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Actor Gerard Butler had what he described as a near-death experience while learning to surf the massive waves in Half Moon Bay, California for his role in the upcoming October movie ‘Chasing Mavericks.’

Almost 700 kilometres south, I had what I describe as a life-affirming experience while photographing the surfers in the comparatively moderate waves in Huntington Beach, California for my role as vacationer this past summer.

Huntington Beach, a seaside city in Orange County, dominates the Southern California coastline with 8.5 miles of uninterrupted beaches. It is the site of the world surfing championships and is known as Surf City, USA, not for the height of the waves, but for the consistent quality of the surf.

Huntington Beach Pier has been severely damaged by storms, earthquakes and was even taken over for military use during war times during its 109-year history. It is now designed to withstand 31-foot waves or a 7.0 magnitude earthquake and uses increased space between concrete piles to accommodate surfers.

From a fabulous vantage point — the north side of Huntington Pier — I watched a group of four surfers paddle over the waves.  My high powered telephoto lens brought me right into the water WITH them!!

As one caught a break, I followed him with my camera along the crest. Then another. And another. It was exhilarating and heart-stopping. I was almost out of breath on dry land trying to capture the action!!

How incredible it was to witness, up-close, the speed and spectacular twists, turns and wipeouts of these lean, wet-suit-wearing masters of the surf who I dubbed the ‘Hunks of Huntington’.

Even as an amateur, if you’re a surfer, you’re an exceptional athlete who meets the power of the ocean on every level — physically and mentally. It’s one of the most demanding sports requiring agility, explosive strength, core stability, endurance, plus sheer will and courage — even for the relatively small swells at Huntington.

These were among my first photos with my brand new 55 – 300mm telephoto lens.

I love my lens  — and my subject matter.

“I took on a wave, went down the side, popped out the other end, and went, shit, I’m still alive!”  — Greg Noll, the American pioneer of big wave surfing, (on surfing Waimea Bay for the first time)

It seems to me that near-death and life-affirming experiences might be flip sides of the same coin.

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