20 Days Backstage with Photographer Steve Sherman

Steve Sherman

Steve Sherman has spent a good chunk of his adult life capturing powerful images, and the world's best surfers have been his primary beat.

Sherman's stare down. Self portrait. - WSL / Steve Sherman

Surf photography is, of course, a tough business. There's no shortage of incredible creators capturing images of the act. But Sherman carved his niche with the personality pics, and those fleeting moments that reveal something more about our favorite athletes. This past month, Sherman spent some time with athletes during their down time in South Africa and Southern California. It was a fun 20 days. Here are some of his favorite images.

John John's family poses for a portrait at the Hurley House in J-Bay. WSL / Steve Sherman

John John Florence and Family
The day before the final of the J-Bay Open I stopped by the Hurley house, which is down at the bottom of the point. The goal was to visit John John and his family at their compound. John John's a passionate photographer himself, and he was telling me about the new darkroom he put in his house on the North Shore, and how he develops his own photos. It was a fun time because we're both darkroom geeks. It was around that time his mom, Alex, asked if I would shoot a family portrait for them. Naturally, I was happy to oblige.

Kolohe packing up in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Kolohe Andino
People envision the tour being this endless dream of exotic travel and I'm not going to say it's not, but there's definitely a side that's pretty taxing on mind and body. That's especially true when you travel all the way across the world and lose early. It's not always easy to shake off the tough moments, but everyone has to learn it. This is Kolohe Andino packing his boards for the long journey home to California to get ready for the US Open after he lost to Jordy at J-Bay.

Kelly  at Brandon Kezner's home in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Kelly Slater
After more than 20 years on tour, Kelly obviously has his road life dialed. A huge part of his success is having a nice home wherever he goes, and in J-Bay, that's at Brandon Kezner's beautiful place on the beach down the point. On this afternoon, Brandon invited me over for beer and a chat. Kelly's quiver was in the living room, and when he walked in and started going through his sticks to see what he might ride the next day I snuck in this photo. After that, we all took in the sunset view with a beer. Not a bad day.

Mick packs up his stuff in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Mick Fanning
This is Mick's room in J-Bay. Interestingly, he shares it with his good mate Dean Hazza. After last year's shark encounter, and Mick's quasi-retirement, there was an amazing amount of buzz surrounding his return to J-Bay. It got even more interesting when he hurt his ankle the week prior. But Mick was unbelievably calm. It was amazing to see him so relaxed and in his zone the whole event. This image was shot during the event's down days, while Mick and the boys were heading out of town to look for surf.

Mick Fanning gets lifted by Parko and Dean Hazza WSL / Steve Sherman

Thrill of Victory
I love being there for these winning moments. If for nothing else, I feel like they capture the period better than action shots do. This was obviously a huge moment for Mick, and one that basically solidifies him as the best ever at J-Bay. I love this moment of Parko and Dean Hazza chairing him. The funny thing is J-Bay is a damn long point, and a few seconds after this was taken Dean was threatening to drop Mick. Fortunately, he didn't.

Gabriel Medina DJ's in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Gabriel Medina
Once an event is over there's usually a big scramble to get out of town. But if there's a decent break in the schedule, or a few more waves on the way, some will take a little extra time to soak things in. That was the case for Mick's victory party. Gabriel Medina took control of the DJ booth early in the evening, and never stopped.

Mick celebrates victory at J-Bay. WSL / Steve Sherman

Victory Speech
Some wins are obviously more meaningful than others. And Mick's accomplishment was beginning to sink in during the late hours of his victory party. Eventually, Julian Wilson and the boys put Mick atop Cheron Kraak's kitchen counter, and Mick gave a heartfelt speech. It was a special moment for sure. Funny enough, I'd lost one of my favorite hats earlier that night, and right when Mick started speaking I realized he'd borrowed it for the night.

Wilco killing time in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Matt Wilkinson
We've been eating up a lot of the waiting periods this year in order to get the best waves. When waves are hard to come by the boys are always looking for ways to kill time. Matty Wilkinson and a bunch of the boys stayed loose juggling the soccer ball for extended periods of time. It was pretty amusing to watch. Let's just say Wilko has found his real calling.

Josh Kerr in his kitchen. WSL / Steve Sherman

Josh Kerr
Being around athletes all the time, it's amazing to see how much their attitudes shape their success. This was Josh Kerr's kitchen in J-Bay. He shared his flat there with his filmer, Woody. Josh has mastered the art of staying positive. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guy on tour who smiles more. I like this shot because the message on the chalk board behind Josh reveals how he maintains his attitude. When I asked him about it, he said it was there to "remind him of the job at hand."

Kelly Slater in J-Bay WSL / Steve Sherman

Surrender Flag
It's not an easy thing running a surf contest like J-Bay. The forecast at this year's event was sketchy heading into the final days. And when conditions started deteriorating on the morning they started the quarterfinals, Kelly weighed in. This is what he called his "surrender flag" to the judges. He let them know he had no intention of paddling out in the devil wind conditions for his heat against Josh Kerr. Fortunately, the officials agreed. They only ran one heat that day.

Sebastian Zietz at the begging of the 2016 Vans US Open. WSL / Steve Sherman

Welcome to HB!
The US Open in Huntington Beach will never be confused for a "dream tour" spot, but it's always fun to check the pulse of California's summer scene. It's a bit of a jungle just getting to the beach, but when I arrived at the site the first person I ran in to was Sebastian Zietz. He welcomed me with open arms.

Filipe Toledo wins the Final at the 2016 Vans US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach against the young Australian Ethan Ewing. WSL / Steve Sherman

When a Brazilian wins anywhere in the world, chaos ensues. When Filipe came to the beach after his win in Huntington, naturally I was trying to capture the moment. It was full blown warfare just to get in position. On top of that every one was splashing water up so my camera was soaked. But I guess that's the beauty of the US Open. Pure fanatical surf fans letting loose.

The 17 year old Aussie, Ethan Ewing, amazed everyone when he made it to the Final against Filipe Toledo. WSL / Steve Sherman

Ethan Ewing
The QS events offer a great glimpse into surfing's future. That being the case, all I can say is watch out for this young Aussie, Ethan Ewing. He's been one of the biggest surprises this year. Technically, he's still a pro junior. But after making the final at the Vans US Open he's sitting at No. 2 on the QS ratings. For what it's worth, he seems like a very polite young man.

Tyler Wright and her brother after she loses in the Semi-Finals. WSL / Steve Sherman

Tyler and Mikey Wright
Life gets complicated as we grow older. People grow up and go their own ways, so it's important to savor those moments we have together. The Wright family is all over the map right now, but Mikey and Tyler were both in Huntington for a few fleeting days. Tyler had just lost in the semifinals and was packing up to leave when I asked her if could take a quick portrait of her and her little brother. They both said "no worries!," and I snapped this one in a hurry.

Filipe Toledo and his girlfriend at the Vans US Open. WSL / Steve Sherman

Baby On Board
Here's a look at Filipe Toledo and his lovely girlfriend, the newest parents-to-be on the WSL tour. I'm guessing the $100,000 prize he won for taking the win in Huntington Beach will buy a lot of diapers.

Adriano looking cool and calm at the 2016 Vans US Open of Surfing. WSL / Steve Sherman

The Champ
Adriano de Souza didn't need to be in Huntington Beach. He didn't need the points, the money, or the extra work. But he's a world champion, and he's a great one. It was nice to see him getting the respect he's deserved for so long. He was looking super relaxed between heats, but all business during heats. It seemed like he would go all the way until he ran into Ethan Ewing in the semis.

Filipe Toledo and his dad say a prayer before he goes on to win the Final at the Vans US Open. WSL / Steve Sherman

Family Affair
To understand Filipe Toledo you really just need to understand family. It's everything to him. He's surrounded by a huge support system, led by his father, Ricardo, whose enthusiasm and love is inspiring. Here, they say a prayer before the US Open Final. It was a touching moment between the two.

Seabass has a lot of diehard fans at the 2016 Vans US Open. WSL

Fan Base
You gotta love diehard fans. Sebastian Zietz has gained a huge following this year, especially as his backstory has come to life. He had a big week at The Open, too, getting engaged and ripping his way into the quarterfinals. It seemed like half of Kauai was on hand cheering him by the end of the week.

Toledo showing off his skills in front of the fans of Huntington Beach. WSL / Steve Sherman

When I was waiting for athletes to come up the beach, I was also looking for an angle that would capture the circus atmosphere of Huntington Beach during the US Open of Surfing. This is Toledo performing for his fans in the front row.