Charlie Witmer

Article by Neal Kearney

 

Santa Cruz is packed with phenomenal surfers, and, in turn, a healthy crew of photographers who follow their movements, hoping to nail that elusive “shot.” One such photographer is Charlie Witmer, a man with a keen eye for action and composition. Witmer was born in Santa Barbara, but because his father was in the U.S. Air Force, he moved around quite often: the family zigzagged to Sacramento, Arizona, New York, Germany, and Delaware for eight years before moving back to the Santa Barbara area in 1970.

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Mornings reflections mixed with just the right amount of motion.

His father taught him to surf when he was 12 years old at the Indian River Inlet in Delaware. With the seed of surf stoke planted, Witmer continued riding waves as much as possible. Like most of us, at some point he had to leave the beach and establish a career, and he was hired as a firefighter/ paramedic in 1984. Because he worked full time when he got into photography, he gained more time to devote to his passion after retiring in 2011. Although he’s lived in the Watsonville/Freedom area for 30 years, he’s most often found shooting on the Westside. Waves caught up with the camera- wielder to learn about his process.

How did you get into surf photography?

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This beautiful green wave bats its eyelashes for tube hunter Austin Smith-Ford.

I surf and have always enjoyed those “mind images” I always seemed to freeze into my brain for later recall. I started taking images back in about 2007 with a cheap point and shoot. I wanted to get better at it, so I started accumulating more lenses and gear.

What other subject matter do you enjoy shooting?

I love shooting portraits, wildlife, landscapes, musicians, and just everyday objects—flowers and anything that catches my eye.

Have you had any mentors?

My friend David Pu’u encouraged me along the way and was very open about sharing his pearls of wisdom and tips. He believes in “raising the bar.”

Besides shooting photos every day, how else can one elevate his or her skills?

As long as a person in any art or work is willing to learn, there is always room for improvement. I think that helping others is the best way to improve yourself and raise the quality of content all artists should aspire to. So many folks have their “guarded secrets,” but really that’s very fleeting.

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Noah Wegrich shows he is no “one-trick pony,” drawing clean lines on his 70s single fin.

What are the trickiest aspects of photography for you?

Flash photography is my biggest challenge in terms of consistency and the “look” that I’m hoping to get. I would say the only downside to my photography passion is that I’m a bit obsessed with having a camera with me at almost all times. It’s hard to hide the eye rolls when we are just about to leave house and I say, “wait, I have to grab something,” and I return to the car with my [camera] bag.

Who are some of your favorite surfers to shoot?

I love shooting Adam Replogle because he is such a talented surfer with a high level of situational awareness. I like shooting Nat Young, Darshan Gooch, Austin Smith-Ford, Wilem Banks, and Noah Wegrich. There are many other talented and unnamed surfers, as well, but these are the first that came to mind. They all have the

Noah Wegrich shows he is no “one-trick pony,” drawing clean lines on his ’70s single fin.

What are the trickiest aspects of photography for you?

Flash photography is my biggest challenge in terms of consistency and the “look” that I’m hoping to get. I would say the only downside
to my photography passion is that I’m a bit ob- sessed with having a camera with me at almost all times. It’s hard to hide the eye rolls when we are just about to leave house and I say, “wait, I have to grab something,” and I return to the car with my [camera] bag.

Who are some of your favorite surfers to shoot?

I love shooting Adam Replogle because he is such a talented surfer with a high level of situ- ational awareness. I like shooting Nat Young, Darshan Gooch, Austin Smith-Ford, Wilem Banks, and Noah Wegrich. There are many other talented and unnamed surfers, as well, but these are the first that came to mind. They all have the skill, drive, and, just as importantly, the stoke that drives them and shows in their skill set.

What aspects of our coastline and geography make surf photography here unique?

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Witmer captures a unique angle under the lip at Steamer Lane.

We are blessed with one of the most beautiful coastlines on the entire planet. We have beach breaks, point breaks, jetties, and reefs that go off year round if you know where to go and are willing to travel a bit. Because of the way the Monterey Bay is set up, it’s often possible to have it be onshore on one side and offshore on the other. I prefer front-lit imag- ery, so you have to choose your shoot location carefully, along with all the other variables, but the Bay’s diversity often makes that possible. The dramatic backdrops of mountains, dunes, cliffs, and weather just add to the possibilities that make taking surf images, as well as any outdoor images, special.

Which is your all-time favorite surf photo from your own portfolio?

My all-time favorite surf image has not been taken yet, but an image I took of Darshan Gooch getting a nice shack on the Westside is as close as I’ve come. The lighting was perfect and he was standing so poised and natural looking.

Are there any other photographers who you look to for inspiration?

Certainly. Mike Healey, who has always been willing to share his knowledge with me, Neal Swanson, Dave [“Nelly”] Nelson, David Pu’u, Rick Puckett, Nick Borelli, Aaron Chang, and Ryan [“Chachi”] Craig. All of these guys are consistently putting out quality imagery and raising the bar for guys like me to aim for. I love the fact that we have so much local talent in sports and the arts.

 

 

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A self portrait.

 

 

Find Witmer online at f8surf.smugmug.com.

 


Melia


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