Welcome to the 21st episode of the second season of our podcast.
Thank you so much for the thousands of you that are following us! We recently reached the 10.000 people milestone and we are working very hard for the 15.000!
Today with us from Waikiki, Hawaii is talented surf photographer Tommy Pierucki.
We discussed with him about surf, surf photography, shaping and much more!
You can find the episode in all major podcast platforms (YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, ITunes), or also, you can read the interview here in our website (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)
TTOS: Alhoa Tommy, welcome to the show, where are you today?
I’m good. Thank you. I’m in Waikiki right now.
TTOS: today we’re gonna talk about surf, surf photography, your future projects…. first question for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
To have fun! That’s it, man.
That’s what it’s all about.
TTOS: when did you start to surf? What was your first surfboard?
My first experience with surfing was about almost 20 years ago, I lived in Chicago and that’s where I grew up just outside of Chicago. I came to visit my sister who, at the time, lived here in Waikiki and I wanted to try surfing, snorkeling and I learned to do all this touristy stuff.
I got on a surfboard my first day here and I didn’t do anything else for the rest of the trip, that’s all I wanted to do. I went back to cold Chicago and it totally consumed me, I just wanted to get back to Hawaii and surf.
I was like 22, 23 at the time and I wanted it. All I wanted to do was just learn more about Hawaii and learn more about surfing and just that’s where the obsession kind of started. It was back in the early two thousands, but we didn’t actually get the chance to move here until about 2013. That’s where I kind of started the steep learning curve of learning how to surf. I started off on a big, like 11 foot soft top, and I had my friend RP pushed me into some waves and then, from there, it was a wave storm and then kind of progressed from there,
It’s a good obsession to have
TTOS: And, back in Chicago, there were no waves over there, wave pools I mean…..
No, absolutely not, maybe today changed, but, I’m happy here in Waikiki, I live in a block away from some world-class waves, it’s pretty nice.
TTOS: And you have all the surfers over there…..actually with this is confinement, the surfers cannot travel, so they stay where they live. Actually it’s a great experience, you know, experiencing them surfing.
If I have to ask you the same first question about surf photography, what would be the most important thing about surf photography?
To have fun
I don’t do it because anyone’s asking me or is paying me to do it, I’m doing it because it’s really actually fun for me. The stoke of getting the shot or stoke of catching the wave. It is 50 50 for me. They’re both about the same. I go through phases where I shoot a lot and then I’ll go through phases where I don’t shoot and I surf a lot. And, also, I go through phases where I’ll surf in the morning and shoot in the evening or vice versa. It’s all really about having fun and being able to give back to a community that’s given so much to me.
TTOS: In fact, I actually red in your website about “AccesSurf”, tell me more about that….
“AccesSurf” is a great non-profit organization here in Hawaii, they have a program that gives ocean access to anyone with a disability, whether it’s physical and/or cognitive. If someone wants to come to swim, just get in the water, spend their day at the beach. If they want to surf, if they want to tandem surf with someone, they can have access. Before coronavirus, it was the first Saturday of every month, I think I started volunteering with that about four years ago and took a couple of kids that had whatever disability and they couldn’t surf on their own side. I had the opportunity to take them out surfing and the stoke level was just like through the roof for them.
And it really brought me a lot of joy and, I guess, that got really contagious, so I just kept coming back and the more I got into it, the more I kept going, the more I kept getting back donating and just donating time. Then I picked up the camera and I remember showing up to a day at the beach one day and said “no, I’m not going to surf today, I’m going to be shooting”. They were like “you’re not a photographer” and I’m like, “well, I’m learning, I can try”. I don’t surf as much with participants there as much as they used to because I do a lot of shooting, but I learned a lot of camera techniques and just a lot of things about my camera from one of the other photographers that has been shooting with them for a long, long time.
They’ve just been a great community, I’ve been able to give back to them as well, It’s so important and powerful, you know, all the energy that you get when you’re able to help somebody and it’s also part of us being surfers, it’s not only going through like tubes and a maneuver, like being a member of society, and help everybody to discover the sport or to find happiness.
TTOS: Thanks for sharing this with us.
You were saying that basically a trip to Hawaii generated this passion for surfing, but how did all started with you and surf photography?
When I first moved to Hawaii, I would I had a GoPro and I would put it on my board and, I would try and get pictures of myself surfing or pointing at the sunset or something like that.
And most of the time I would take this GoPro to Sandy Beach, which, if you don’t know what Sandy Beach is, it’s a North Shore break beach really powerful, short break that just barrels you know, just a couple of inches of water and a couple of feet of water and it’s really dangerous.
It’s bodyboarding break or body surfing break, but it’s really, really beautiful.
I’d strap on a pair of fins and I’d take my GoPro and I would try and get videos or photos of the barrel. Cause there was like, Clark Little and Zach Noyle, all these guys shooting these beautiful barrels and so I would try and do some of that.
I didn’t know what I was doing, I just wanted to push the button and get that pretty picture and that’s kinda where it started.
And then the more and more I was surfing, the more of the beautiful moments I would see, but I would only be able to capture when my eyes and like, I would never be able to, you know, do it justice with a GoPro.
I think it was January of 2018 when I bought my first camera, my first housing and I just started out to go take pictures in the water. I don’t know what I want to take pictures of , I didn’t even know longboarding. I could barely surf like, well at that point, you know, but I would just bug my friends….”are you going to go surf? I’m going to come shoot”. I would just bug everybody and I just kept going and I learned more and more about my camera.
I learned more about editing, I learned going to Queens to shoot who’s now one of my buddies “Toots” cause he just looks like a statue on a board and I kept going back to try and get more photos of him, that’s where I kind of fell into a shooting and surfing at Queens a lot right here.
TTOS: What was your first camera?
Canon7D Mark 2.
TTOS: And you’re still using the Canon?
I don’t have that one anymore, the one I bought, I bought it used, it’s actually hanging on my wall right now, it ended up dying and it was just too expensive to fix. I was like, I don’t know if I want to throw this away or just like whatever and I was like, “you know what? I put it up on the wall with a pair of fins and an old port you know lens port on the wall that like was never any good.
It’s just kind of like a relic for me now. I still use Canon.
TTOS: You can call it a relic or you can call it a piece of art, interesting the choice of Canon over Nikon….
Here in Hawaii, Nikon is not very popular, it’s mostly Canon and Sony here.
TTOS: Which kind of lenses do you prefer?
It depends on the day and the type of shoot, if I really want to get my favorite, I would have to say my 50 millimeter is that lens has been responsible for so many of my favorite shots, it’s just so crisp and it’s so speedy to focus, it’s such a great focal length.
I think after that, probably my 70 to 200 millimeter lens, very fast and very, very crisp, tack sharp images come from those two lenses.
But again, it’s all about what sort of shot you want to get, you can get a 50 millimeter, 15 millimeter, it’d be right up close to someone, you know, hanging 10 or in the barrel or whatever, but you can also get a really beautiful shot if you use a 600 millimeter long lens from the shore and add in some foreground and some composition, there’s just so many different ways to photograph someone on a wave.
I think that’s one of the beautiful things in the art of photography
TTOS: when you’re out in the world and you’re very close to the surfer, obviously you have a, another component that is the ocean, right? how do you a deal with adrenaline and fear of the moment where you are maybe in the tube or next to the surfer, how do you deal with that?
That’s a good question, I wear a helmet and honestly I would encourage any surf photographer to wear one because it is a matter of time before you get hit in the head. Not a matter of if….
I realized how close people were coming to me and I was like, I got to, you know, a small investment relatively at $200, less than $200 to buy a helmet and protect yourself, It probably saved my life at least once I got hit in the back of the head earlier this year by a rogue board. And I’m very, very thankful I had that helmet, but beyond the helmet, there’s a lot of trust.
I think being a surfer knowing and reading a wave and knowing what that surfer is going to do is a big advantage as a surf photographer, compared to someone that is just out shooting and they don’t surf and they’re just there to take pictures. They might not be able to read what that person is going to do or what the wave is going to do. And they might be out of position, or it might not be able to have the camera up to their eye or be able to take the shot, I think being a surfer and a surf photographer is a huge advantage as a surf photographer.
TTOS: Yeah. And especially as you said, they must think about safety, you cannot just adventure yourself in the middle of the ocean reef or whatever, and just take a shot….It doesn’t work…. you need to be a water man or woman
TTOS: If you had to pick one of your photos that would be used to represent you which one would you pick?
I think it would be a photo I took of Kaimana Takayama last year in August (actually is just over a year ago) It ended up on the cover of the hundredth issue of Pacific Long Boarder and long before it ever ended up on that cover, it was probably my all time favorite shot.
It was one of those moments where I read what he was doing. I could see what the wave was doing. And I knew that if he was going to do what I thought he would, I would be in the most perfect spot for it. And all I had to do was nail the focus and he did, he ended up getting to the nose, had say 10 feet away from me, maybe 15 feet away from me and doing a nice, like little lean back sole arch. And the angle that I had on it was super unique. The weather, the lighting, the way I had it set up and a little bit of editing almost made it look like we did that in a studio. And it’s just like, Kaimana. And I still, to this day, we look at that photo and we’re like, how the heck did we do that?
It’s still kind of like blows our minds….
TTOS: definitely! very representative!
When you started or even today, who were your references in surf photography?
Zak Noyle was a huge,not only influence, but he’s opened so many doors for people that want to put a camera in their hands and get in the water. He used to run these like oceanography classes once a year, he would basically get people down at Sandy Beach, they would have to sign up for it and there was like limited amount, get people down to Sandy beach and they could actually get a nice camera with a water housing in their hands and go in the water with it to see what it’s like to do that, to swim it’s, to look through the lens and to get focused and, you know, and still be aware of all your surroundings.
it was a really unique experience to do that and that kind of set off a lot for me, you know, he’s whole, he’s held contests photo contest, he’s encouraged and he’s always been helpful with like answering questions, you know, very giving of his time, him and his dad.
Him and his dad put on a huge convention every year called PhotoCom, they just want people to get better and learn more, they’re giving back so much to this community, I’m definitely a product of a lot of him and his dad’s efforts.
TTOS: if you had to choose a moment, a defining moment of your career so far, which one would it be?
The Pacific Longboard cover
I think that cover was kind of it helped put my name on the map a little bit and I didn’t know it was going to happen.
I was on a, a surf trip with my wife and some friends when I found out about it through Instagram. They didn’t tell me anything, it was really kind of crazy, that was really cool.
I think one of my best moments was that was a trip to Taiwan just this past December, being able to be in the water with so many world-class long boarders and watch Honolua her second world title watch Justin Quintal, win his a world title. Just being able to be a part of that and to photograph that and to step foot into their world. I think it was a real privilege and an honor, and I just, it kind of set me off.
I think I really wanted to do that and kind of follow these really world-class long boarders around the world. I can’t do a lot of that right now, but hopefully we’ll be able to do this again soon.
I think that trip was, was really big for me below the cover, I think going there and the relationships that I made, but I think my biggest, I guess, accomplishment, I really love is the board that I made with my friend Hoku
He basically taught me it instilled teaching me how to shape longboards. I’ve got a couple boards that I have made, but that’s that one that, that him and I made. I think that’s really like, kind of like my, my shining achievement because I can look at that and be like, you know, what I made that think it was a piece of foam and then I glassed it and you know, I’m looking at it right now and I’m just like “that’s my baby” and like, I don’t want anyone to ever touch that thing.
It just surfs so well, I just keep improving and having so much fun and, and to be able to do that on something that I had a huge part in making, I’m not going to say I did it all by myself, but like I had a huge part in every step of that board. Like, that’s, it’s a different feeling.
TTOS: Would you consider in 10 years from now to start to shape?
There’s a lot of work that goes into it, a lot more than I thought, and it’s not easy and it’s not fast, but it it’s like you really get to see the fruits of your labor when you get that thing in the water. It’s really kind of nice, especially seeing the stoke in someone else’s face when they grabbed that board that you made them……that’s really kind of a, a new passion that I’m starting to explore….
TTOS: you know, I started to read a book and I don’t remember the title now, but about shaping surfboards as a form of meditation. There was this guy that was in advertising in UK and he decided, at a certain point of his career, just to go in a shaping bay and start to shape his first surfboard.
And actually he didn’t even surf , he used it as a meditation tool….very interesting…. I think I read like 30 pages, but I will finish it soon…
What’s next for you? I mean now, we are all living in a difficult moment, but after ….do you have any particular project you’re working on?
Nothing like super huge, I think I’m just kind of waiting to be able to start traveling again and for the world to start opening up, especially for us as US citizen. Our passports are kind of worth worthless at the moment, which is really a shame, but at the same time, we live in paradise and there’s so many waves right across the street from me. I want to just keep surfing and shooting and, and shaping.That’s the big plan.
TTOS: It would have been different than if you are living in Chicago today, right?
I would be miserable, I promise.
TTOS: We’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind.
The best surfboard you ever ridden!
The one I made and behind that is the one that Michael Takayama made for me.
TTOS: Your favorite shaper…
My favorite shaper is probably Duke only because I get to see a lot of his shapes up close and I get to see his passion for exploring and trying out new things and never being satisfied with one, one particular shape.
And then I call, I want to do this, or I want to try that, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks and he just wants to make cool boards and he wants to have fun.
You know, when he’s surfing, he’s thinking about shaping and when he is shaping, he is thinking about surfing…. it’s really cool to see.
TTOS: Your favorite song….
I’ve been listening to a lot of like John Mayer lately, he’s pretty cool.
TTOS: Your favorite surf spot?
Queens right here in Waikiki
TTOS: Your favorite surfer.
I don’t know if your audience will know who this person is, but it’s this, this girl, Sally who surfs at Queens and Holy Cow, Man, she has the most fun every single time she goes out.
She’s like the queen of the inside and she catches all those little inside waves and she has so much fun, always stoked, always smiling. She’s the sweetest, most caring lady in the world and right behind her, it would have to be Teddy from Indonesia who I met on a trip this past January, he is a very, very talented young man and very humble, very stylish and just like an all around great human.
I would say those two are my two favorite surfers and humans
TTOS: The last question….we want to know your best relationship advice….
Oh man! well, I’ve been married 11 years and I think communication is definitely very important, even when you don’t want to talk it out , you must learning about being empathetic and just keep on communicating.