Behind A Famed Ride: Frame By Frame


Tom Servais’ November 1991 photograph of a Tom Curren cutback is one of the best known images ever taken of a surfer and a wave. But what came before and after? These 15 images provided by Servais help fill in that picture for those interested in how a skilled surfer navigates one of the world’s best waves. The cutback made famous by Servais’ lens unfolds in frames 11-13. “His style is perfect, the turn is perfect and it’s smooth,” Servais said. “It’s just a lucky moment in time.”

“Tom is one of the most stylish, smoothest surfers ever.”

“Trying to get photos of him was hard because you never knew when he would show up. He tried to avoid the cameras.”

“He was riding a board without any logos on it.”

“It was 3:30 or 4 o’clock. It wasn’t like I went down to the beach with Tom Curren. I just happened to go down there and he just happened to be there.”

“I shot with Canon cameras. Nikon had come out with this 600 millimeter lens that everyone thought was a really good lens.”

“I was shooting Kodachrome 200 film because I liked how it looked in back lit conditions.”

“It was a manual focused lens and manual exposure.”

“With digital you have a lot more latitude and you can look at the photo on the back of the camera and can take test shots.”

“Back in the film days it was experience and a little guess work.”

“As a photographer we always liked it when they finished off the wave with a dramatic maneuver.”

The cutback begins. “It is not that unusual to come out of a tube and see a nice shoulder and do a turn like that.”

The cutback reaches its apex. “There is no photo of mine that has gotten more attention.”

The cutback ends.

A couple years ago Servais saw a video of this same sequence. “It’s over in three to four seconds.”

“The turn at the end happened so fast. I feel super lucky I got that photo.”