Tasmanian photographer, Stu Gibson, has won the 2021 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year Awards for an image captured at Tasmania’s most famous big wave location, Shipstern Bluff.
Gibson’s photo shows Tasmanian surfer, Tyler Hollmer-Cross, dangerously deep inside a barrel that has broken over extremely shallow reef. Hollmer-Cross has been towed in with a jetski, allowing him to ride bigger waves from further out.
Like many other surf photographers, Gibson discovered his passion for the medium after sustaining an injury that left him taking pictures of friends riding waves. Many of them were surfing the infamous Shipstern Bluff, which was gaining worldwide attention for being a cold water big wave with a unique shape that’s remote and only accessible by boat or a long hike.
‘Shippies is big and scary,’ he told government tourism blog, Make It Tasmania, in 2018. ‘When we arrive by boat the cliff is like a skyscraper and you see ants (surfers) on these massive boulders waiting for us. It’s like land of the giants. The wave itself is even more frightening and it’s often freezing cold and windy.’
Rather than shooting from land, or the relative safety of a boat, Gibson jumps into the water to get as close to the action as possible. This allows him to shoot with wider lenses and offers a different perspective of the scene.
‘There are huge rocks everywhere and a massive swell,’ he said. ‘At neck level I’m the last to know a big wave is coming. The first to see it are the surfers out back towed in on jet skis. Usually the guys in the boat will whistle or squeal, next the jet skis start buzzing. Your heart is in your mouth when a huge one comes.
‘The spray off the first wave makes it hard to see what’s next. When the spray subsides, there’s just a huge dark line. You’ve got to kick really fast to make it. The horizon just goes completely black, there’s a big wall then someone comes screaming along it.
‘It’s rare that Shippies breaks which makes it so special when we are there. As a group of friends, it’s like we’re coming back together. When it’s on, it’s all on. When you’re inside the wave with your friend shooting with a really wide fisheye lens it’s as much fun as surfing the wave.’
Gibson also won the award in 2019 for another photo taken at Shipstern Bluff.
The contest is judged by 13 high-profile surf industry figures, including seven-time World Surfing Champion, Stephanie Gilmore.
Here’s a gallery of finalist images:
Photo contest criteria
Organising group: Nikon Australia and Surfing Australia
Status/Objective: Branding, promoting photography and surfing
Entry fee: Free
Prizes: Nikon Z 6II and NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
Sponsors: Nikon Australia
Judges: Stephanie Gilmore, Layne Beachley, Sean Doherty, Luke Kennedy, JJ Jenkins, Neil Ridgway, Keith Curtain, Sally Mac, Vaughan Blakey, Rob Bain, Ray Bisschop, Phil Jarrett, and Nick Carroll
Number of entrants/submissions: Undisclosed
Categories: Photography and Video
Exposure: Promoted online by Nikon Australia and Surfing Australia, extensive international coverage via press release announcing winners
Affiliations: Surfing Australia is a National Sporting Organisation, and Nikon Australia needs no introduction.
Transparency: Extremely transparent
Communication: Contact details for Nikon Australia and Surfing Australia are easily available
Estimated Gross Revenue: No revenue is generated from entries.
Copyright standards: Entrants retain copyright. Entries may be used to promote the contest.
Overall rating: A gold star contest with no areas of concern. Attracts high-calibre surfing photography specialists