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Gulmarg

About 8 years ago a friend of mine lent me a ski DVD he had just bought in the summer. I had just moved from Hong Kong to England and even though I had been skiing for 14 years I didn't know that ski DVD's existed! The name of the movie was "The Tangerine Dream" and was the catalyst for my ski movie addiction and travelling the world in search of an adventure. 

Amongst the many mind boggling segments, the one that stood out to me the most was when Micah Black, Dash Longe and co visited Gulmarg, India. The place looked wild, the people looked friendly and on top of all that, the snow looked out of this world! And this February, 8 years later, my brother, a group of friends and myself were on a plane and heading to this dream destination.

Before getting to Gulmarg, we spent a day in New Delhi to experience the craziness of India that we'd been told about. They said it was wild, and it was nothing short of that! 10 minutes after getting picked up from Delhi Airport our taxi took a wrong turn off the highway and instead of trying to find a way back on in the right direction, the driver stopped, did a 3 point turn, and headed back down the opposite side of the highway, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic until we were back on track. He then asked for our hotel phone number so he could get directions. Yes, he did say he knew where the hotel was when he picked us up, but after fighting for our services with 5 other taxi drivers at the airport, I'm sure he was bluffing, just like all the others!  2 minutes on the phone and he hands it over to my brother. "Yup", "OK", "Uh Huh", "OK", is all I hear until my brother hands it back and says, "So Obama is in town and is staying in the same district as our hotel, soo... the whole area is shut down and we need to find a new hotel." Cheers Obama. By this time it is 11.30pm and we just want to get to bed. 100% sure the hotel we just checked into has ripped us off, the alternative of looking for another just doesn't seem worth it.

The next day we set off around Delhi to take in some of the sights, the highlight being Old Delhi, which is India in a nutshell. Traffic, thousands of people, monkeys on the street, people showering on the road or hassling you in the street, cobras, temples, shops selling weird and wonderful things, the list goes on. We went the the Red fort, a few other temples, which were all nice, but really we just enjoyed getting stuck into the chaos. 


The following day we set off for Gulmarg. The journey from Srinigar Airport to the mountain was unlike any other ski mountain road we'd travelled. We wove in and out of crowds of people going who knows where, in between dogs, cows and horse carriages and past members of the Indian army posted on the corner, of every road, building, farmhouse and rice field. By the time we got to the bottom of Gulmarg we thought we had pretty much seen it all until family of monkeys ran across the road. When we arrived in Gulmarg, however, our fears were confirmed -  there was barely any snow on the ground. 3 weeks prior to leaving we'd received an email from our accommodation explaining that they were having the worst ski season for a long time and they had no snow. But we were there now and couldn't back out, but as a few storms were forecast we were hopeful.

The 1st day we spent skiing over rocks and trees. Our skis got f*cked, moral was at an all time low and I was questioning leaving. That night though, it dumped, and continued to dump for the next 2 days. It wasn't enough to cover all the rocks and twigs completely but was enough to have a good time! When it dumps you can't go up the hill as the avi risk is way too high so you stay down the bottom. This is fine as you take hot laps with a van you hire for the day. You either ski Bababreshee, which is the forest you see on the drive up to Gulmarg or Monkey Hill which you skin to. Both are awesome tree runs with a ton of pow. With more snow cover, these places would be epic in a big snow storm.

After the snow stopped, the whole place became bluebird and stayed that way till the next storm (which only took 4 days to come). After the storm ski patrol bombed the upper mountain so you could only get about three-quarters of the way up the mountain. You can get some awesome skiing off the lift but when you start skinning away, that where it gets good! You will get fresh lines all day, long pitches, tree runs, cliffs all with perfect weather. The snow for us, however, was quite heavy straight after the snowfall. We were told that its normally much lighter but this season has not been good for them at all. Thankfully after a few days it got colder and the snow got better.

Due to the lack of snow, avi danger was high and the 2nd gondola was only opened on our last day (2 days after the 2nd storm which brought about 50cm). If you can get up here though, its incredible. You're not advised to go out of bounds, but everybody does and this is where we got the best snow - deep and light. However, its pretty scary out there as you can hear avi's happening around you. We were just standing a 50m traverse from the gondola when ground beneath us did a huge "whomp" and it felt like we'd dropped about a foot. Needless to say I'm glad I was wearing black pants instead of white... The guides, however, were pretty unfazed so we carried on, but very slowly and very carefully. It was all worth it when we got past the first scary ridge -  it was heaven - the best run of the trip. 

We stayed in a local hut right by the hill. The staff were the most hospitable people I've ever met at a ski resort and the food was beyond incredible. We had fires to keep up warm at night but they went out at around 3 or 4am (unless you kept adding wood) so you would often wake up pretty damn cold. If I was to go back I would stay here again, much better than a hotel other than appalling wifi and having to shower out of a bucket -  but thats the whole fun of it right?

To sum it up. When it snows... it really snows. There are no small, 5cm days, its always big so you will ski at the bottom in the trees where there is plenty of snow. When its stops you can ski the middle in bluebird where the best runs require you to skin. After the ski patrol have bombed for a couple days the top gondola may be opened and then the options are endless. You just have to be really safe then and have a guide with you the whole time, preferable two for safety and for filming.

However, why read this when you can watch a video...

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Bali, Lombok Surf Trip

If anybody mentions that they are going to Bali, the default reaction has to be envy. It doesn't matter whether the plan is to party out in Bali's well documented night club "Sky Garden", where tourists prefer to fuel their stay by the quantity of beers they down rather than the number of waves they can catch; or whether the aim is the 'Eat, Love, Pray' scenario, if you're going to Bali you're heading for paradise;  white beaches, stunning scenery, breathtaking sunsets, and guilt free alcoholic beverages at 12 noon. For me and my friend Ciaran, however, Bali means surf. Perfect surf. Surf that it so perfect that when the wave unfurls ahead of you it offers more options than your brain can compute. Even a bad wave is better than your best wave back home and this couldn't be more true for us coming from Hong Kong where the waves don't pack too much of a punch.

This trip was my third trip to Bali, but the first that I would consider being a "surf" trip. The aim was to cram in so much surf that we'd need a holiday by the end of it!  Amazing though Bali is, for the first week, we decided to head off in search of somewhere a little more off the beaten track, somewhere quieter that wouldn't offer much else if surfing wasn't your bag. For this, we jumped on a four hour public ferry heading for the island of Lombok. The ferry runs every hour, 24hours a day and costs just HK$25. For HK$500 you could opt for the high speed exclusive 1 hour ferry but when the public ferry throws in non stop Indonesian karaoke for free and provides plastic coated 4 foot benches for a good night's sleep, the choice is a no brainer! 

We stayed at Kuta Beach, from where is was easy to access nearly all the surf spots and just busy enough to be called a village. We hired mopeds, hooked up our boards and headed off along roads and dirt tracks that hugged the coast, past farms and through fields to Grupuk, the island's main surf area. Grupuk has 3 breaks; Insides, Outsides and Don Dons. Don Dons was an A-Frame but the other two were perfect right handers and the whole bay boasted a consistent swell. Most notable for us was Insides where the waves were just super playful; not too big, nor too small but just enough to enjoy some great turns, carves and if you possessed the skill, airs.

However we weren't the only people who got the memo and Grupuk was really busy so it was a constant battle to grab a wave all to yourself! 

Grupuk giving a new meaning to a "Party Wave"

Local finding space in-between the crowds to punt an air reverse.

Due to high winds Outsides was never working for us but we did get to try Don Dons. It was just smaller than Insides but the A-Frame made split the crowd so despite the numbers it seemed less busy. It was a fun wave but could have done with more size.

Gliding into perfection

Back at Kuta Beach a fellow surfer joined us over a cold beer and started waxing lyrical about a magical wave called Maui that was almost free of line ups. Like in all good fairytales, however, he warned us of the surprise monster sets that occasionally crept up and cleaned everyone out and added that Maui broke over a shallow, very sharp reef. We had to go and investigate but it was with a degree of nervousness and in trepidation that we set out on our mopeds the next day.

We arrived at lunchtime, just as the tide was at its lowest and parts of the reef were sticking out, jagged and threatening.  There were about 4 people in the water and the waves were much bigger than Grupuk. We thought it wise to wait until the tide started to come up, and cover some of the coral, but as the guys coming in were raving about it so much we threw caution to the wind and paddled out.  For the first 10 minutes we were the only two in the water and it was amazing. The bay was fringed with dramatically carved hillsides, birds were circling above then diving into the crystal clear water to catch the fish squirming beneath, and of course there were perfect waves on tap. The first wave I caught was just a small one as I was a bit hesitant about reef below.  As you glided across the smoothest, glassiest wave you could see the brilliant colours and patterns of the coral just feet below. Despite its beauty, you did not want to fall as it would quickly change from your best friend to your worst enemy tearing and ripping at your feet and limbs. However after just one wave my fears had completely disappeared so when the next bomb set came though, I was paddling furiously to get on it. The drop was the biggest I've ever experienced and the adrenaline was coursing though me. After a couple turns I kicked out of what I claimed at the time to be "The best wave I've ever caught!". The session went on perfect wave after perfect wave, till sundown when we called it a day; and what a day it was.  

Solitude in Mawi

A week down and we already felt we had peaked having surfed the best waves of our lives. However, it was time to head back to Bali for the remainder of the trip and try to top Lombok. First on the list was Canggu, a beach break up the west coast of Bali, which hosted some medium size waves with a punch. It wasn't my best session of the trip but I saw others accomplish some great surfing and even a few unexpected barrels. We stayed till sunset and true to form in Bali, the sunset was sublime.

Next up was Balangan. Before the trip I'd had it on good authority that this was the longest, cleanest and most exhilarating fun wave around for someone like me to try. With a resume like that we had to go check it out. It was low tide again when we arrived, so the reef was only a few feet below and getting out to the line-up looked a challenge in itself. I sat at one of the bars eying up the wave for a while debating whether or not I wanted to go out, as at that point didn't look like "the longest, cleanest, most exhilarating fun wave in Bali," plus nobody in the bar was raving about it.  But, I was there, and I wasn't going to waste a day sitting around and as Ciaran had already decided to brave it, I took up the gauntlet and paddled out. In true fashion, mother nature decided to turn the switch and give me what I had come all that way for. Thirty minutes into the session I caught my second wave. It was big, daunting, but I was in the perfect spot. Paddling as hard as I could I glided onto the face, set myself and searched down the wave to pick out my line. The wave was so faultless that all I wanted to do was stay on and ride it for as long as possible so that's exactly what I did. It must have taken me nearly the complete length of the beach as I kicked out over about a foot of reef. Ciaran, who because I'd been gone so long, thought I must have bailed and got thrown onto the reef, saw me paddling back, the furthest surfer away, with the biggest grin on my face. That wave just about made the trip, but it didn't stop there. Earlier from the bar I'd seen people tucking into, hollow, barrelling waves. Barrels are to surfers what neck deep powder is for skiers and gives you a feeling that can only be explained when you have experienced it for yourself. Two waves after the ride of my life I saw my chance for my first ever barrel. As I looked down the wave I saw the lip of the wave peeling in front of me. I took a high line, grabbed my rail to keep balanced and then it happened. I was inside the wave getting barrel vision for the first time ever. Sadly, about a second or so later the wave caught up with me and I took a real pummelling on the reef. But It didn't matter that I didn't make the wave, because it was the first wave I'd ever experienced on a surfboard inside a barrel and I can finally understand the addiction. 

Walking across Balangan reef at low time during sunset.

Can you see those sets coming in? Flawless

As much as we wanted to surf all day everyday, the body takes a real pounding and we needed a few hours off now and again, so on our down days we took the time to explore Bali and Lombok. Using the trusty scooter we set off with only a pretty vague plan of where we we heading. Lombok, a much less developed island made exploration a dream. Every road, path, beaten down track lead you to another spectacular part of the island. I found myself stopping every five minutes to take a photo until I realised we wouldn't get past the first village if I kept this up. 

Driving off into the sunset

Off the beaten on track enough for you? 

So, our last day in Bali was upon us and we had an all time favourite spot we wanted to revisit, Airport Reef. We had been there a few times already and discovered that in the morning the wind was non existent and the water perfectly smooth and clear. We fancied doing a sunrise session and being fairly close to our accommodation, it was easy enough to get there before six. The first hour of the session I spent with my camera and snapped a few shots that I'm personally very proud of, then ditching it for my board I quickly snagged a wave. By this point, the word "perfect" was becoming hackneyed but no less relevant.  An hour longer and a few rides later, we were heading back to land in for the last time and I thought to myself, "nailed it". 

Beautiful Airport Reef

Oh, its so beautful :)

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Big Wave Bay 21st September 2014

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Big Wave Bay 21st September 2014

This weekend was top drawer for HK surfing! 2 days off brilliant waves just before the winter season starts again. Nothing beats surfing great waves in boardies. 

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Surfing Typhoon Kalmaegi

Typhoon Kalmaegi hit Hong Kong and a Typhoon 8 signal went up. This meant wind speeds up to 159kmh, heavy rain that caused floods and landslides, as well as shutting down schools and businesses.

With these high winds also comes a big swell and Hong Kong’s surfers took full advantage of the situation since the summer seas are normally flat. So when a swell arrives you can guarantee Hong Kong surfers will be frothing at the mouth for what is in store. 

Typhoon Kalmaegi is the only second typhoon I’ve surfed in and a first for one on Lantau Island, where during a summer typhoon the beaches get better wind and swell direction than during the winter months. Two years ago it was Shek O beach on Hong Kong Island that I surfed during a rather weak T8. 

At 5:30 a.m. I woke up, packed and ready from the night before and had a quick breakfast to fuel up. In reality though, I never went to sleep as I was too excited and throughout the night all the doors and windows in my flat were rattling and whistling at me, the wind outside was so strong I could barely hear myself think. At 6:30 a.m. I set off in the car, picking up my friend Bryant, who like me was suffering from a lack of sleep, and headed for Lantau Island, the roads empty of other vehicles but full of debris from trees, garbage, and other loose items. Stoke was high.

When we arrived at Poi O beach, Lantau it was raining, the winds were still howling but the waves were only medium sized. Compared to the harbor during a typhoon where water is being churned around in such a small area having nowhere really to go, Poi O beach is much more open so you don’t get the same washing machine effect. Water has more room to move around and so the seas are calm (apart from the perfect sets of waves making their way towards you). The first hour in the water was tough, paddling into waves blind, as rain pelted you in the face. However, after only an hour, the winds subsided, the water calmed, but the waves were building. By 10:00 a.m. we were surfing clean overhead-sized waves all the way to the beach. It was so awesome and you could see the enjoyment on everybody faces. This lasted until about 12:00 p.m., when the swell started to die down. At this point, after almost 4 hours in the water, I was shattered, so I decided to get the camera out and take some snaps. I really should have done it earlier as the pics I got really don't do justice to the morning waves. Luckily Alec, who we met down on the beach, is a great surfer, so he made these little waves look a ton of fun. 

While people think we’re crazy to surf during a typhoon, it really isn't as mad as most people think. Waves in places like Bali, Australia, and Hawaii are twice, three times, or more the size of our typhoon waves, but because that’s the norm there and it’s nice and sunny, nobody thinks twice about it. Surfing in a typhoon isn't crazy but you should certainly take into consideration your own abilities and not paddle out if you are in doubt. The waves are still big enough that you can take a beating or two and that’s never fun but when you catch that bomb of a wave it’s totally worth it!

 

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On The Road

Recently, I took a trip to California with 3 of my friends from University. We had been planning this trip for a while now, so when the time came excitement levels were at an all time high. As I live in Hong Kong, seeing my mates again from England was an extra bonus to the trip as I haven't managed to persuade any of them to come to HK yet. 

Our trip was a bit of a weird one. As we had a wedding to go to, it threw off a straight forward route and we ended up backtracking ourselves sometimes. This didn't really affect us too much though. We flew into LAX were we spent a couple days in LA. Our route from then was LA > San Diego > San Luis Obispo > Big Bear > Death Valley > Las Vegas > LA. Each Journey took a minimum of 4 hours with our longest trip being almost 12 hours. However even though each journey was long, just driving in California was one of the highlights. The landscape, roads, views we saw on the road were some of the best I've ever seen. Below are a collection of photos all taken while on route to a new destination.

LA > San Diego

San Diego > San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo > Big Bear

San Luis Obispo > Big Bear

San Luis Obispo > Big Bear

San Luis Obispo > Big Bear (Photo taken by Dan Pickles)

Big Bear > Death Valley

Big Bear > Death Valley

Big Bear > Death Valley

Death Valley

Death Valley > Las Vegas

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How shooting from the water has opened up a whole new side of photography for me

Recently, I have been shooting a ton from the water. Whether it be treading water shooting surf, on a boat or from a stand-up paddle-board I have been getting out there and taking photos. I've been able to do this with my new CMT Water Housing shown below. I will do another post shortly talking exclusively about the CMT Housing and why it was my choice when deciding which one to buy.

5D Mark III CMT Water Housing with 16-35mm Port Attached and 50/85mm Port next to it.

5D Mark III CMT Water Housing with 16-35mm Port Attached and 50/85mm Port next to it.

Originally when I bought the housing it was for all my surf adventures, as I've always felt being on land shooting has limited me as well as removed myself from the action. Being in the water, inches away from the surfers as they shoot by me is such a rush and being able to capture these moment is just too much fun. Inspired by many surf photographers I follow, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself a housing and I'm so glad I did. 

Not only has the housing allowed me to take close up action shots of surfers but its made me think of other ways I can take advantage of being able to bring my camera into the water and get images I would never previously have got. As Hong Kong is so damn hot in the summer my time is often spent in or around the ocean when all you and your friends want to do it be outside, hopefully soaking in the sun and messing about. Before I had to leave my camera behind and miss the action, but now I no longer have to.

Below are a selection of my favourite shots taken from Hong Kong waters, be it surf, standup paddle-boarding, dragon boating, local HK fishing boats or mini 6" waves. Hope you enjoy

Big wave bay, Hong Kong - Although the waves were small that day, everyone made the most of it

Love this shot as he is pointing straight at me down the line. We were very close but he whizzed past me no problem

LaSing Yu with a relaxed bottom turn

Paddle boarding with Ciaran Danielis. First time and already looking like a pro

Heading back in at the end of a session

Steve West navigating over some shallow rocks. 

I love this one as it make me think of an "endless summer". The weather was perfect that day.

One of my favourite photos from the water. Local fishermen battling the wet and wild conditions off from Stanley beach

Local HK dragon boat team training

Over under shot. This shot cracks me up for obvious reasons

Mini 6 Inch waves. Summer surf is pretty non-existent in HK so got to find other ways to entertain yourself. 

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