Surf the world’s most extraordinary waves with drone videos

Image: Vimeo screenshot, Eric Sterman
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Who wants to watch Martha Stewart’s garden grow and lavish American wedding parties when aerial photographers are capturing surfers on mountainous swells with drones? Hawaii-based photographer Eric Sterman used a GoPro camera attached to a DroneFly Phantom 2 quadcopter to shoot surfers take on towering waves during two days at Jaws —one of the world’s most famous surf breaks, on Maui’s north shore. (We highly recommend you watch this on full-screen mode.)

“This perspective allows you to understand and appreciate surfing even more,” Sterman tells Quartz, explaining that he flies the drone as close to the wave as the elements will allow—salt spray and high winds are the biggest challenges—and that surfers’ reactions have been only positive so far. “This new perspective wasn’t possible just a few years ago, and for everyone too see it now is just unreal.”

As with any new technology, clear rules of etiquette have yet to emerge surrounding the use of drones. In some ways, a quadcopter buzzing around a peaceful surf session sounds highly irritating. That said, footage like Sterman’s might someday replace photos and videos previously available possible for photographers with access to helicopters, which are arguably far more obtrusive—and less efficient—than drones.

But surfers have a strong tradition of creating codes of conduct, as filmmaker Pat Myers told Surfer magazine. ”We already have similar concepts in place in the lineup when it comes to catching waves,” he said. “I’d like to see the same unwritten laws be created for drones, because we’re on the brink of the boom.”

There are also legal considerations. It’s currently against the law to fly a drone for commercial purposes in the US. According to Surfer, some drone-flying documentarians get around those laws by instead charging clients for editing the footage, rather than shooting the film. It’s unclear whether Sterman was paid for this particular video, but if he charged for the edit, the money was well spent. Sterman’s audio score (which allows for sounds of thundering waves), shots of surfers on the rocky shoreline and variable speeds of footage create a momentous feel—more so than any aerial wedding video we’ve yet to see.