rob gilley

Crazy Larry

| posted on August 29, 2011

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

Behind-the-back trash-talk is a common practice among professionals. Valid or not, this kind of peer criticism is standard fare and a human reality. Politicians, actors, musicians, athletes, hairdressers—you name it—all constantly bitch about the next guy, and why he sucks.

This is just the way the world is.

Surf photographers are not immune to this reality. Take me, for example: even during my tenure as a supposedly unbiased photo editor, I still criticized and complained about other photographers without their knowledge. Often my complaints centered on the limitations of a specialized group of fisheye-specific water photographers.

I would now like to announce to the world that this particular criticism comes with an asterisk. An asterisk of respect. An asterisk of admiration.

If you’ve ever stood on the beach in Hawaii watching wide-angle water photographers shoot giant Pipeline, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s one thing to see a pretty picture of a place like Pipe, and another to experience it in person. The reef is shallow and treacherous, the lip is three feet thick, and the earth literally shakes. The impact zone is beyond heavy. People die here.

In fact, if you’re anywhere near the impact zone on a big day it would be perfectly understandable if you soiled your boardshorts.

And that’s just the left.

Big Backdoor is another story—because for as gnarly as Pipeline is, Backdoor can be even shallower, and more menacingly, has no channel. Negotiating a set here is akin to dodging a series of randomly shaped two-story buildings that are collapsing on an exit-less cement parking lot full of potholes.

And this is the place where some water photographers like to swim.

(Insert cuckoo clock noise here.)

These are the crazy gentlemen that I would now like to publicly take my hat off to, for their unmitigated courage. For their aqueous athleticism and bravery. For their complete abandonment of sanity.

I know these guys are insane because I know how much they get paid. They either have pathologically low self-worth, or they shoot with a fanatical love, because it’s pretty difficult to justify your sanity when you’re risking your life at $150 a page.

Unlike top-level professional surfers who garner high six-figure incomes, or even “B level” pros who still pull in salaries triple that of an inner city teacher, fisheye water photographers charge Pipe and Backdoor while getting paid squat.

There has been a tradition of psychotic, underpaid water photographers over the years, some highly intelligent, some not. Some of them include Bud Browne, Don King, Vince Cavataio, Chris Van Lennep, Eric Baesman, Jeff Flindt, Tim Jones, Pat Stacy, and Zak Noyle.

The recently retired Scott Aichner was possibly the craziest/bravest still water photographer in recent history, but there’s one guy who was swimming before, during, and after Scott’s time, and might just dangle nads larger than Scott’s…and he gets far less attention.

His name is Larry Haynes.

Larry has been around for so long, and is such a fixture on the North Shore, that he is taken for granted.

Let that end now.

Originally from Central California, Larry moved to Hawaii decades ago and never looked back. On every major swell for over 20 years, he has been swimming with a heavy water-housed movie camera in the heaviest conditions. And he does so with a refreshingly positive attitude and a huge smile on his face.

Larry has every reason to be bitter and condescending, but he’s not. He’s constantly stoked. He has been sand-bagged, double-crossed, and taken advantage of in the business world, but he keeps on spreading the aloha, and for that he should be highly praised.

To me, Larry is a precious character in the surf world and a living legend. I have seen him shooting wide-angle in-water film at giant closed-out Off The Wall, Backdoor, Maverick’s, Teahupoo, and Waimea. I once was in Australia with him when he shot wide-angle water movies at the sharky Easter Reef when the faces of sets were 25-foot. Before GoPro existed, Larry used to surf with a 10-pound camera attached to his head—a camera that would break your neck if the lip hit you unexpectedly.

The guy is a human bulldog.

Larry has used his athletic talent, considerable courage, and oceanic instinct to hold firm in the pit and then dodge potential catastrophes with the thinnest of margins for what seems like forever.

No one is paying Larry Haynes a salary or providing him with health insurance. He is a freelancer who shoots for the pure love of it, and has routinely put his life at risk hundreds of times.

There is no better measure of Larry’s dedication to his craft than the fact that he continues to shoot, even after the odds caught up with him several years ago at the Pipeline HIC Pro. What transpired that day is a story that may be hard for some to believe.

When you hear it, you have to consider the source, and also consider the lack of agenda on the part of the teller. For that reason, I believe every word of what Larry Haynes says happened to him:

“It was third reefing, and a big set swung wide.” Larry begins, “And a macker came so I dove down, and started hovering around the bottom, looking for a low point. I like to stay low. I found a crevice, and then BAM!”

Larry says what happened next can only be described in a series of “frames,” because that’s how it looks in his memory,

“So I look down at myself, and I can see my lower body and the bubbles and the light, but I ask myself, ‘How can I see myself when I can’t feel myself?’”

“In the next frame, I’m looking at a body floating there underwater, silhouetted in the light with bubbles all around. It’s me, but somehow I’m five feet behind myself.”

“Then I start to feel myself again, and I come up. All of a sudden Mark Cunningham is there swimming next to me, and he’s saying, ‘Are you alright?’ And then I’m looking around for my camera, and then I see why Mark was asking…my helmet was there, cracked into two pieces.”

Larry Haynes swims in the pit to get the ultimate shot, to provide the viewer with an intimate view of the sport we all love so much. Together with an elite crew of still photographers, he consistently puts his life on the line—not for piles of money, but for love of his craft, and for love of the ocean.

So what did Larry do after his brush with death at giant Pipeline? Go to the hospital?
Take a few months off to contemplate his life of risk taking?

No, Larry did what those of us who know him knew he would do.

He went back out after lunch.

Larry Haynes, nut job extrodinaire. Photo: Gilley

Larry working on a new angle and his neck muscles simultaneously, pre- GoPro. Photo: Gilley

Larry shoots Ross Williams on a relatively tame one. Photo: Gilley

  • Jack English

    Good read! Yeah Larry is a freak of nature! A few guy’s that come to mind Aaron Loyd, Darren Crawford and Daniel Russo.

    Take Care,

  • Johnny

    Great story Larry is awesome. I saw him in the unique and fantastic Documentary film “Fiberglass and Megapixels” and they way he described that story of near death was amazing.

  • Dane

    Larry is amazing and always is pushing the limits. To bad surf photographers and cinematographers dont get paid more for what they do.

  • Aaron

    What about that gnarly camera Larry’s been using for a few years now that weighs something like 50 pounds? He swims with that thing in any conditions. Larry is a legend. Good call Rob.

  • Stu Beef

    Larry is THE man! Balls of steel, humble heart, and hilarious personality. The real deal.

  • Zak

    Great article Rob, Larry is the man, he is so much fun always singing in the lineup and making jokes, when all you really want to do is focus on the 10 foot sets coming in towards you. Larry is a true legend stoked you did this on him.

  • Jeff Richards

    what happened to the EASTER REEF footage, aka 2 mile? that would be epic stuff, i think we all heard of the ‘no exposure’ stuff down there, wonder if he came in under that???

  • Carl Ackerman

    I’ve bought a bunch of JC Team rider footage from Larry.His shots are incredible and He still gave me a break on the price. I’ve never done business with a nicer guy. Rock On Larry….

  • Jeff Flindt

    Thanks for the article Gilley!! Larry is the man!!! I agree with Jack, Aaron Loyd, Crawford, and Russo should get mentioned. Cheers, Jeff

  • sky rondenet

    Yah Larry!!!! I miss hanging with you and the girls!

  • Greg Huglin

    Larry is the best water cinematographer alive and should be paid more than the pesos he works for. What a great attitude and what a cool person. Thanks Larry.

  • Mez

    Now THAT was some great story telling.
    Bravo Gilley and Larry H !

  • Murray Estes, CPA/surfer

    Larry came in yesterday at bowls after going over the falls on a close out set. I was shoot skateboarding in the 70s by Bud Browne movie Going Surfing and many times with Warren Bolster (Editor for skateboarder Mag). I have know a few people in this business.

    Larry always had the biggest smile even when he went over the falls yesterday at HUGE Ala Moana bowls. This guy has mana!



  • Christian Henning

    Larry RULES !!! I get to work with Larry’s footage all year round and as an Editor and Producer Larry always gets you the gems… and then some… by far the best watercam op i have ever worked with!!!!

  • Some Dude…

    Dark Horse, Forgotten Island, Whatever…The horse doesn’t care.
    Those who don’t lavish the limelight, so often deserve the credit.

  • Greg

    Wow, Larry is really highly thought of. I know nothing of any of this. Yet i can definitively state that this was absolutely the most positive commentary section I have ever read in any surf publication ever. And that is worth noting!! Hats off to Rob and Larry. That was downright uplifting…

  • Matt

    Larry is a North Shore legend, and gets plenty of respect around here.

  • Jeff Parker

    Having grown up surfing with Larry on the Central Coast of Cali, He has always had that smile on his face and the true stoke in his heart. Someone needs to pay this dude more money for what he does. Mahalo for finally giving credit where credit is due. He’s a true waterman…

  • Russell Blackwood

    Excellent article on Larry. I have wondered about this for years about this water horse. Thanks Rob for opening ours eyes about the unsung heros like him.

  • Crazy Larry

    I’m Crazy Larry from Banff, Alberta – Canada.
    The name is being legally changed to this nickname as hardly a soul in life now has called me Larry. When they do …I usually do not look.
    That would be like calling you Clifford when you real name is Larry Haynes.

    My comment however is that I will enjoy talking to Larry Haynes when he gets to contacting me for a nice chat about his photographic abilities. I’d love to learn some things…studying entomology photography and filming macro > extremely close up to the lens shots. Water photography would be nice to know as I’m also doing a water study on our local river which is slowly getting polluted and fish life changing.

    Thanks so very much for allowing me to post this so as to hope Larry might read this or get this and contact me on Facebook would be fine!

    Much appreciated!
    Crazy Larry


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