More than 13,000 votes were cast during our 2011 Photo of the Year contest, and Oahu’s Zak Noyle came out on top. Zak captured a rare moment at Teahupoo through his fisheye lens, combining barrels, blue water, sunlit mountains and a full freaking rainbow that seems too good to be true. With Christian Redongo as his alibi, voters found Zak to be fully deserving of this honor.
Congratulations on your 2011 Photo of the Year.
Thank you so much, that’s amazing! It was crazy, I was trying to get all my friends to vote and to pump it up everywhere. I wanted everyone to at least see it, and vote how they wanted to, you know?
Talk us through the shot.
That was a trip that I took [to Tahiti] with Red Bull to film a project called Momentum. I went down with Jamie O’Brien, Jesse Merle-Jones, and Travis Watanabe. We were there for a week filming, and it was a documentary on myself and what motivates me.
It was an amazing afternoon with just my friends out in the water. There were five guys in the water with pristine conditions. It wasn’t huge, but I saw that rainbow forming. I was shooting fisheye, and I was quite close in, so I kind of kicked back toward the channel and framed it up like that. It was just a quick moment, it only lasted for two waves, and it just happened to be a setup.
That surfer who’s in the shot, Christian Redongo, was one of the guys who were staying at the same place as us. He helped with the boats and water safety and everything else for us, and he was just having a quick surf. He’s a good friend, and from Hawaii also, which is pretty cool.
I feel like it’s so special to get a shot with someone who is not necessarily Kelly Slater or Dane Reynolds and it can go so far. It really shows it’s the best shot that wins, it doesn’t need to have a star name tacked on to it in order to be noticed or appreciated.
Did you know instantly when you took the shot that you had something special?
I didn’t know how good it was. I saw it and was like, “Oh, that was sick.” I didn’t really say too much, I saw how it formed and how he stood up. All the elements just came together at that point.
I went back to the SURFER office and showed [Photo Editor] Grant [Ellis], and he was like, “Oh, this is amazing.” It took me awhile to see it, because I was looking at it so many times down there, to realize it was something special and different.
How do you feel about your competition, the other photographers and photos you were up against?
Those are some of the best photographers in the world, and the best photos, literally, of the year. I think everyone’s shit is amazing!
I love that shot of Bruce that Todd Glaser shot—it’s one of my favorite photos of all time. I’m so jealous that I didn’t shoot it. When I see a photo that I really like I get jealous that I didn’t get to shoot it—I mean I’m stoked for Todd, I love Todd and he’s a good friend—but the fact is that I’m jealous. I’m like, “damn, I wish I was there.” That shot is something I wish I could say was my own. I just think it’s amazing. And Burkard’s shot as well—I love his backlit stuff, it’s amazing.
How does this wrap up your 2011?
I’m stoked, it was an amazing year. A lot of things happened in my favor, but I think it’s going to be an even better year in 2012. I couldn’t have done this without my family and friends. I have such a good support team of friends and family that put this out to help me, for the world to see. I think that’s just amazing that they do that for me, for the love.
Tell us about your recent photographic adventures with your iPhone.
When I saw that the iPhone was coming out with an 8-megapixel camera, I instantly flashed to my first camera, which was a 20D, and that was 8-megapixel. I thought, “Why is this any different?”
You gotta keep thinking differently, and in this world everyone wants everything instantly. It used to be like, “Wait a week until I get the film back, then I’ll mail it to you.” Now it’s like, “Hey Zak, you shot Pipeline today? Email me all the high-res photos tonight so we can have it on the site tomorrow or in the mag next week.”
I just put two and two together. People want to see this instantly. You’re not going to get the crazy shots, the camera will always rule, but you can send a photo instantly and have it uploaded, which is unreal. I’ll be sitting out at Jaws instantly uploading shots to Instagram and Twitter, and I’m pretty sure no one has done that before. I really am going to explore more and keep working—my real camera is always going to be the priority, but the fact that I take a second one out there in my pocket and get something different is what I’m going to keep trying to do. There are so many possibilities I don’t even think we’ve touched on yet.