are you witness to countless wipeouts in addition to Alex’s?
Chisholm: OH YES, too many to mention. That was up there in the top 1 or 2. It was messed up!
What do you think about a television network dedicated to surfing?
Chisholm: Bring it on!
For more imagery by Andrew Chisholm, visit: andychiz.com