Imagine that your workstation for creating art was in the ocean, working in and under the waves that can reach several meters. While trying to avoid the washing machine you look for the best angle to capture the professional surfers who ride in the big and powerful waves of Zicatela, also known as “The Mexican Pipeline”, the world-famous surf spot in Puerto Escondido. This is indeed what Edwin Morales, a published surf photographer, does on a daily basis.
Edwin has a calm and pleasant energy and he is one of those people you just like instantly. I met him through his Finnish wife Elina in Puerto Escondido. I was invited to join their big annual family get-together party just after meeting Elina for the first time. It felt like a casebook example of Mexican friendliness; my wife has known you for two hours, welcome to my family celebrations!
I knew Edwin was a surf photographer and it sounded very interesting to me, as I’m into surfing myself and want to learn more about this exciting, challenging, and difficult sport. For me, watching skilful surfers do their tricks in the water is like magic, I feel like a child in an amusement park. And it was when I first encountered Edwin’s Instagram account, I knew I wanted to hear more about his work and lifestyle.
From a professional athlete to a successful self-learned photographer
Edwin has worked as a surf photographer for 15 years, but photography found him only after he had already reached his first dream of being a professional athlete. In his early twenties he was a successful bodyboarder, and a university student becoming an English teacher.
However, he knew that there was no future in bodyboarding for him. Also, the teaching career started to feel questionable. Even though everyone in his family had a degree, he wasn’t sure if the standard work schedules and responsibilities would suit him. The solution came to him out of the blue when he found photography. It happened through his brother, who was taking a photography course at the University. Edwin heard the calling and flipped the coin, resulting in quitting the University studies and heading towards his second dream.
He started from scratch: studied photography independently, captured friends riding the waves, and built the skills little by little. He got one advice from the University, that he’s kept close to his heart ever since: trust your instinct. By listening, trusting, and acting upon this instinct Edwin has managed to build a second career of his dreams.
“It worked out well for me, my dream became a reality for my life. We have to be smart about the decisions we make, but nobody knows the future. If you have faith and you trust your instinct, it’s important to see what can come out of your dreams”, Edwin shares.
Daily joy outruns the potential dangers lurking in the water
What are the practicalities and realities of a surf photographer? While Edwin loves the freedom of working for himself and shooting pictures brings him daily joy, the other side of the coin is that he is in constant danger when shooting in the water.
While in some other surf spots Edwin might shoot from a boat, at Zicatela he often goes into the water with flippers and the camera, having 4 kilos in his shoulders attached with a leash. By entering the water, he gets closer to the surfers and finds the best angles to shoot the pictures. It’s not an easy job at Zicatela, because the waves are always very strong, even if the swell is smaller. If the swell gets very big, Edwin stays at the beach as the surfers need jet skis to get to the line-up and out from the breaking waves after riding them.
For a photographer, there are several potential dangers when shooting in the ocean; getting knocked out by the camera, being pushed down to the washing machine by the waves, or miscalculating the distance from the surfers. There are strong currents, and tropical waters are also home for sharks – during the rainy season you can also find crocodiles in the ocean.
“They say that if you can shoot at Zicatela, you can shoot anywhere. This is my passion and it’s so rewarding, that I never really think about the scary side”, Edwin tells.
In addition to the ocean-related practicalities, also skills and instinct are needed in this line of work. Preparation for the shooting gigs entails reading the surf forecasts and charts to get an idea of the direction of the waves and the winds. That allows him to plan what he wants to shoot and how – to be a few steps ahead. But in the end, the actual conditions you can only see when you enter the beach.
“We are dealing with waves and mother nature. The waves are created from storms far away and every single wave is different. I have to trust my instinct to choose the angle for the shooting and to make the best possible outcome”, Edwin continues.
The daily routine for shootings in Zicatela starts early. You go to the beach at dawn to see the conditions, and the shooting session is normally done between 7-10 am before the wind starts to blow. After the shooting Edwin might catch few waves himself. Then it’s time for some standard laptop-work: editing pictures and selling them.
A lifestyle regulated by the ocean
Edwin’s lifestyle is built around surf which means that the only thing dictating his schedules is the ocean and the swell forecasts – no matter what day it is. In this type of work, you need to have a special relationship with the ocean. For Edwin the ocean is like a temple where he goes to connect with nature and with himself. While waiting for the perfect waves he has time to look inside and reflect.
“You need to have patience, and you have to be in sync with the ocean to be able to catch the perfect wave. Every atom of your body needs to be connected, it’s like a big system of physics and chemistry. Every time I get into the water, I feel like the whole world stops”, Edwin tells.
It sounds like the surf community doesn’t need mindfulness classes provided by their sponsors as it seems to be a solid part of the work.
If you have a job that brings you peace of mind, gives you space to reflect, strengthens your connection with nature, and enhances your patience and focus – many things have fallen into place.
As an established surf photographer, Edwin has also travelled a lot. Often, he goes together with the Red Bull crew, shooting some of their athletes. In the big wave world, the trips are often made with very short notice, meaning that you see a forecast of a storm arising and go packing straight away. These days there are fewer trips, as he wants to have enough time to spend with his family.
If the general image of the surf lifestyle is very chill, it’s not always the case in the professional big wave world. Finding a balance can be challenging also for Edwin as sometimes there is work coming from every direction, and a self-employed photographer is always ready to hit the beach. But in general, the attitude towards life is relaxed and very focused on the present moment.
“It’s better to focus more on enjoying life, while we are here. I love to do it day by day, as here in Mexico I don’t plan so much. If I plan something more than one week ahead it’s because there are some big waves coming”, he laughs.
Success is all about freedom and balance
When we talk about success Edwin puts it in a bigger context right away. If capturing a unique picture is a small success for him, being successful means having a good life. And his ingredients for a good life are freedom and balance. Freedom to do what he wants and balance in different aspects of his life. In this philosophy the economic side of things plays a smaller role.
“Making money doesn’t mean that you are successful. For me success is to be able to do what I want and what makes me happy. More important than money is the inner side of things; how your soul, mind, and body are doing – how things make you feel”, Edwin thinks.
Naturally there is space for money too, but life doesn’t revolve around it. As Edwin puts it, there is a good place to be somewhere in between, making enough to have a good life. And in a Mexican surf town, you don’t need that much to live a happy life.
While Edwin has done well in building the career and lifestyle of his dreams, he also has a bigger mission behind his work. He wants to show his hometown and the Mexican surf talent to the whole world. Share the story of high-quality waves, Puerto lifestyle, and the local people.
While spreading the word of his hometown to the rest of the world, he also wants to do his share in supporting the local community. He has done several fundraisings to support the locals, the latest one just recently to provide food and basic necessities to people most hit by the coronavirus epidemy. Many Mexicans live day by day, and social security systems are non-existent. If you lose your job, it has a direct impact on your dinner table.
While most of the people in Puerto Escondido suffer from the economic consequences of Corona lockdown, including the surf-community, the ocean provided a little Mother’s day gift to the professional surfers of the town. A big swell arrived at the Mexican coast and the local surfers got special permission to enter the “Mexican Pipeline” at Zicatela. It was a happy morning for the surfers, photographers, and the audience.
I was mesmerized by the power of the ocean and the courage of the people getting out there. Two jet skies were patrolling in the ocean, helping the surfers to get into the line-up and to get away from the crashing waves after riding them. When someone got a wave, I felt like I was witnessing a little miracle. Which is kind of what it was; talent, passion and determination combined with courage and the power of mother nature makes a great mix to make miracles happen.
See Edwin’s work on Instagram; @moralesedwin