Forty-three years ago, only experts knew the view: the womblike pocket, the funneling lip, the telescoped time, the vacuum sound — all of this, the most rarefied seconds of a surfer’s life, and yet no surf photographer had captured it for the world to see.
Things changed in 1968. Santa Barbara’s Harold Ward was boating regularly to the Hollister Ranch, where he occasionally saw the eccentric George Greenough getting barreled with a camera fastened to his back, shooting innovative, in-the-tube footage for his iconic film The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun
“I had shot a few rolls of George filming tube rides,” Ward said, “when a desire to shoot stills while tuberiding grew within me. George showed me how to build a water housing for my camera, fitted with a fisheye lens, and I spent many a day trying to get a reasonable shot from inside the tube, without much success.”
Then, late one winter afternoon, Ward was bobbing around at a hollow Ranch reefbreak, vainly attempting to get the perfect tube shot, when Greenough arrived, stoked to try something different.
“I had fitted a radio-controlled solenoid into the housing,” Ward said, “and I was very keen to have George strap it to his back and catch a few waves. He agreed enthusiastically and paddled out, waiting only a minute or two for a set wave, while I sat in the channel 200 feet away, where I had a clear view of his ride.
“Since the camera was radio-controlled, I needed visual contact with George for the critical part of his wave. I pushed the 'fire' button when I could see his positioning was just right, and the camera shot a few frames of film.”
Instantly, Ward believed he had photographed something special, something unprecedented, a fragment of tube time frozen forever on a 35-millimeter square of film.
The image was nailed around the same time Art Brewer had bagged his first Surfer
magazine cover shot.
“The main thing about (Ward’s) image,” Brewer said, “is that it really proved anything was possible with surf photography if you were willing to push the envelope technically.”
“We wanted impact, clarity, and acknowledgement in our art,” Ward said. “If you could stretch the boundaries of the current status quo, you either failed miserably, or you made a breakthrough.”