Editor’s note: The all time series features images that stop us in our tracks, from sessions we all wish we had experienced. Only on rare occasions do the infinite variables of nature align. It’s even more unusual for photos to capture the essence of this moment. If you’re sitting on an image (or two) of surf or snow that you think matches the description above and would like to be featured, take your photo with a few sentences about the day to [email protected]
If you know me, there are two things I have an unhealthy obsession with: snow and waves. I have one firm rule when it comes to powder snowboarding: I will ride an hour for every inch of snow. Being from Phoenixville, PA, it works. The Poconos gain two to four inches? Worth the climb. Northern Vermont getting dumped? I’m definitely trying to make the trip. But for surfing, I didn’t really understand the relationship between swell reading and travel time; however, on paper, this swell was certainly on the cusp of this measurement.
A fade of 2.5 feet at 11 second swell (ENE) can be hit or miss in New Jersey, and generally doesn’t create conditions you’d think are appropriate for an all-weather photo. Until you consider that this swell came from the first blizzard to hit the state since 2018and more than 20 inches of snow fell along some beaches.
A large, rapidly deepening low off the east coast is usually a good look at swell production, but this storm was less favorable. Miller ‘B’-type Nor’easter. Born from a trough in the Ohio Valley that transferred its energy offshore, it strengthened too late and formed too far north to generate large mid-Atlantic waves. At the time the storm was at full strength and actively dumping snow on Jersey beaches, the strongest wind was blowing from the north off Long Island, NY, a pattern that doesn’t perform well here in the middle. -Atlantic.
To add an extra kick to the enthusiasm of local surfers, after the storm the wind went offshore just before dark. It blew hard all night, something that can blow away any remaining swell in flat water in the morning. The risk of falling was real, but with a mid period swell still reading on the buoys at 3am and a rising tide that lined up nicely with the sunrise, I figured there was a good shot of waist clean waves to go along with the waist deep snowdrifts that I had seen reports of.
It was one of those days where you could imagine the exact plan you wanted in your mind before you arrived, and I knew that if the waves were anything like what I suspected, the resulting plan could be absolute. I made the call at the last minute and got to shore for first light. It was a cold, windy, clear morning. Long Beach Island looked more like a ski resort than a resort.
I cut down a section of beach that would best capture the prevailing ENE swell angle and trudged through the snow to reach the top of the dunes. The snow was dry; the light kind that makes good skiing. With blizzard conditions the day before, it had blown in epic drifts, with ridges and ripples looking straight out of the Sahara. When I got to the ridge the waves were better than expected. That was it. All the elements were there.
In the foreground, golden dune grass contrasted against the textured snow, while the background offered crisp swell lines with backlit spray cascading in the wind behind each breaking wave. As such, it was a prolific morning of photography. You could train a monkey to take a sick picture under these conditions. All I had to do was wait for clean waves and keep my hands warm.
There were two photos I wanted. The first was a beach path full of snow leading to a perfect peeling wave, and the second was an image with stunning views of the frozen dunes in the foreground. When I got there it was still too dark, so I struggled along the untouched walkway waist deep to my right, to the sandy high tide line, and quickly piss. When I came back up, I carefully followed my steps to the top of the path, knowing that the resulting shots would be great with just one set of footprints in the snow.
The “Freeze Frame of a Frozen A-frame” certainly stands out as a daytime favorite. I noticed that the sandbar on the beach to my left was shallow and I had seen one or two really good waves breaking there, so I started focusing my attention on that spot, away from it that I was trying to get with my steps.
For this shot, I got a bit lucky and pulled the shutter at the perfect time, because the wind blew the barrel in on itself in the next frame, and there wasn’t much light. images in A to enjoy. Most of the waves ran left along the bars, but the odd residual set with an east or south angle met the more consistent north sets, resulting in waist-high A-frames.
That said, I never considered myself a surf photographer until now. It was actually the first time I traveled just to film waves. I’m really glad I made the call. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that you don’t know what the future holds, so take advantage of what you can, when you can, and pull the trigger. . Often you end up scoring, and even if you don’t, it’s still worth it just for the experience.
See more work by Nate Hawes at Instagram.