Previous Next
MatadorU faculty member Scott Sporleder has endured many wintry mornings to bring us these intimate photos.

ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO, while surfing alone at sunrise on a flawless winter morning, I had a bizarre revelation: I came to the conclusion that I’d rather be taking pictures of these waves than trying to ride them. Insane. I know. I was paddling out, the sun had just risen over the mountains to the south, and as I went to duck-dive under an approaching wave I turned my head to the left and watched the sun’s reflection bend and morph up around the lip, creating this golden orb.

The remainder of the day was spent thinking about that image; it was burned into my mind. I eventually bought a water housing (which looks like a pistol with a small shoebox attached to it), put my camera in it, and started swimming and shooting. Sunrise after sunrise, winter after winter, I spent many a cold morning by myself out in the water hunting these barrels. The following is a collection of some of the waves I’ve captured over the years.

Locations are listed in the captions. For the Newport Beach ones I’m withholding the name of the exact beach because it took me two years to discover, and a lot of early mornings to get it. Hope you understand.

Oh…and as many people ask, I do still surf, it’s just that when it gets good I go grabbing for my camera instead of my board.

1. Blue Note

Location: Aliso Creek, Laguna Beach, California

2. Aquatic Reflections

Location: Newport Beach, California

The lip of this wave forms a shape that looks like an eagle swooping down to capture its prey.

3. Golden Room

Location: Newport Beach, California


Location: Cloudbreak, Tavarua, Fiji

I remember holding my breath and sitting on the reef as the wave passed over my head. I kept thinking to myself, “This looks like an IMAX movie…” except it was real life.

5. Bluffs

Location: Bluffs Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

This was a heavy heavy wave that was breaking in about a foot deep of water. If you look at the center of the barrel you can see that the wave is actually sucking the sand up from the bottom.

6. Avalanche

Location: Newport Beach, California

7. Caribbean Dream

Location: Bluffs Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

8. Cosmic

Location: Newport Beach, California

This is the view I dream of when I sleep.

9. A-Frame

Location: Laguna Beach, California

10. Glassy Evening

Location: Main Beach, Laguna Beach, California

11. Goddess of the Sea

Location: Newport Beach, California

It was a beautiful morning: warm, Santa Ana winds blowing, and a rather high tide that was messing with the surf. I knew the conditions were going to be pretty good to shoot some barrel shots and decided to wake up at the crack of dawn.

After freezing my ass off (also, the sun was getting too bright), I decided to head back to my car to see what I got. I changed out of my wetsuit, sat in my car, and turned on the heater. I began flipping through the images. I was anxious to get to the shots with the sun up but as I powered my way through the early shots, I saw one that I noticed was kinda weird. As I clicked back to it, I just couldn’t believe it, there she was…the Goddess of the Sea staring right down the barrel. A bit like some kind of celestial surfer, getting tubed.

12. Bluffs 2

Location: Bluffs Beach, Bocas Del Toro, Panama

13. Heavy Aliso

Location: Aliso Creek, Laguna Beach, California

Sometimes, in order to get these shots, you have to put yourself in a position where you know you’re going to take a beating…this was one of those. I think I’m still cleaning sand out of my ears after getting worked on this one.

14. Ice Cave

Location: Newport Beach, California

15. Misty Strands

Location: Strands Beach, Dana Point, California

16. Over Under

Location: Newport Beach, California

17. Pacific Falls

Location: Newport Beach, California

18. Peep Hole

Location: Newport Beach, California

19. Pitted

Location: Aliso Creek, Laguna Beach, California

20. Sand Bar

Location: Newport Beach, California

I love looking at this one and noticing how the water is sucking up off the sand bar to the left of the image. This barrel broke on about a foot of water and you would not have been a happy camper if you got caught in its way.

21. Shallow

Location: Wedge, Newport Beach, California

22. Spiral

Location: Newport Beach, California

23. Sunburst

Location: Newport Beach, California

24. Surf and Sand

Location: Laguna Beach, California

25. Wake Up

Location: Newport Beach, California

26. Honest Glass

Location: Strands Beach, Dana Point, California

Sunset on Christmas day…not a single person out and beautiful waves for days.

SurfPhoto Essay


About The Author

Scott Sporleder

Since graduating from San Diego State University, Scott has dedicated 3 months a year to travel and photographing the world's unique cultures. While not on the road, you can visit Scott every summer at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach. You can also view his travel photography at

  • Hakan Tütüncü


  • David Miller

    super sick collection of tube shots.

  • Carlo Alcos

    In awe of Mother Nature.

  • Jesse Gallant

    The magic of covalent bonds! Water is very cool.

  • Laura Cook

    Amazing and very, very beautiful.

  • Poonam Virmani

    simply amazing:))))

  • Rick Roylance

    Great shots…

  • Danny Crytser

    love these shots, looks like home.

  • Touchatorn Ponol

    NICE! shots…Water is very cool.

  • Sonia Campanaro

    4 is incred. Everyone who sees it is going to copy you.

  • Scott Hartman

    Just like bein’ on dawn patrol… except I’m dry… and warm. Thank you for getting cold and wet… thank you for these. Tremendous series. #18 sings to me… and the rest, are the choir :)

  • Scott Hartman

    Just like bein’ on dawn patrol… except I’m dry… and warm. Thank you for getting cold and wet… thank you for these. Tremendous series. #18 sings to me… and the rest, are the choir :)

  • Marin McGill


Filmmakers Band-Originale nail the emotion of a big-wave session.
With the storm came the swell, pouring down the sand point at Snapper Rocks.
Searching for waves leads us down many unmarked roads.
Rusty Long rides the heaving beach-break barrels as well as anyone.
Al has made a name for himself through his willingness to spend months on the road.
From frigid water temperatures, hazardous surf, and large marine life, to pollution,...
Rip Curl's surfers pioneer an Indonesian tidal bore that produces the longest rides and...
Meet an org dedicated to protecting surf spots around the planet and educating local...
Jonaven hits the Vancouver surf to get back in tune with the nature riding boards.
Just outside a natural harbor lies a sandbank that is a wonder of ocean symmetry.
“The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being.”
Urban free climbing is a horrifying extreme sport where daredevils climb skyscrapers.