Wong Guy

You’ve seen his photographs everywhere.


AMERICAN WINDSURFER: Robby Naish must be your Number One guy!

DARRELL WONG: The first summer I shot windsurfing at Diamond Head, Robby wasn’t even there because he was doing the World Cup. All these other guys who were wavesailing could care less about all that racing stuff. I didn’t meet Robby ‘til ‘81. By that time he was sailing Diamond Head quite a bit and so I just kept shooting him. He was the best in the world.

AW:  How did you end up moving to Maui?

DW:  Windsurfing, the whole industry, moved to Maui and Ho’okipa. All the factories were here. All the team riders were here. Everyone was sailing Ho’okipa. All the racers were here. Diamond Head kind of fell—there’s less wind on Oahu. Even Kailua is kind of fluky. For steady and consistent wind Maui is still the place. I knew I couldn’t stay on Oahu and make a living. At the time, in ‘93, I was doing a lot of photo shoots for all the manufacturers and I couldn’t justify flying over here all the time. I would miss really good days. So I moved over here by necessity.


AW:  Tell me about the relationship between a photographer and a windsurfer. What are you looking for in a windsurfer to photograph?

DW:  I’m from the old school of surfing, so I look for style, guys that have style. When I watched young kids surfing, there was a period there when guys were doing these radical skateboard moves, what I call the wingwang. They’d go off, their arms flailing up and down, they were hopping on their boards, and that’s not style. There are a lot of guys out there that rip. They can flail their arms, move their bodies in the weirdest directions, but if they don’t have any style. . .

AW:  Can you describe Robby’s style?

DW: He has the old style type of sailing. He has fluid movement. He’ll piece together five different maneuvers. They’ll flow all together instead of a guy thinking of doing one maneuver, going through it, then having to think again and trying to force another maneuver on the same wave. Robby and several other guys, Pete Cabrinha, who doesn’t windsurf much anymore, they flow—do maybe three maneuvers all connected. Josh Angulo is super radical but thinks like a hundred yards down the line what he is going to do and flows all his maneuvers together. He looks like he’s out of control but he always pulls it off and goes directly right into another maneuver. He’s just flowing all the way down.


AW:  What about Björn?

DW:  I don’t think he gets enough credit for his wavesailing. I’ve seen Björn on some really good waves and he does have style. They think he’s a contest sailor, but you see it when he’s free sailing. Seems he and Josh (Stone), when they were heading out together a lot, were feeding off each other. Björn and Josh were pushing each other and I think Björn learned a lot from Josh. I see Björn very fluid now. Maybe because he’s exposed to better waves. He’s been to Fiji I think three times now with Scott Carvel. Those kinds of waves will make you fluid, and stylish, not so radical. Not just to kill the wave but ride the wave. Björn rips.

AW: What about Kevin and Matt (Pritchard)?

DW: Same thing. Good style. They put together maneuvers down the line—thinking of different things going all the way down instead of doing one big maneuver.


AW:  Franciso (Goya)?

DW:  Francisco’s got more of that erratic style. He goes for the big maneuver a lot of times and it depends if you watch him freesail or during competition. I don’t know what he is thinking about when he’s sailing but he has more of the erratic style. He’ll go for a big maneuver instead of flowing together all these different ones, stylish sailing.


AW: What styles, wins in competition?

DW: Who knows what the judges are looking for? And with a lot of things, competition is purely luck. I’ve seen, throughout the years, so many wave riding competitions. It’s not a cut and dried thing. It’s not like you cross the finish line and you win. It still has to do with luck. You go out there in your heat and there’s no wind, you lose. So you have to go back up the ladder and if you don’t make it through the ladder, you’re off. Waveriding is pure luck half the time. The rest is trying to make do with what you have during your heat. When I watch Robby though, and there are a few other guys like him, Robby is always prepared for the worst. Maybe because he’s done it long enough, he knows just what can go wrong. He’s always prepared. His stuff is always rigged, ready to go. Other guys rig one, two, sails. They’re not worrying about their heat. Rob’s got all this equipment and he’s ready if something happens. If the wind drops he has another sail ready, already rigged instead of having to scramble. I guess it’s preparation.


AW:  What about the young kids that are coming up? Who do you see?

DW: Levy, for sure, especially now too that he’s hooked up with Scott Sanchez (trainer). I think that will make a big difference. It’s hard because windsurfing is a freestyle kind of sport. It’s the same as surfing. If you think of all the extreme sports that are out there now, it’s not regimented. It’s not conducive to being a regimented type of sport like a ball and stick kind of sport or a field sport where you have a team. So it’s hard to get the kids motivated to do well. Unless they know that, “I want to be a professional windsurfer. I want to do well.” That means you’ve got to train. The best training still is to go windsurfing everyday. You have to try things and have someone critique you. I think what Levy is doing is really good.

AW: What other sailors in the past have you enjoyed photographing?

DW:  Oh, Dave Kalama, for sure. Dave’s got the same thing—fluid style. And Mark Angulo.

AW: He has a unique style, doesn’t he?

DW: Yeah. I wouldn’t say Mark has that fluid style but he’s innovative. He’ll try all kinds of stuff. He’ll try anything. Guys like Mark and Dave could make the top ten all the time in any type of competition.


AW: You’re credited with the speed blurs.

DW: That whole speed blur thing was influenced from looking at Formula car racing. One of the photographers whose stuff I’ve been looking at for years is Jesse Alexander. He’s been around since the invention of the automobile. The speed blurs give motion and some kind of feeling to the photo. I think I started trying to shoot these speed blur things almost immediately when I started shooting windsurfing.

AW: What is your percentage of good pictures when you do that?

DW: [Laughing] Gosh, I’d like to say it’s high, but no. It’s still a hit or miss kind of thing. I guess I can tell you a secret. When I shot all of these photos from the helicopter recently of Josh and Kevin Pritchard and Levy, the waves were perfect at Ho’okipa. All the sailors were very smooth. The wind was offshore, it wasn’t windy, and it made my job to shoot these blurs a lot easier because they were just doing perfect windsurfing where there were no erratic movements. So it kind of depends on the conditions too. It could be too windy at Ho’okipa where these guys are hitting chop and everything and that will screw up your photo right there. I’ve had days when I’ve gone up in the helicopter shooting speed blurs where I get only one picture out of a whole roll.


AW: What constitutes a good photograph?

DW: Gosh, I don’t know. My preference is to shoot in the afternoon because there is more contrast, the colors are deeper, richer looking. Some guys like to shoot in the morning, early morning when it’s crisp, the lighting is like really bright and everything looks nice. I like that too sometimes, but my preference is to shoot in the afternoon or late afternoon and get a lot of contrast in my photos and, I don’t know, it’s just . . .

AW: Moody?

DW: Yeah. I find too that shooting these speed blurs never works in the mid-day or mid-morning cause you don’t get any contrast from the spray or the movement of the water or anything. It only works in the evening. I’ve always preferred shooting in the afternoon. There’s a lot of sameness out there too. It’s hard. Everything’s been done. It’s hard to get something different.

AW: When I see your photograph I know it’s yours. It’s like you can see someone sailing and without seeing their face know who it is.

DW: That’s true. I guess it’s a style thing, like I said, I shoot in the afternoon light. I’m influenced by one of the best shots I’ve seen. It’s one that Steve Wilkins shot of Pete Cabrinha doing a pirouette on a big Windsurfer board. It must have been in ‘79 or ‘80. His hair was throwing off  all this spray as he spun in the late afternoon golden light. That’s a shot I always remember.


AW:  What do you think is the next thing you want to try, next style, or next creative approach?

DW: Years ago I shot some racing pictures with Micah  (Buzianis), this was the same kind of speed blur thing but I used a zoom effect and with the flash. They came out pretty cool looking but nobody really used them. The newest, latest thing—I don’t know what that’s going to be. [Laughing] What do you suggest? Everyone’s doing mast mounts, board mounts, boom mounts.

AW: Do you find a difference photographing now then in the ‘80’s when the equipment was simpler?

DW: No, not really. Windsurfing is still the same, just the faces have changed. The racing part of it, I think, is still the same. Nothing has really changed. People get hooked in and they just go fast. What I would like to see, is someone do a really good video on windsurfing with a good story line. Most videos, per say, in surfing, are just action, action, action. There is no story. They don’t even try to make a story.


Sometimes I think, “Oh I could make a windsurfing video that would be kind of cool and take ideas from commercials and things, what they are trying to market to people, instead of just having this head banging, grunge, heavy metal music to action. It comes down to the editor of the video. It is the photographer that is shooting all the footage but still, it comes down to who’s doing the editing, putting the bits together to the music and to the narration and having it flow through the whole video. If you look at Volkswagon commercials, they are telling a story. Even though it’s a minute commercial, they are telling a story and they are thinking of something there. There is a thought there. Then I think, I could do a video. You have to do a script first of all and I don’t think these guys even have a script. They just put it together.  I heard Jason is putting together a video.


AW: It was just released.

DW: I haven’t seen it, but he did a big production where they dropped a guy from a helicopter doing the flip and I thought, “Okay, someone’s thinking about something there. They’ll piece it together and hope this video comes out cool looking.” When Rob’s video came out, he kind of rushed it. I told him he should have had Mark Angulo as a used-board salesman. And he should have had more stuff of him at home. They had him driving through Taco Bell, but Rob does all kinds of stuff. Dave Naish shot him at the racetrack with his car and everything. None of that ended up in the video and the whole video could’ve been him and his friends windsurfing, and his lifestyle, but ended up being another regular windsurfing video with action and music.

AW: Are videos your next project?

DW: Oh, maybe. We’ll see. Four years ago I was losing the motivation to shoot windsurfing. There were a lot of photographers trying to shoot windsurfing all of a sudden. Windsurfing was not healthy at the time. It’s never really been that healthy to begin with, but I was thinking, all these guys were shooting water shots. The line up at Ho’okipa was getting so crowded with photographers even the sailors were complaining. I thought, “Okay, I’m getting old and all these young photographers are coming in.” But then it’s funny, when I met my wife, she motivated me again. I kind of stopped shooting water shots for a while. I was not as hungry as these other guys were. Then I got motivated again and started shooting. Maybe that’s what grew from helicopter stuff. I tried different stuff, something new. If you are not really hungry, you are doing the same old thing again and again. You’re not trying different stuff.


by John Chao

Publisher / Editor, is a former photojournalist for GEO, National Geographic and Time-Life Magazines

photos by Darrell Wong