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Creators: Surf spot pioneer John Callahan keeps exploring

John Seaton Callahan captures surfers out of the water during a beautifull sunset in Madagascar
Madagascar Sunset © John Seaton Callahan



Creator Profiles

Callahan led pioneering expeditions to the Philippines, Andaman Islands and other outposts

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 10 July, 2016 - John Seaton Callahan has travelled the globe for decades in search of new surf surf spots. In 1992 with Taylor Knox and Evan Slater in tow he brought the dreamlike perfection of the Philippines' Cloud 9 to light during a trip for Surfer Magazine.

When the article hit showcasing the wave's A-frame perfection, a new dream spot was etched into the minds and desires of surfers the world over.

“I named the break after the local no-melt chocolate bars,” Callahan told Siargao Surf. “Going into town after lunch for a warm Coke and a Cloud 9 was the highlight of our day.”

Since the year 2000 Callahan has trekked through some 60 countries bringing images of perfect surf, and the cultures surrounding them, to the world. He's a former staff photographer with both Surfing and Surfer Magazines and also has more than 100 international book and magazine cover images to his credit.

John Callahan is the focus of this week's Creator Profile.

Philippines © John Callahan

Where are you from and what do you shoot with?

I'm from Hawaii and I have been living in Singapore since 2000. I use Canon lenses and cameras, with an increasing use of non-conventional imaging equipment like camera phones, drones and action cams.

Indonesia © John Callahan

How did surf photography start for you?

I grew up in Hawaii, and rode my first wave on a big red "tanker" at Canoes in Waikiki in 1969. After I graduated from UCLA in 1986 as a College of Fine Arts major, I received photography advice and support from the late Larry "Flame" Moore at SURFING Magazine in California, which led to my becoming a major contributor to USA surf magazines for the next fifteen years.

Mauritania © John Callahan

Share with us something that most people do not know about surf photography.

The easiest thing to do in surfing action photography is to photograph good surfers riding good waves. It is much more difficult to photograph average surfers, or good surfers in messy waves. Fisheye water photography is 98% physical positioning in the water and 2% photographic skill or knowledge.


Indonesia © John Callahan

Share with us your heaviest experience in the surf or while travelling.

With our surfEXPLORE group, we have not had a major disaster or an incident where anyone has been seriously injured on our more than 25 surfEXPLORE projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas. We do plan carefully and avoid doing amateur or stupid things that can easily lead to accidents and at the same time, we have been lucky a few times!

On a recent project in The Philippines filming for television with Puzzle Media, we had been shooting all day at a distant reef break only accessible by boat. It was an hour or so back to port and as it was getting dark, a massive thunderstorm hit. Lightning flashes were everywhere and strong winds were rocking the boat, rain blowing sideways and ocean water was coming in over the sides. We bailed furiously to keep the boat from filling with rain and salt water and the Captain stayed cool, making slow but steady progress. We finally made it back to port well after dark, happy we did not have to swim for hours in the Pacific Ocean with our thousands of euros worth of camera and video equipment!


Gabbon © John Callahan

Name one photographic image you saw that changed the way you approach photography.

In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, ink on paper magazines had huge power and influence in the surfing world. Surfers saw as many images in six months in magazines as people do now in one day on their Instagram feeds. First bi-monthly then once a month, a new mag would drop with stunning images from great photographers. 

A friend of mine brought a new copy of SURFING to school one day at Punahou in Honolulu in early 1976. We opened it at lunch and pulled out the free poster in the middle of the magazine, a bottom turn shot of Mark Richards at Backdoor from the lens of Dan Merkel. I thought the surfing was really good, but I was interested in how the photographer had got such a unique shot!

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?

Yesterday! 3 July 2016 we broadcast the Philippines episode of our surfEXPLORE television series with Puzzle Media on the France O network, which is the culmination of a lot of time, effort and money from the surfEXPLORE group and Puzzle Media


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