Iconic Mexican photographer Edwin Morales has made a career of shooting water and land photography at his home surf spot. It doesn’t hurt that Puerto Escondido holds some of the biggest and heaviest barrels on the Pacific Coast of Mainland Mex. Playa Zicatela is both feared and celebrated for its unforgiving beach break, which means that in order to snap a good water shot here, you have to earn it. Local knowledge of the various peaks and strategy when sucked out in a powerful rip current all come into play. For Morales, it’s just another days’ work in paradise.
We caught up with the man himself for this Pau Hana feature, highlighting his successful photography career at one of the world’s most phenomenal waves, in addition to gathering tips and tricks on the unwritten rules of surfing and shooting at the Mexican Pipeline.
Current camera gear and housing:
Edwin Morales: These days, I’m shooting with a Canon 5D MK4 and 7D MK2. For my 5D, I’m using a CMT housing and for my 7D I’m using a SPL. I love the full frame, but I also love the faster shooting of the 7D.
How were you introduced to photography?
Morales: I was first introduced to photography by my oldest brother, Abisai Morales. He was studying architecture and taking photography courses in university. He taught me the basics of photography, like aperture, shutter speed, etc. He even had his own dark room, so I would help him develop and print his favorite images. That was when I fell in love with the magic of photography—a whole new world of fun. I started helping him with the new techniques he learned in school and was absorbing all that information. Every weekend, I would borrow my brother’s camera and go shooting with my friends at Punta Colorada. Without even knowing it, I became thrilled with the results and wanted to know more. I bought photography books and started learning more and more on my own.
What draws you to Playa Zicatela every season?
The main reason is the big waves: there’s something about the energy that a big swell brings to town that we all love. The whole town comes alive! When it’s big, you see a lot of people on the beach watching those huge waves who don’t normally come on a regular basis. So, I would say that the big barrels are the most exciting for us to watch, and especially to document every single swell, every single ride, because it’s part of the history of our sport. I feel blessed for having the chance to freeze moments in time of all those incredible rides.
What role does tourism play in Mexico?
Mexico needs tourism, as it’s one of the main sources of income for the country. We are rich in culture and have lots of biodiversity. It only makes sense to promote all these destinations and have people around the world visit and get to know more of Mexico. In my case, I try to use the power of social media to promote my hometown. Even though I don’t have that many followers, I try to post images that make people want to come surf this wave. I often get asked questions like, “when is a good time to come?” “How about the local storms, and swell directions?” etc… and I love taking the time to answer most of them because I believe that through social media, there can be some kind of benefit for the community of Puerto Escondido, like free advertisement.
What do you think about Trump’s “wall” along the Mexico border?
The wall is a funny joke, haha! It’s an absurd idea because no matter how high Trump builds that wall, this social phenomenon will never stop. The people trying to find their “American Dream” will do anything to go across the border, so I think that money should be invested in something more productive.
What do you love most about surf photography?
The biggest excitement for me comes from being aware of what’s happening before the swell and coming up with a plan for the next day. It’s so thrilling when you make the right choice and pick the right angle to shoot the images. If you are able to capture that golden moment with a great composition, it gives me an amazing rush almost as if I was surfing. However, it’s also very depressing if you make the wrong choices. I guess that’s what keeps us hooked: the neverending excitement of trying to create the best image from every single swell.
Most challenging moment in the ocean:
I’ve had plenty of bad experiences shooting Zicatela. The scariest part about shooting here is when you find yourself in what we call “the washing machine”—when you get caught inside and the undertow only takes you to the perfect place (the impact zone) so the next wave lands straight on your head. On days when the sets have 6 to 8 waves each, it can be very challenging because—as most of you already know—Puerto has no channel and you have to find ways to survive. Sometimes the rip currents are your best friends, but others are your worst nightmare. I have mad respect for water photographers like Daniel Russo and Zak Noyle. Those guys have shot the biggest Puerto waves from the water and they have come back to shore without a scratch. That takes great skill, and I always look up to them.
Unwritten rules and advice for surfers and photographers visiting Puerto:
I think the same rules apply for every single surf spot around the globe. Respect is the main thing, and a good tip is to encourage visitors to interact more with the local crew. Once the locals get to know you, everything will be a lot easier. Learn a few Spanish words; they will take you a long way, and not just in Mexico.