surfing at ocean beach, san francisco, by jack bober

Shooting Steamrollers: Jack Bober’s San Francisco Surf Photography

Words by Mat Arney & images by Jack Bober



San Francisco’s Ocean Beach has a heavy reputation. Raw ocean energy, cold water, shifting peaks and a sometimes never-ending paddle out are at the top of the list, not an exhaustive list. It’s an intimidating place to surf, let alone to swim out to shoot photos. Marin County resident Jack Bober crosses the Golden Gate Bridge regularly to shoot at Ocean Beach, swimming with his camera when the conditions allow and finding some captivating angles and compositions when forced to stay dry and take photographs from the shore. With the recent run of swells spinning across the North Pacific through the first few weeks of 2021, Jack has been busy and racked up quite the bill in bridge tolls. Busy, because as well as shooting back-to-back swells, this seventeen year old is also still in high school – a fact that makes the gallery of images that follows even more impressive.

 

Surf Simply caught up with Jack at the end of January to get the inside story behind some of the incredible photographs he’s captured over the last year or so.

This photo was taken at this novelty spot under the Golden Gate Bridge. It isn’t necessarily the best wave to surf, but it is pretty surreal to be under the bridge like that. Extremely tough to stay in the spot due to the currents that the bay produces and when the waves do come in, they’re not more than a couple of turns long until you’re on some rocks. Sure makes for a pretty picture though!

The waves on this day were huge. Only a handful of guys were surfing along the beach and even fewer were actually catching waves. The conditions were really challenging with the occasional 20 foot wave coming through. It wasn’t a very nice day either. It was quite foggy, making taking photos from land rather tough, so I decided to fly the drone in the hope of getting a unique angle and showing the true power of the waves. I think at one point I was only 15 feet above the water. I almost lost my drone while taking this photo, but luckily came away with this and my drone didn’t drown.

This photo is of local SF surfer Charlie Vaughan. I’ve seen him out there a few times this winter and it always seems like he’s on the bigger waves of the day. This day in particular was especially heavy. We were just on the end of a huge swell that had been hitting the beach for a few days. When I got to the beach I didn’t think it would be much as I thought the swell had died a lot, but while I watched it, these perfect 8-10 foot sets were rolling through and just pitching onto the outer sand bar. The swim on this day wasn’t too bad as there was quite a large channel that made taking photos relatively easy, except for the few rogue sets that I got caught by. When I saw this one on the horizon I was hoping someone would go, and sure enough, Charlie started to scratch into it. The wave stood up so tall and there was no way anybody could have made the drop. Charlie’s board got out from under his feet and he did a huge airdrop. He almost stuck it but instead took a huge beating. 90% of the time, that’s how it goes at Ocean Beach.

[Left] The surfer in this image is my buddy Elijah Horwitz. This day was not huge by any means, but it had some power to it. The waves were around 4-6 and were breaking on the inside bar making for some super round hollow barrels. For a brief 20 minutes, this sandbar started to turn on and Elijah pretty much had it to himself. He caught about four waves and then it was gone like it never existed.

[Right] This photo was taken with a drone during a swell that seemed like it lasted for weeks. The sets were coming in perfectly in 4-5 wave sets, and I decided that the best way to show this was from the air. As you can see in the photo, the sets are stacked up and I think it really shows the feeling of being out in the water and seeing a huge set come out of nowhere.

This is a photo of coastal fog coming over a hilly ridge. Something very unique to the bay area is that we get this coastal fog between the months of April to September and every once in a while when it comes at the right angle and there is enough fog, it creates this phenomenon called “fog waves”. This photo was taken with a 30-second long exposure to help show the movement of the fog and how fast it was moving.

For this photo, I was in the exact spot where you do not want to be. Getting caught inside at Ocean Beach is one of the most humbling experiences that one can go through. Seconds after I shot this photo I was pushed to the bottom and was held under for what felt like minutes (was probably only 10 seconds or so). I feel like this image was more luck than anything, I was using a 50mm lens and if you are in this spot you normally want a fisheye lens, but I had to use what I had. The surfer in this image, Andrew Foster, got one of the waves of the day and I was stoked that I captured it, even though I took quite the beating.

Taken back in January 2020 on a day where the waves were perfect from sunup to sundown. I remember getting out of my car and walking over the sand dunes and being in awe. Huge 10-15 foot a-frames were breaking all along the beach and there were a few crazy surfers giving it a go. I never got this surfer’s name, but I am sure this was one of the best rides of his life.

A much more manageable day. The waves were around 4-5 foot and a bunch of the local surfers were having a field day, trading off waves all day. Here is Alex Tureck on one of the many barrels that the guys were pulling into.

Taken on MLK day in 2020. This day was unreal, the conditions were flawless and the swell was perfect. The day before this Ocean Beach was almost flat, but overnight the swell filled in and created what you are seeing in this photo.

Taken at Mavericks on what was called the swell of the decade. I was unable to get on a boat, so I decided that I’d shoot from the land. For the majority of the day, it was quite foggy and not great for photos, so I sort of waited it out and scouted around for compositions. The fog lifted for around 20 minutes and this is what I was welcomed with.

I had a photo like this in mind for a long time. It needs to be pretty big to be able to see the waves and it is tough to have it line up with a street. For this photo, I stood in the middle of the road dodging cars and hoping that nobody would hit me when the sets showed up.

 

You can see more of Jack’s work (and order prints) on his website at www.jackboberphoto.com, or give him a follow in Instagram @jackboberphoto to regularly get more of the above.


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