The surf looks so-so. Marginal at best. Dribbly. Overcast. A pesky wind blows cold, damp air from the south with an annoying little sense of entitlement. Blah.
Then I see him. A small left rolls in and he pops to his feet, finds a little speed on his custom Pavel fish, floats over the section and magically disappears into the smallest tube ever. And like a rabbit… he pops out of the hole.
I scratch my head and smile. I know he’s going to look into the beach in 3, 2, 1… quick glance. I put my two hands up, giving him a perfect 10. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I gave him anything less. Point being, the guy puts everything he has into everything he does.
Todd Glaser is one of those guys that can change a room. He’s not loud. He’s not arrogant. He really doesn’t need to be. A little man with a big heart and unparalleled knack for capturing some of the world’s best surf photographs, Todd has quietly become one of the most respected people in our local community and his reputation precedes him globally.
Glaser in his element…
pc: Steve Sherman
He’s been around the world tenfold: Fiji, Indonesia, Chile, Tahiti, Puerto Rico, Australia and Mexico to name a few. But Hawaii has been a “go to” for most of Todd’s life now and what started as a wave riding destination has ended up a second home and quintessential part of his photography career.
A San Diego native, Todd took his first trip to Hawaii when he was 10. By 13, he put in his first season on the North Shore and shared a 1BR house with four groms near Waimea Bay. “We separated the one room with sheets, so we each had our own little space. We didn’t care. We were just groms surfing as much as possible and living off of Musubi, scrambled eggs, Ramen, cereal and frozen pizza. Believe it or not, I was afraid of poke back then!”
Todd eventually received classic training at Brooks Institute of Photography and continued to pursue his passion, as well as develop his relationship with the North Shore. He pushed his limits in critical surf and took a camera wherever he went. And now that it’s a home away from home, there’s always that moment. You know… you’re waiting for that plane to touch down and your stomach begins to rumble. The moment when you start thinking of that very first thing you’re going to attack. “No question – Kahuku Superette is stop #1 for poke. I used to fear it; now I crave it. There are a few really good new food trucks in Haleiwa, especially a Thai truck that makes insane Pad Thai and an amazing burger truck that char-grills a spicy burger. If I’m hungry I do the spicy burger AND a dog with BBQ chips. If I have a long trip and starting missing Mexican food, I drive into Wahiawa and eat at El Palenque.”
“Photography just got me”…
Glaser has no problem working up an appetite treading water for hours on end in some of the deadliest surf on Earth. Swimming amidst massive swells crashing onto shallow reef isn’t exactly the norm for the common photographer, but that’s his gig. Pipeline, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Off the Wall are just a handful of critical spots where Glaser shoots the best surfers in the world. People have so many different perspectives on Hawaii, so when I asked him about his own, I had no idea what to expect. “When someone says Hawaii, the very first thing that comes to mind is Pipeline. Honestly, I wish I could say it was friends or the spirit of Aloha or something that didn’t sound selfish, but honestly it’s Pipeline. It consumes me. It’s what I think about. It’s a congregation of friends and intense challenges, which drive me.
Pipeline… pc: Todd Glaser
Everyone makes a lifestyle choice. Some choose 9 to 5 banker’s hours and go for the nice car. Some flip burgers part time so they still have time to play. Todd Glaser chose photography. “Why photography? Dunno! It just got me. It’s a challenge. I like how my profession demands athleticism. It keeps me outside and in the ocean and I get to see the world and show places where technically I could just surf, but decide to share with others instead. Sometimes the images are more of a rush than riding the wave. I capture them for myself and I capture them for others.”
Shane Dorian. Enough said…
pc: Todd Glaser
Todd is at the top of his digital game with action, motion, stills and portraits, but his passion is the dark room. “You caught me. Ha! I love it. I really wish I could spend more time in there. My earliest memories of developing are in the dark room. Digital is fast and efficient. But I love being able to shoot an image, physically hold it in my hand, print it, frame it and give it to someone. It’s a hands-on experience and a better experience in the dark room, but reality, evolution and progress is inevitable. I think of skaters on clay wheels and surfers riding heavy, wooden boards with single fins. There’s nothing wrong with it, but they have their time and place. I just know that the dark room should not be lost. It requires knowledge and skill – it’s a challenge and much more complex than digital. Shooting film has less room for error. You can’t mess up. It’s just more rewarding.”
“You have to be self-driven. It’s a requirement.”
pc: Chris Orwig
Todd’s only 30 years young, but has already lived several lifetimes in regard to how much he has experienced. His trip list is abundant and his stories are stacked. But there’s a lot of grind in there working for a major magazine like SURFER, while also establishing an individual identity as a photographer. It made me realize that nobody’s perfect and everyone struggles in one way or another, so I had to ask about the toughest aspects… the bumpy parts of the path. “Whether you work for a magazine or yourself or both, you have to be self-driven. It’s a requirement. It’s hard to find your voice and I’ve struggled with finding that voice… my voice… and a way to communicate. Keeping up with day to day emails, calls, production, quality control, accounting, running a business AND being a photographer – I am involved start to finish and it’s hard. It’s time-consuming and people think I just hop a plane and roll on over to some amazing island and chill out. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m working. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that like everything in life, there are easy parts and quite a few difficult parts and the difficult parts often times go unseen.”
It’s not always fun and games…
pc: Todd Glaser
Glaser posts up for weeks and months at a time on Oahu’s North Shore, so when he finally hits touchdown at San Diego International Airport, there are a few things he just can’t wait to come home to. “Well my wife, of course. Other than that – Seaside Reef – for sure. It’s my home. You know that (laughs). There’s good food around the corner, coffee, music, waves, hanging with the boys… everything. Then of course there’s your Poke Fest! It’s a combination of like minded people who love the ocean, the Aloha spirit and POKE. The whole experience is wrapped and served in ways that wake up our taste buds and the chef in all of us and make us want to experiment in the kitchen. My wife and I look forward to it every year. Fresh Ahi in a cucumber cup, Hawaiian music, live hula dancing… it all makes you feel like you’re at your Auntie’s and Uncle’s in Hawaii. Jenna and I are now on a mission to win our friend’s annual backyard poke competition!”
The Glasers hyping their favorite from this year’s SD event…
Fun aside, Todd has to train – no question about it. Treading water in a treacherous channel for hours holding a heavy camera water housing is no joke, so he trains to keep up his endurance, which includes long distance swimming and Jiu Jitsu at Studio 540. Apparently the 11-time World Champ pops in for an occasional roll and there’s a little history behind it. Todd laughed and said, “I was hanging with Kelly yesterday and we’re training next week. He’s an amazing athlete. Right now it’s 4-2 Kelly. But other than that, don’t ask for more details… you know the first rule of fight club: don’t talk about fight club! (laughs).”
TG hard at work…
Within the realm of people he associates with, friends and family alike, age is not a factor. Whether with local groms at Seaside Reef, uncles body surfing the North Shore, professional surfers world-wide or anyone in between his departures and arrivals, Todd gives everyone the time of day and that just says it all.
North Shore legend, Mark Cunningham…
pc: Todd Glaser
He puts his heart into everything he does. Even a devastating 2nd reef beat-down at 10 foot Backdoor Pipeline can’t keep him away. “Hawaiian surf is great like that. It’s more than photos – it’s yourself, life, respect, honesty, humility, humbleness. It kicks your ass and puts you in check. And that’s the best. That’s what keeps me coming back.”
pc: Todd Glaser