Photograher Steve Sherman has been capturing magic moments from the Championship Tour for more than 20 years. As the former photo editor of Surfing and TW Surf magazines, his emphasis has always been capturing the beauty of human emotion. We asked Sherm to give us some of his favorites from this season, and here's what he had to share.
There are a few things I like to point out about this photo, and probably the biggest is what it says about how far women's surfing has come. Kelly Slater was there purely as a spectator. He'd already lost, and certainly didn't have to be there, but he chose to because he was genuinely interested in the women's Final. Stuff like that didn't happen 10 years ago. The other thing I like about this shot is how softly their hands are touching. There's a warmth and softness there that's really genuine and real. And finally, there's some backstory here. I know one of Courtney's biggest moments in life was when she was 16 years old at the US Open of Surfing. Kelly gave her a high-five and had told her "nice job" when she'd advanced out of the Semifinals. That was a defining moment for Courtney, so to be able to capture an updated version of that is pretty special.
This image is without a doubt one of the most meaningful I've ever shot. After suffering a life-threatening concussion at Pipeline a year earlier, Owen Wright's comeback on the Gold Coast was one of the most emotional moments I've ever encountered. I hung out with Owen a year earlier at Mick Fanning's house, and I was really concerned. He was still recovering, was not himself. A year later I'm talking with him and he says he's all good, ready to compete again. When he posted an 8.5 during his first heat back, there was not a dry eye in the house (including mine). When he was up on the stage with his gal and baby, magic had happened.
I love the kids in this photo. This is right after Jordy Smith locked down his Bells win and these grommets were chasing him through the water and up the beach. I love that Jordy's face looks almost identical to theirs. It's pure excitement! A few seconds later and this frame is going to be filled with adults like me trying to do their jobs. I must say, too, it was a real pleasure to watch Jordy dominate heat after heat during the Bells event. He'd been so close so many times, so to see him get what he was after really inspired me.
This was that controversial moment when Ezekiel Lau had just been given an unusual interference call for catching a wave in the last second of his heat with Filipe Toledo. He knew it was the wrong call and came up to figure out what was going on. I love his big long arm span. I could feel this moment coming, so I set myself up and waited for this gesture to happen. Fortunately for Zeke the call was eventually overruled, and he ended up making the Final against Jordy there. Moments like these can easily be forgotten, but when there's a good image of the incident it can last forever.
I love this shot of Filipe Toledo before the Final of the Corona Open J-Bay. He was so on point that entire week, and the waves were just firing. He looked more relaxed than I'd ever seen him, too, I think because he had his wife and baby with him. J-Bay was absolutely pumping that week, and when this set rolled in before the Final he couldn't contain himself. It almost felt like he was calling his shot here...Maybe he was.
I'm not really known for my surf action photography, but I was super happy with this shot I got of Kelly during the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast. Todd Glaser and I were sitting at the waters edge during a late evening heat. Todd was shooting at slow shudder speeds for the low light while I was boosting my ISO to shoot fast action. Kelly came flying down the line and did this little hack at the perfect moment, where I was able to capture the Surfers Paradise skyline in the background. I knew when my fellow WSL photogs were praising it that I had a good one.
One of the things I pride myself on is the intimate moments. Fortunately, over the 20-plus years I've been doing this I've forged some really good friendships, and Mick is one. He trusts me, because he knows that I know where the boundaries are. It's funny, because earlier this year he invited me to a celebration party for Wilko at his house. He called me up and said, "Come on over, but leave your camera at home." It was a pretty classic night. Sure, I could have ended up with some pretty funny photos of Eugene, but then I'd miss the more private moments like this, where he's getting ready for his heat at J-Bay.
This is probably my least favorite image from the last six months, but it's an important one. When I arrived at J-Bay this year, I was on the same plane as Kelly. He was really excited at the airport, hauling around a ton of boards with him. Then the next day I watched him going berserk in a freesurf session. He was amped , and freesurfing with radical abandon. But a few days later while surfing Boneyards he pulled into an overhead closeout and things went wrong. A few moments later I see him pull himself up through the keyhole on all fours. When I ran up there he was in clear agony, saying he heard his foot pop. He knew it was broken. It was heavy, and I was in shock, because I've never seen him in such pain. I went into auto mode and got a few shots. But my heart was broken. I knew what this meant.
It's not that often that two childhood friends meet up in the Final of a Championship Tour event, so anytime it does it's pretty special. This was a great moment between Wilko and Owen. Besides knowing each other since they were kids, Wilko was one of the guys who was always there for Owen during his very long recovery in 2016, so this was an incredible moment. Matt made the first move to do the classic pre-boxing match pose. All in good fun. Again, a photo-journalistic moment with my camera locked and loaded, ready to fire.
This was shot a few days into the waiting period at Bells. I found the whole Team Micro (Wilko and the Wright family) up on the headland checking the the surf. I love candid moments like this that capture the tight-knit nature of a crew. Tyler was stoked on this shot when she saw it too, so that's always nice as well.
After covering an event like the US Open year after year, it's hard to get creative and make it look different from the year prior. This year I worked with my son Ethan and shot it with multiple remote flashes. This technique is used all the time with skate photography (which I've done a lot of). Multiple remote flashes hadn't been used that often when trying to shoot on the beach with pro surfers. This style worked really well with this shot of Tomas Hermes. He had just won his Quarterfinal heat and was elated to make it the Semis. I had just met Tomas this week and had already shot some portraits earlier so we had some good vibes working. When he saw me he just gave me this incredible reaction. A real feel-good moment that was natural.
Right after Sage had won the Final, she was hanging out inside the fence line with her friends and family. All of a sudden I had an idea for a quick portrait. I said to her, "Hey Sage, wanna do one victory jump for me?" She replied, "You want me to jump Sherm?!" Immediately she flew into this beautiful, gymnastic-style jump. Ethan was there ready with the remote flash. One shot. One classic, timeless portrait. One of my favorite contest shots ever.