The Captivating Life of Amber Mozo

By Alexandra Kahn

At only twenty-three years old, Amber Mozo is wise beyond her years and supremely independent. Most Hawaiian surfers or ocean enthusiasts are familiar with Amber’s story and the legacy of her father, Jon Mozo, an accomplished surf photographer who lost his life at Pipeline over a decade ago. The ocean has been a constant in Amber’s life since her youth, and memories of childhood pastimes consist mostly of surfing, barbecues and family time by the sea. Losing her dad at the age of nine, It was difficult for Amber to comprehend the impact it had on her fully. However, she was able to identify the pain she felt within and observed in others, particularly her mother. Not long after her father’s death, Amber picked up his camera, and without any prior knowledge of photography, began to document the world around her.

Photo: Mark Holladay

Even as a child, there was a subconscious connection between the camera and Amber’s Dad’s memory. It was a natural way to keep the link alive. Now a full-time photographer herself, she sometimes wonders what it would have been like to have been able to get her father’s advice at times when she feels lost or discouraged. Ironically, she was uninterested in photography before the loss of her father and had never sought guidance from him. Amber opens up about her career path saying, “I still have a lot to learn; it’s all self-taught.” She also admits that she is constantly learning and evolving in her craft. So how did someone with no prior experience in photography, pick up a camera at such a young age and become a successful photographer while still in middle school? Call it intuition, if you will, or maybe it was just her destiny. “A lot of how I get an image and how I set myself up is because of what I love and what catches my eye, and it’s not so much the technical side.” What catches her eye and inspires her the most is everything ocean-related, from the texture to the color; from the depths to the tide. Her images stir the soul and can’t help but to compel us to dive into ourselves and see what beauty is beheld within.

For a creative photographer, inspiration is essential to continue learning, innovating and growing in your art form. Amber never tires of the ocean, and while sometimes she opts to include people and their expressions in the scene, it’s the ocean and its constant changing that continually draws her back for more.

Photo: Mark Holladay

Many photographers pay their dues for some odd years before they get their first big break; they study, practice, and take as many jobs as they can hoping that one day their passion will transition into a career. It was not this way with Amber. She took a liking to the camera at the age of ten, and by the time she was in 8th grade, her mother had determined that it was worthwhile to enroll her in a homeschooling program so that she could dedicate more time to her photography. That decision certainly paid off and Amber was able to build a following through the newly emerging social media platform of Tumblr. It was there that she was able to showcase her view of the world around her and interact with followers. Her images were re-posted and shared, spreading quickly through the blogging world, leading to inquiries from brands and other individuals who felt inspired by her work and story. She was perplexed by the concept of working with brands at such a young age, unsure of how to handle her adolescent self in an adult world. However, with time, dedication, and independence, Amber has grown into quite the entrepreneur.

Since losing her father to Pipeline, she has felt fear and a lack of understanding for the notoriously deadly wave that has claimed the lives of so many over the years. Losing a father at such a young age is a tragedy in its own right; however to do so publicly, with the entire community watching and sympathizing, is unique. After her father’s death, Amber’s mother and three siblings struggled to comprehend their loss and how to move on from it. At age nine, Amber was not yet old enough to have an established sense of personal identity, and this public loss might have contributed to the private and somewhat shy person Amber has become today. Fear and loss have different ways of affecting each person and for Amber, even in her youth, these feelings allowed her to view life and all its moments with a new perspective. “I don’t like to think about the past, and I definitely don’t like to worry about the future because it hasn’t happened yet and the past is already gone,” she says. “I try to live in the moment and be as present as possible.” Being present is difficult for most people who fantasize about washing their worries away but instead tend to focus on the big picture, always planning for the next step. At times, though, Amber views her lack of over-analyzing as a fault. “I don’t think logically,” she says, “I just go off a feeling everytime and with everything.” One might argue that it is this optimistic, sensory-based, go-with-the-flow style of living that has consequently contributed to her success at such a young age. Amber is grateful for the trials she has faced because they have molded her into the strong and independent woman she is today. She elaborates, “I like that I was given those opportunities to grow and I like that, because of those experiences, now, when things happen in my life, I don’t stress about the little things and I just see the big picture. I think it really helps when I can reflect on that. I like that I have that as the foundation of who I am and it is something to always turn to.”

Photo: Mark Holladay

All of the travel and brands and recognition aside, Amber lives a pretty simple life. Her happiest times come from the moments spent with the people she trusts the most. Amber doesn’t yearn for adrenaline or competition; she seeks a sense of peace within herself and takes comfort in the feeling of home. Whether it’s swimming, surfing, photography, or walking, she makes a conscious effort to spend part of every day in- or near- the water. She is equally noncompetitive in her surfing and her photography, shying away from the crowds to seek out quiet places, where she can further her deep relationship with the ocean. She lives her life in the same fashion in which she styles her photographs, and when asked to describe herself and her favorite part of photography, she gives similar descriptions of “letting it happen, letting things unfold naturally and as they are supposed to.” She doesn’t force aspects of her life just as she does not plan or force aspects in her photographs. She lives in the moment; she captures the moment. She stays prepared for whatever life might throw at her, putting all her trust in the natural order of things, which has helped to keep her at ease when making it through obstacles she has faced. Amber loves how life challenges her and welcomes every surprise that comes her way, learning from each experience. This winter she came face to face with one of her most significant challenges to date when she decided to swim out to Pipeline to photograph the Volcom Pipe Pro.

Photos and captions Amber Mozo

While the wave had rightly intimidated her since childhood, a few years ago she had felt an itching within to tackle that fear and intimidation. Amber set her mind to the task at hand and, earlier this year entered the ocean at Pipeline for her first time under the guidance of one of her close friends, experienced Pipeline photographer Zak Noyle. Like other aspects of her life, she says she “…just went with the feeling. It wasn’t like I did insane preparation or training to get to this moment. I feel like it just happened and I was in a place where I could accept it.” Amber’s intuition guides her in her art, and it guides her on her life path. She explains, “I try to sit back, breathe and reflect on what I want and what makes me happy and how I can still stay inspired and be creative and get out of my comfort zone and go to new places.” Since shooting the event, she has not returned to Pipeline, but plans to grow a relationship with the famous break. “I know that it’s always changing and I know what I’m dealing with,” she says of Pipeline. “I know she is really powerful. It’s gonna take me a few times to get knocked off my feet to learn.” She continues, “No one can master Pipeline. Any person going out there definitely needs to be knowledgeable about the way it operates and the way it works and what it really is.” Just as the best surfers still make mistakes or have unlucky days despite their preparation or knowledge of the deadly wave, photographers face similar battles. Pipe is relentless and often unforgiving. It demands respect because the wave will always win at the end of the day while humans are merely objects playing within the powerful forces of nature.

Driven by passion and innovation, her style of photography is always changing with the world and her experiences. She reflects on her photographs, just as she reflects on the moments of her life, reviewing her digital images on her computer to get a new perspective and feeling. While some of the more technical photographers enjoy handing off their pictures for outsourced editing, many artistically-inspired photographers think of the editing process as a continuation of the image capturing. You are “editing your images that you want to put out into the world,” Amber says, “That’s really important to me.” She relishes the entire process down to the sharing of the physical images with others, feeling that she can “connect with people through her art and photos.” This connection allows for an unspoken understanding between Amber and her audience, and she likes observing the difference reactions evoked in each viewer from each image. “I am learning from them, and they are learning from me,” she says. “It’s something so simple and something so deep, but I love that. I love that I can have that connection with strangers.” Her desire to connect with her audience reflects the style of her imagery, which she describes as “storytelling”. Amber likes the “idea of something that you can create that can live forever,” preserving that moment, that place, and that person.

Photos and captions Amber Mozo

Social media has provided a primary outlet for “storytelling” and connections. Had it not been for Tumblr, Amber might not have gotten the young start that she did and had it not been for Instagram, her career might not have blossomed into what it now is. Instagram is the platform through which Amber can share her images and gauge the connection of her images to her followers.

While Amber sometimes worries about disappointing or hurting others, her maturity and experiences have taught her that, “You are in charge of your own life and all of your decisions do affect the world around you. But it’s important to always be true to who you are.” Amber stresses individuality and self-awareness and prides herself on having these qualities. She urges other photographers not to spend their time comparing themselves to others but to focus more on connecting with what they are trying to do as an artist. “Make sure you are connecting with yourself and not with what everyone else is doing,” she explains. “I know it sounds simple, but I think it’s something that we all need to be reminded of, and if you do it your way, people will really appreciate it, and you can appreciate yourself.” Amber also emphasizes respect for one’s self and for others, in addition to developing one’s own identity. Amber’s ability to look at life as a gift and an opportunity is inspiring. She is not weighed down by the ‘what-ifs’, or even the ‘hows’. She embraces life and all of its tribulations, learning and growing as a person through reflection, inner peace, trust, and self-love. Her self-awareness and positive outlook on life are indeed remarkable and something to aspire to.