Mere mention of the name Zak Noyle and images of aquatic brilliance from tropical paradise come flooding to mind. As one of four staff photographers at Surfer Magazine, Zak’s dedication to the craft of water and surf photography is at an elite level, proven by countless magazine spreads, cover shots and happy clients. And as ambassador for companies such as RVCA, Wailoa, Da Fin, Watershot housings and SPL waterhousings, Zak has more on his plate than ten hungry Kanaks. But this Punahou grad has learned a thing or two about multitasking, and not only does he keep pace with the best, he’s able to find time to give back. 

Making waves for the first time this year, Zak headed an Aquatography Workshop at UH Manoa and Sandy’s beach, in an effort to give back to where it all began for him. Zak also wanted to create an opportunity for aspiring water photographers to have the chance to work with Canon dslr cameras and lenses, SPL housings and industry professionals. Read on to find out about the success of this event, plus a few other things you probably never knew about Zak Noyle.

What initially got you interested in photography?

Having the ability to be so comfortable in the water from swimming, water polo and growing up in Hawai’i, I found myself spending long hours in the ocean any chance I got. Through this, I found photography. And found an ability to swim into heavy situations and feel comfortable in them.

Did you have any background in the art?

I took photography in high school, a basic 101 class, and ended up failing the course. That was my only formal teaching of photography. My father, Ric Noyle, is quite a well-known commercial photographer in Hawai’i who shoots hotels, food and fashion all over the state. Through my dad, I learned a lot of what I know today.

How do you think surf photography has developed over the years?

As with anything, it has gotten tougher with more competition and an ever evolving world of technology. With the digital age, the learning curve has advanced and the limits are forever being raised. It’s not a job you get into to be rich; it’s a job you get into for the love of the ocean and for photography. Many people forget this, and it begins to show through in their work. They stop having fun.

How often do you travel for work? 

I travel about 7 months out of the year. In those 7 months, I am home for a week, maybe two at a time before I am off again for a week or more. When I return from a trip I unpack, wash my clothes and repack even if I don’t have an immediate trip planned. I just never know when I am leaving again.

What’s the planning/tracking process like?

With modern day swell forecasting, I am able to track and forecast swells with much better accuracy. I never do a trip planned out in advance over a week or two. I know my target destinations I would like to go to, and from there I monitor swells and wait for that perfect strike mission window. I could get a call one morning and be gone by lunch, that’s just the nature of this job and I love it.

Favorite wave to photograph?

My favorite wave in the world is Off The Wall/Pipeline. That little stretch of beach is my home, my comfort zone. They have giant barrels with ever changing lighting that keeps it different all day.

Most memorable work trip?

Most memorable and favorite trip would be anything to do with Tahiti. It’s such a magic place with wonderful people.

This summer you spearheaded the Aquatography Workshop at UH and Sandy’s. Tell me about the event and the mission behind it all.

I learned to shoot photos at Sandy beach, just bodysurfing and having fun with point-and-shoot film cameras. I recently noticed the huge influx of guys wanting to shoot due entirely to GoPro creating such ease and accessibility for anyone to pick one up and get great shots. I wanted to give back to the community and to the place where it all began for me. I looked to guys like Shane Dorian and Ian Walsh and how they did their kid contests at their home breaks. I wanted to create an event that would help out the dslr camera and housing in the hands of anyone interested, to see if that’s a path they wanted to pursue.

I partnered with Canon USA to bring in over 30 dslr cameras plus lenses of all sorts, then had SPL send in housings for the cameras and everything fell together from there. It was a lot more work then I had ever imagined, plus money out of my own pocket to make it happen.

I did a two-day class. The first day was at UH in a large classroom where I had many people fly in to speak and teach. Canon sent a camera specialist to teach the basics, SPL owner Sean LaBrie came out to talk and help, Jeff Hall of A Frame Media came from California to speak about licensing and selling imagery, Tony Heff of Freesurf came and talked about what it takes to get an image in a magazine from a photo editor’s view, my dad talked about post production and managing digital imagery and I spoke on my career.

What was the turnout?

That day we had 145 people show up. It was insane, with so much to offer and learn.The following day we took the workshop to Sandy beach and set up tents with all the gear on hand for a select group to try out. 60 people showed up and were divided into smaller groups for hands-on work with several instructors that I hand picked, to help me teach various sorts of photography. It could not have been a more perfect day for waves, wind, weather or people that showed up. Everyone had a great time and learned a lot.

What was most fulfilling?

To be able to call on my sponsors, family and friends to create such an event was truly amazing to see it all come together. I can’t even describe how awesome it felt watching these people try a housing in the water for the first time and seeing them fall in love with shooting even more. This is something I would like to continue to do, to share the passion and love of photography. It’s something that should be shared, not kept a secret.

What words of advice do you have for a budding photographer?

“Shoot loose and edit tight.” Told constantly to me from my dad. Have fun also, and never forget why you got into shooting surf photography. Respect everyone.

See more of Zak’s Work

Zak on Instagram

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