To say that Lucia Griggi has an enviable lifestyle is a bit like saying Jimi Hendrix was ‘good’ at playing the guitar. Lucia’s made her dreams a reality, courtesy of good old hard work and determination.
She relocated from Cornwall to California in 2010, but spends most of her year globetrotting – whilst photographing surfing, surf lifestyle and wildlife in some of the most beautiful locations around the world. Her client list includes Roxy, Vans, Red Bull, Land Rover and National Geographic, amongst others.
Most impressively however, is the freshness and energy she brings to her photography; she has a genuinely rare talent for emerging the viewer in a picture, as if you were there with her. We spent some time firing questions at the surf photographer extraordinaire and finding out what came first – a love of the water or a love of photography?
How did you get into surf and ocean photography?
The water was my first love. I was a swimmer at national level, training four hours each day, until I was 20. I then moved to Cornwall and learnt to surf. I embraced the beach lifestyle there, becoming a lifeguard and surf instructor. As this work is seasonal it’s common to spend the summer working, then travel during the winter months, which I did. During my first winter travelling I felt a little transient and felt like I needed a purpose, so I picked up a camera and started documenting my travels. Until then I had never been particularly interested in photography – I just fell into it this way.
How did you turn your passions into a career?
In 2007, my local newspaper, Newquay Voice, were the first to publish a photo I’d taken at a local surf contest and I went on to be given my own surf column there. At around the same time a few surf magazines started to publish some of my photos too. This progressed quickly and within two years surf photography had turned into a full time job, with me being brought onto the England Surf Tour as a photographer.
I spent many seasons on the North Shore of Oahu documenting surfing by land and sea – either shooting from the beach with a big telephoto lens, or swimming out at Pipeline to tell the stories of athletes like Kelly Slater, Lisa Anderson and all the other great North Shore specialists. Book assignments took me to California, where I took portraits of skate legends Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Tony Hawk and dozens of others. These book projects took me as far north as Seattle and as far south as the tip of Baja, and I am now based part of the year in California – surrounded by the surfing and skateboarding lifestyle. The key for me was, and still is, being passionate about it. You need to shoot what you want to be paid for shooting and eventually it will come.
You get to travel the world taking photos – a real dream job! Where are your favourite places to photograph?
I love Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean – I spend a lot of time there. It’s so rich in culture and the people are very hospitable. The Maldives is another favourite destination; fantastic clarity of water and great surf, food, culture and people. And, of course California, where I’m based is brilliant too – it supports my lifestyle. There are waves outside of my house, so I can surf everyday. But England will always be my home and I love it.
Where in the world are you at the moment and what projects are you working on?
I just shot an ad campaign for Arena Swimwear in Barcelona. Next I’m off to Lanzarote, shooting for Red Bull with an Italian athlete.
I’m also currently rebranding my business and branching out in a whole new way for the expeditions and workshops I’m now offering. The expeditions are particularly exciting as I’m going to be taking people off the beaten track to places that blew my mind. My Wild Trails in Sri Lanka is a wildlife expedition shooting big cats and I’m also offering Talalla, also in Sri Lanka, which covers travel, culture and surf. I’m also doing surf and travel in Morocco and surf in Newquay.
How did you come to start working for mainstream media, in addition to the surf and surf culture work you do?
Being on the road shooting surfing led me to a fork, where I began doing work for the mainstream media. Magazines such as National Geographic and companies like Jeep look to me for images and moments that have the look and feel of the adventure lifestyle. I work on commercial advertising assignments with a team of people all dedicated to providing clients with the highest quality images. For the past decade I have been travelling from England to California to Hawaii and around the world to document the adventure lifestyle – and inspire others to find their own path.
Is surf photography dangerous and are we right in thinking it requires a high level of personal fitness from the photographer?
If you’re shooting from the land with a telephoto lens then there’s no element of danger, but if you are shooting from the water then there is. Agility and strength are so important – I train three or four times a week with a swimming club to keep my strength up. The amount of energy behind a wave is enormous and you need to be ready for that, as well as rip currents and shallow razor-sharp reef. There is a certain element of risk working with Mother Nature and the waves. The sea is the sea and there’s not much you can do.
What do you love most about shooting from the water?
I love being up in the action. You feel like you’ve had a workout and you get to connect with the athlete in an ever-changing environment. It’s a unique thing; there’s nothing like it.
We love your images of wildlife underwater – how do you approach say a giant turtle without frightening it away?
You have to be mindful. Don’t touch or intimidate, try to become one with the animal. Slowly float behind, keeping in mind you are in their surroundings.
What’s it like to be part of the surf industry in a professional capacity?
Surfing in general has a hipster movement vibe; it’s very cool. It’s kind of like a tribe and in that way can be quite cliquey; no one wants to surf overcrowded waves. It’s a tight-knit community but on tour it expands out to media and fans and everyone is really friendly. It’s a great thing to be a part of something that’s in between work and play. It’s the funky, cool lifestyle a lot of people crave.
What advice would you give to aspiring ocean photographers?
Get out there and do it. It’s competitive but there’s still plenty of room. Shoot something you are passionate about and it’ll last.
See more of Lucia’s work and find out more out her workshops and expeditions at www.luciagriggi.com.
If you enjoyed this interview, you might also fancy reading our interview with travel photographer Brandon from Eye and Pen.