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WSL Photographer Kirstin Scholtz On Surfing and Saving the Planet

You might not know Kirstin Scholtz, but you definitely know her work. As a WSL photographer for nine years, she has been responsible for some of the sport's most iconic images, from giant Cloudbreak to emotional behind-the-scenes portraits. Surfing, however, is just one of Scholtz's passions, and we caught up with her to talk about both her main gig, and her side projects.

After a shark attack at the JBay open the two finalists embrace Kirstin has been on hand to capture some of surfing's most memorable moments. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

WSL: How did you get into photography in the first place?
Kirstin: I knew I wanted to be a journalist so I got a BA in Journalism at a university. In my final two years we had the option to specialize in a particular genre of journalism, so I chose photojournalism and it's been the most rewarding career that has opened so many doors. It has allowed me to see parts of the world I would never have seen without a camera in my hand.

A massive set at Cloubbreak, Fiji Kirstin was in the channel for the infamous big-wave Cloudbreak session in 2012. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

And how did that lead to surf photography and a gig at the WSL?
I surfed growing up and followed Pierre Tostee and the ASP at the time, which sparked the idea of surf photography. I met Pierre when working as an intern at the J-Bay Open, when he was the official photographer for the tour. So I soon started working for him in South Africa, which eventually led to joining the team in Hawaii in 2004 where I learned the ropes of digital workflow and editing. I then basically worked my way up, and in 2008, Pierre decided to retire and the WSL offered me a full-time position. So I packed a few clothes into my surfboard bag and flew to Australia where I based myself on the Gold Coast. However, I have lived out of a suitcase traveling to all the stops on tour for the last nine years.

Laura Enever and a bright start to the day Getting up before dawn is in the job description. Here, Laura Enever skips into a bright new day. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

As your recent images of Mick Fanning in Alaska showed, you have interests outside surfing. What other types of photography are you interested in?
I love all types of photography, but my real passion outside of surfing is lending my skills to conservation groups to help raise awareness for their particular causes. Having grown up in South Africa spending my childhood holidays on my grandfather's farm in the African bush, Africa and the wild have always been a massive part of who I am. But it was actually our anti-rhino poaching trip in J-Bay, with the Chipembere Foundation, that reawakened that passion.

Steph Gilmore meets an orphaned rhino in South Africa Stephanie Gilmore befriends an orphaned rhino in South Africa. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Any other side projects you are involved in that we should know about?
This past year I did a lot of work with raising awareness for rhino conservation, mostly by shooting imagery for various organizations and volunteering on their social media teams. I also took Steph Gilmore on a rhino conservation mission to South Africa in May. Seeing Steph meet the orphaned baby rhinos for the first time, as well as participate in a rhino notching operation, was very cool.

Now I am focusing my volunteer time with Wild Ark, where I am learning so much about conservation as a whole. I help them raise awareness for their mission and their various initiatives through photography and social media. I am involved with photographing their various projects and have also helped connect Wild Ark with some of our athletes, such as Mick Fanning.

Mick Fanning in the salmon breeding grounds of Alaska Fanning casts a line in the threatened Bristol Bay salmon breeding grounds in Alaska. WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Any advice for other photographers who are trying to make a career out of their passions?
I would just say work really hard at what you love and let your attitude and your work do the talking.

Scholtz on assignment. Kirstin in her office. WSL
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