It’s 3pm and Zak Noyle is in rare form. He’s currently standing tall in the living room of the the RVCA team house, his eyes red from recent saltwater exposure and his dark hair messy, with his camera lens pointing out the sliding glass door that overlooks Off the Wall and today, Off the Wall is looking burley and dark blue with clean, fun-sized faces.
The sound of his shutter exploding in a melody of CLICK CLICK CLICKS suddenly reverberates throughout the room. Bruce Irons and Danny Fuller, as if on cue, appear and shift their eyes towards the recipient of Zak’s focal attention: Australia’s Jay Davies and his golden and toned skin boosting and carving and carving and boosting directly in front of the wooden porch.
There’s nothing rare about Zak in front of a camera; it’s where he’s made his livelihood: photos of vintage Teahupoo, with rainbow and mountains and all, and Pipeline, all dressed up in her green, transparent beauty and ready to dance in the orange-draped sunlight.
As he begins to scroll through the images just snapped, I ask him to name the publications he’s been published in, but instead of rattling off the resume, he quickly looks back outside as Jay paddles into position and says that he can’t remember them all. And I don’t blame him. After all, with Bruce and Danny and a host of attractive female friends here in the living room, who could remember a laundry list like National Geographic, London Times, ESPN, Surfer Magazine, along with advertising campaigns with Chanel, Stussy, RVCA and Billabong and online campaigns with Mastercard?
But what is, in fact, rare about today is that Zak is shooting from land, something he “rarely does, but today it’s being really shifty.” Because when many think about Zak Noyle’s images, they think about dreamy, idyllic shots but they also think about being inserted into the heart of big and deadly shorebreak barrels. And sometimes even live, given that Zak has been on the frontlines of snapping images in the water and posting them online, allowing a global audience to watch sessions in real time.
“The stuff he swims in is stuff people usually get rescued from,” said his agent, Jeff Hall in a Red Bull documentary entitled Momentum. “It’s crazy how composed he can be in those situations. I think his images speak to that.”
So what undercurrent pulled Zak into the realm of photography in the first place? “A love for the ocean and to find a way to be there and shoot,” he says, keeping an eye on Jay currently scratching for another right. “It became a way I could show it to the people such as my Mom or someone that will never go into the ocean and see these things for themselves. The images I take, 99 percent of the world won’t see with their eyes and it’s about being able to show them and put people in that moment.”
Zak, now 30 years old, precedes to insert me into the pivotal moments of his life behind the camera. Like the time the Honolulu-native flunked his photography class in high school. “I was turned off and at that time in 10th grade and I never wanted to look at photography again,” he says with an attractive smile, pulling the camera up to his eye just in time to capture Jay zooming up a blue ramp. And then, years later in his late teens, the moment when his attitude towards a camera went from curious to pure interest. There were other moments, like when his father – a renown commercial photographer – would give him tips. Or the time “I had to take out a loan to buy all the gear…”
Then there was one instance that catapulted him miles down the path he was already swimming: when he boldly sent a batch of images to the late Transworld Surf Magazine, and in return, received a phone call from their resolute photo editor, Peter Taras who was interested in Zak’s work.
“I was so stoked, at age 21 or 22, and Pete mentored me a lot,” he says. Zak worked with Transworld Surf as a contributor for several years until switching his loyalties to Surfer Magazine, and has been a mainstay on their masthead for over to half a decade.
“Did you get that shot?” asks Bruce Irons, bringing us back to the present. “I like where you’re shooting from.”
“Brah, I got the TV right here,” laughs Zak. “I got the fan above, and I’m multitasking here with this interview and shooting.”
Besides Zak’s unique story – he mentioned earlier that he was actually invited back to his high school to talk on photography despite his poor grade – and besides his unique perspectives and colors in his images, his business sense also separates his story and path from the pack because he’s found that by doing less, he’s actually doing more. And that instead of making his weakness his strength, he’s making his strengths even more pronounced.
“I connected with A-frame and became good friends with Jeff Hall, my agent, and he’s simplifying my life,” Zak says. “If I put my images on a hard drive and send it to this company or that company… that part is not my forte, not my strength. For example, I did prints with a publisher and they’re handling the website, the marketing the PR, it’s a team. I’m wondering ‘why didn’t I do this before?’ If I’m in Tahiti, then I might come back and edit and a week later take the prints and go to post office and say, ok, ‘how do I mail this?’ Now, I only do print signings every couple weeks so its streamlined my business and made it easier to do what I’m best at. By doing that, it’s something I’m not worried about. I just worry about these waves right now, as opposed to doing something else. With Redbull, I used to shoot by myself and slave to cover speciality events and I asked ‘hey can I get an an assistant’ and they said no problem. Finding those things to simply life and working smart and making it easy on yourself…you just need to be the best at what you can be with your strengths.”
This has freed him up to do even more of what he does best: help inspire. “I’ve been doing a lot of workshops, free ones,” he continues, his eyes searching for Jay in the lineup. “It’s such a fun thing and I’m not looking at it in a profitable sense. I equate it to Shane [Dorian’s] kid contests where they give back to community and do something where they grew up. That’s so valuable, to give back and steer someone in that right direction. I want to keep building on that, because I won’t be able to shoot in the water forever how I shoot and if I can leave a legacy, that will go a lot further than the surf shot I took today will.”