Robby Naish at Diamond Head, 1981. Photo Darrell Wong
DARRELL WONG wasn't trained in the science nor art of photography, didn't attend any photography school. His education began and continues in the ocean surf. In the beginning of the Hawaii evolution of windsurfing, he may not have been recognized as one of the gods of surf photography, but he was working alongside one and learning. Composing a frame with the lip of a wave aiming at your skull is not something that comes naturally. You have to work at it, and work at it Darrell did. He probably wouldn't call it work; it was more of an all-consuming passion, and when Robby Naish, Pete Cabrinha, and a few of the other emerging stars of our sport entered that frame, he would focus on that which paid dividends. Darrell is the. most low key laid back photographer of the lot, so we'll let his daughter, Summer Wong, tell the story. It was for a school project:
So Daddy... we know you grew up in Hawaii, but what else can you tell us about yourself?Well... I was born 4 years before Statehood. I'm from Kapahulu, a neighborhood at the foot of Diamond Head. There were dirt roads and chicken farms back then.... hard to believe, huh? I grew up surfing Waikiki... I know everyone says that, but your Uncle Benny and I would literally drag our 50 lb. surfboards down the road to surf “The Wall” in Waikiki. I loved to read and I did well in school and graduated from Kaimuki High, but college didn't interest me... “All I wanted to do was surf”. I moved to the North Shore, worked the night shift at Aloha Airlines and tried to photograph surfing during the day, but it didn't work out very well because all I did was surf. Then in the early 1980's I moved back to Town to shoot windsurfing at Diamond Head. I met Robby Naish, Pete Cabrinha, and the pioneers of wave sailing... and as they say, the rest is history.
Safe to say that Robby was Darrell's bread and butter, remaining on Oahu until Robby made the move to Maui.
Longevity being one of the qualifications for getting into the inaugural WHOF, Darrell certainly qualifies with this photo of Robby Naish some 40 years later. We suppose Robby qualifies as well!
One of Darrell's iconic shots of windsurfing, working with the talent took talent. This one paid dividends.
Darrell was full of Aloha. Just didn't wear the shirts.
How did you get into photography? I got it from your Grandpa who was an amateur photographer. He was always taking pictures of our family and charities he belonged to; like the Lions Club. I never thought anything of it until I found old photos of our family in front of the “imu” at the old Queen's Surf restaurant in Waikiki... that classic building is long gone, but here it was still in this photo... and I thought, “This is cool!”.
And what exactly do you do? Don't you just hang out at the beach all day? Good question... since your Grandma wasn't really sure what I did. Basically, I photograph windsurfers and surfers for advertising. I'm not your whimsical artsy kind of photographer. I consider myself a commercial photographer. You can't control the ocean and nature, so all I do is record what I see... while trying to focus on the clients' product. 90% of what I do is just being there. And I do get to hang out at the beach, but now I mostly hang out in my office editing photos on this Mac... it was much easier shooting slide film.
And you make a living from this? I try my best... my clients seem to like what I do.
Why do you think they keep coming back? I try to be nice and respect what they are trying to do. Think about it… they've just invested thousands of dollars for two weeks in Hawaii with no guarantees of how the weather will be. You have to be a bit sympathetic and respectful of their situation. I remember taking a business class (easy credits) in high school... no MBA lessons, just your basic laws of supply and demand kind of stuff. My teacher was a nice Hawaiian lady who basically taught us to respect everyone and be nice. This lesson would probably not apply in today's world of Bernie Maddoffs.
Is your "mantra" to just be nice? Well… “You gotta show up on time, do your best, and be nice.” Or, one word... “Aloha”... I know it sounds like a cliché, but "Aloha" means showing respect and basic decency towards other people. I heard they hire you because you bring Spam Musubis to your photo shoots... Yeah… I do bring Spam Musubis, candy bars, and Gatorade to the job because I learned you gotta keep the "talent" in one place during breaks or they start to wander off... I learned this from my friend; Glenn Beadles. Just like kids, they get “pilikia” (bothered) and “huhu” (angry) if they aren't fed regularly.
I love your “speed blur” photos… what's that all about? (perhaps Darrell was feeding Summer questions at this point, if not Spam Musubi's!) It's just a basic photographic technique of blurring the background of an action photo. I experimented with this technique from the very beginning. The influence came from my interest in auto racing and looking at racing pictures from the 60's. I applied it to windsurfing and surfing, and I'm proud of being able to do this consistently "in-camera".
Darrell's speed blur photo shot from hell close quarters, Jason Polakow the victim.
What's something your friends don't know about you? I used to surf and bodysurf uncrowded Pipeline a lot when I lived on the North Shore... nothing too big, but enough to scare you sometimes... and I have a Waikiki beachboy nickname.
Anything you want to say before we wrap this up? To quote a good friend of mine... “I have a wonderful family and I work with fantastic people on really amazing jobs in one of the most incredibly beautiful places on earth”...
"Hey Darrell, behind you!" Erik Aeder Photo
A younger Darrell getting out of the surf with either a camera or a juke box.