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Involuntarily Airborne

`Call me Ishmael,'' said the narrator of ``Moby Dick,'' the epic fable of man, sea, and whale penned by Herman Melville in 1851.

``Call me [Rescue] 911,'' says this modern counterpart, caught in his own saga of man, sea, and whale-of-a-wave by Monitor photographer Robert Harbison off the coast of Oahu last August.

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If you think the photo seems disorienting from the perspective of your comfortable reading chair, put yourself in the airborne scuba flippers of this upside down, spread-eagle surfer from Hawaii.

He looks like Jacques Cousteau going skydiving; his 180-degree twist of perspective puts land above, sky below, while the vortex of water wants to swallow him like a spider going out with the bathtub water. Unceremoniously flipped into a medium (air) where arms, legs, and frog feet are temporarily of no avail, this involuntary aerobat seems intent on a terrestrial goal - making it back to earth before the wave that curls above him does.

To frame this subject perfectly, Harbison did not have to leave earth, or even the nearby parking lot of this East-Oahu beach. On assignment together in the Aloha State, we pulled into the seaside park midafternoon on a sleepy Sunday to see a handful of surfers straddling their half-size ``boogie'' boards, arms churning like eggbeaters to propel themselves out to greet incoming waves.

After we parted for just minutes, Harbison came running, agog and agiggle with a rush of delight that possibly only full-time photographers can appreciate.

``I got one halfway through a 360 [degree flip],'' he said, ending what might have been a full afternoon wait for the perfect shot by tossing his equipment into the back seat of our car. The look on Harbison's face and the definitive kerplop of his bag both suggested, ``This shoot is a wrap.''

Days later, transparencies confirmed his hope: a perfect composition not only for subject, background, focus, and color but also for the story it freezes at the protagonist's darkest moment.

Not to worry, however. Melville's Capt. Ahab may have met his end battling leviathans of the deep. This surfer, according to Harbison, merely landed on his.

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