Riding mountains

Some of it's sheer fear. Some of it's sheer beauty. Some of it's sheer fun. Often it's all three.

But then the surf photo captures so many conflicting images that the eye finds something new every visit. Maybe it's all that compressed energy chasing a small human on skittering fibreglass, or the way the wind grooms the water surface - but it is hard to look away

Dangling off the southern end of Tasmania there are fearsome breaks that possess just such fear, beauty and fun.

Shipsterns??? Bluff, down the Tasman Peninsula from Port Arthur, and Pedra??? Branca???, a white rock sticking out of the Southern Ocean about 45 kilometres south of Hobart have made Tasmania one of the world's big-surf hot spots. They call them TOAD breaks, as in "Take Off And Die".

Both breaks make guest appearances in a new book, The best of the best, showcasing the winners and finalists of the Nikon Surfing Australia Surf Photo of the Year Awards from 2013 to 2017.

The work of 26 photographers is highlighted.They range from 40-year veterans like Ted Grambeau??? and Peter Joli??? Wilson (who spent their early lensmen careers huddled on the cliffs shooting Victoria's cold West Coast surf) to NSW South Coaster Leroy??? Bellett, the Northern Beach's Mark Onorati??? and Angourie's Deb Morris who specialises in shooting miniature waves.

Surf photography has been around since the 1890s when somebody snapped a Hawaiian in a loincloth holding a board on Waikiki. An eight-page spread "Waves and thrills at Waikiki" by Tom Blake appeared in a 1935 issue of National Geographic and created a beach-boy culture in California. Then, in 1960 John Severson??? published Surfer magazine and his photograph on the next-to-last page (with a two-deck caption: "In this crowded world the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts") - which featured a lone surfer paddling towards a glassy empty wave - launched the careers of a thousand surf photographers.

When the US beach culture hit Sydney, photographers soon lined beaches at Manly, Cronulla and Freshwater: in the years ahead, Ron Perrott, Bob Evans, Jack Eden, Albert Falzon, John Witzig, Peter Crawford, and Martin Tullemans were just some who turned the Australian surf photo into a sort of sport/fashion/art form that caught the zeitgeist.

But it was transplanted Californian George Greenough's 1969 footage from inside the tube at Lennox Head that totally changed the way surfers view waves. Greenough's inner vision lives on in the pages of the best of the very best.

More than half of the photographs chosen required photographers to be out in the water close to the breaking waves.

Of course, in keeping with tradition, some photographs were taken from the safety of the sand. Other's like Onorati's shot of Narrabeen going off on June 6, 2016, (in what many say was the biggest swell to hit Sydney since the 1970s) was shot from the Collaroy escarpment with a long-distance lens.

The photographer's newest toy, the drone, is featured too, with Trent Mitchell's shot of Kirra Beach on the Gold Coast showing Mick Fanning allowing a freight train barrel to roar by with not a shark in sight.

The Best of the Best: Australia's Greatest Surf Photographers, from Surfing Australia, a collection of images from the Nikon Surf Photo of the Year Awards 2013-2017, is published by Hachette Australia on November 28, 2017 (Hardback, RRP $39.99).

This story Riding mountains first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.