All Photos by Tucker Patton. All Photos ©.
I’ve been fortunate to have surf lifeguarded at Namotu Island Resort for a decade or more (I’ll be honest I’ve lost count). Fiji is one of the most special places on the planet and I’ve enjoyed countless days of my life surfing some of the worlds best waves in this beautiful paradise. The last couple weeks there were a bit different as I didn’t even bring a surfboard and only packed my camera equipment to shoot photos.
What was once a annual 6 - 8 week stop over enroute to and from the New Zealand heli-ski season has now been cut down to a quick photography strike mission. Not to mention I’ve had to take a couple year hiatus as Triple Point has taken off and I’ve pursued other opportunities. It was really good to be back and I was super stoked for the new challenge of shooting photos in such a special place.
The first thing to hit you as you get off the plane in Nadi is the familiarity as well as the change. The airport is being re-done and looks amazing. The roads are bit more paved and the town has more traffic. But the Fijian locals still wave from the sugarcane fields as you drive by and the morning sunrise over Vita Levu as you walk off the plane is more beautiful than I remember.
Namotu is located on the Southern most tip of the Mamanuca chain and lies 5 nautical miles west of Viti Levu — Fiji’s largest and most populous island. It is truly a waterman’s paradise. The island is situated within striking distance of many of the best waves on the planet. Cloudbreak, Tavarua Right, Restaurants, Swimming Pools, Namotu Left and Wilkes Passage are all a short boat trip away and can accommodate anyone’s surfing abilities depending on wave size, tide and wind.
The waves have certainly remained the same since I was last back but it’s the amazing Fijian people and the new guests you meet along the way are etched in my memory. One cannot underestimate the beautiful Fijian culture with their amazing hospitality and true zest for life. The Aloha spirit is truly alive and well in the Fijian islands
Thanks to Scotty and Mandy O’Connor for their generous hospitality, the guests who were on the island for letting me share their holiday with them and all the amazing lifeguards who look tirelessly after each surfer knowing exactly where and when to be to get the best waves possible.
I can’t wait to get back. Vinaka Vakalevu!
Gear I Loved Using:
Aquatech Imaging Solutions Camera Housing
Typically I shoot from a jet ski especially at places like Mavericks and this trip was a challenge artistically and logistically in that regard. I picked up a new housing for my 5D Mark iii and had a blast using it in the surf especially when I need to scratch the creative itch. I’ve got a long way to go perfecting this skill but the Aquatech housing was easy to use and I found the controls and function to be exactly what I needed to explore this new artistic challenge.
DJI Mavic Pro Drone
I think the images in this blog speak for themselves and I must say it was great to add this little camera to my quiver. The size of the copter and th image quality are the two standout features for me from this awesome tool. I would mention to beginners that trying to land it on a rocking boat in the middle of the ocean is next to impossible and takes a lot of practice. I’d recommend trying it on dry land until you are 100% confident in hand launching. The fear of failure to control the drone while flying over endless ocean is a seriously scary proposition! I was admittedly conservative and luckily managed to not lose the drone to the South Pacific.
Canon 100–400 mm Lense
As mentioned above on a jet ski I can place myself where I want to be giving myself the ultimately flexibility on who and how I shoot. Shooting a massive lineup stretching multiple football fields like Cloudbreak you have people all over the shop as well as a boat driver who is trying to put you in the best position all while avoiding waves, other boats and surfers in the water. This is no easy task and I found quickly that a longer lense than I’m use to was required. As a substitute on my next trip like this I would probably bring the Canon Extender for a 400 mm lense to use with myF2.8 70–200 mm as this will give me a bit more focal length range and save on dramatically on weight.
Wrapping up my 13th heli-ski season guiding in Alaska gives me time to reflect and appreciate the amazing experiences we offer through Triple Point Expeditions. It is truly one of my favorite destinations and one that I plan my entire year around. I hope you enjoy this quick write-up, gear recommendations and photo compilation from my annual pilgrimage North.
Alaska is the ultimate ski destination on all fronts. The coastal mountains wait patiently on the doorstep to the Gulf of Alaska. Trickling down from the towering peaks the gulf extends out to the Pacific Ocean’s never ending weather engine sending storms racing across from Japan and Russia. The mountains’ proximity to the Pacific and the sheer magnitude of the ranges that stand against the onslaught of weather allow us, as skiers and riders, to explore our personal snow centric dreams. Alaska’s vastness, beauty and solitude are unrivaled.
The season started with a major wind event across the entire state followed by unseasonably cold temps and sunny skies. Finding good snow was tricky at this point but we were able to sniff out some great runs and the clear skies allowed us to hunt for snow in the helicopter.
It’s a strange feeling hoping for snow in Alaska as usually you want the weather to go away. But eventually the snow dances worked, the skies clouded over and it puked silver dollars for days. Inevitably though, after a couple days of snow, the emotions swing the other direction and you start hoping for sunny skies. Once they did, it was game on for the rest of the season.
Early April happened to be the transition time this year when it went from good to great. I was lucky enough to bounce around the state and the pictures reflect the varied terrain, destinations and conditions I found along the way.
Every winter I try to look back and dissect a few lessons from my travels. Here’s a couple that come to mind in no particular order:
Gear I Am Stoked On
I’ve learned over the years that if you are prepared and ready for Alaska, she always comes right. Ferocious weather can torment you, avalanche danger can keep you away from the slopes you want to ski, temps can spike or winds can degregate the snow into un-skiable hardpack. In order to make the most of every situation, you have to have the right gear. Here’s what I liked using for the 2017 season:
LowePro — Whistler BP 450 AW — It’s important to have gear where you need it and when you need it. I trust the Whistler pack to protect all my camera equipment in the harshest environments. I appreciate the back zipper opening to access my bodies and lenses quickly. There are also a number of external straps and lash points that allow for attaching tripods, skis or whatever else I may need.
Outdoor Research White Room Pants— I liked using these pants for a few simple reasons. The pockets are well placed and the zippers are super strong. They fit well for ease of movement even when worn under a harness. I found the 3 layer gore-tex to be breathable, durable and comfortable. The pants are well thought out with hefty belt loops, a custom pocket for your beacon and perfect snow gaiters to help keep your boots dry.
K2 Pinnacle 118 - These skis are stable at high speeds coming down Alaska’s steep faces. They have great float in the powder, they’re nimble when you need them to be and they got us through the wind event when there wasn’t much powder to be found. The Pinnacle is an excellent all around ski for AK.
Oakley Airbrake Prizm — “If you can see it you can ski it”. These goggles are well made and super comfortable. Most importantly the lenses are some of the best I have ever used. When it comes to skiing above treeline and navigating consequential terrain you have to be able to see. From blue skies and sunny slopes to north aspects and shaded couliers these lenses bring out the definition, textures and transitions that I need to see in order to do my job.
Outdoor Research Transcendent Jacket — A puffy may be one of my most important pieces of equipment. You know it’s a good one when it never comes off. I’d say this layer of warmth saw the most use this season. From cold morning coffee runs in the pre-dawn dark to long days in the field this jacket came with me everywhere.