Photo: chelseakauai

The Backstory Behind My Most Liked Shots in Instagram

Alaska Hawaii Photo + Video + Film Hiking Galleries
by ChelseaKauai Mar 27, 2016

Editor’s Note: Chelsea Yamase is a free diver, mountaineer, surfer, and model. Her images on Instagram have brought in over 140k followers. Here she talks to us about the process of setting up her shots and ‘unfiltered’ story about how these shots came to be. Find her at @chelseakauai.

Hiking in Alaska.

Life is pretty empty if we have no passion for what we do. What a tragedy to reach the end of your life and only be able to say “I got by without having to do too much.” -#CharlesKoch @bejamin took this photo of me in Alaska and I laugh when I look at it because I feel like my face says it all: I’m tired, hungry and hiking in socks up a cold ridge line. Wtf haha. Modernity makes my life so easy that in many ways I think we miss out on those character building challenges..for me hiking, and diving have become a way to reconnect with the power of my own mind. I love being pushed to my personal limit and learning to persevere, to know that I can and I will when it counts :) It definitely helped me just get through working 126 hours the last two weeks!! Now for a well deserved day offphoto @bejamin #Alaska #mizulife #humanpoweredadventures #myadvofyear

A photo posted by Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai) on

This photo was taken on my very last hike in Alaska. My friend Ben and I had caught a boat over from that spit of land in the far distance and hiked from the beach up to a glacial lake only to find that the area we were trying to get to required crossing a swift moving, freezing river. We ended up backtracking and ascended this ridge above the glacier. I had blisters on my heels so painful that I physically couldn’t tolerate going uphill in my boots. So I took them off and hiked barefoot. The water you see in my side pocket was the only water I had to ration for the rest of the day, dinner, and the next day’s hike out. This was the first moment we actually had a view and made it out of the trees. I let Ben snap a shot or two to commemorate the moment — one for Instagram and one for how I really felt in this moment.

Sunset in Alaska.

This shot is a memorable one for me. We wanted to get me in frame with a really clean background so we parked on the side of the road, jumped over some train tracks and scrambled down to the ocean inlet. I waded out to a small rock sticking an inch or so above the water. Unknown to me, this area of Alaska has drastic tidal changes and by the time we finished the water was up to my shins, effectively hiding all the rocks I had used to make my way out. I looked at Ben and he shrugged at me from shore pointing at his sock clad feet. It was 39 degrees out and in I went into the silty ice water, sloshing in his enormous boots. My pants were so wet that I had to get changed in a Barnes and Noble parking lot on our way to the airport.

Cliff hammock, Kokee State Park.

My friends, Josh, Charlotte and I had been out shooting all afternoon up in the mountains for a clothing company. We were running up and down the beginning of the trail attempting to find a place to tie up the hammock in the few minutes we had before the sun set. The wind was so strong we nearly lost ourselves and the hammock off the edge trying to tie it to the first tree. Frozen and running out of time we tied the other end to what was essentially a glorified shrub, with Charlotte holding the rope steady as I balanced my feet on the ground to make this shot work. We laughed hysterically the whole time and I thought there was absolutely no way this picture would come out.

Boat jump, Honolulu, Hawaii.

I loved how this moment all came together, but it was far from the serene and fun afternoon it might look like. My friend Mike and I were hired to shoot photos for the cover of a big issue of Hawaii Magazine based loosely off a cover Vogue did of a couple diving off a sailboat. Seemed easy enough. For this to come together we paddled Mike’s stand-up paddleboard out to a friend’s boat which was anchored a few hundred yards offshore. The wind was blowing really hard and not at all in the right direction so Mike had to paddle upwind as I swam along pushing the boat in the right place. We repeated this shoot for more than 2 hours until my neck was so sore that I told him I could jump, but I couldn’t dive anymore. He said ok do whatever feels natural to you.. this was one of the last shots of the day right as the sun went down and ended up being picked as the cover of the magazine.

Swimming with whale sharks, Philippines.

Breathless, weightless, speechless. #ThePhilippinesProject w/@captain_potter

A photo posted by Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai) on

Ever since I started diving, the idea of swimming with whales has enthralled me. I’ve sat out on the water on boats, kayaks, jet skis, and surfboards more times than I can count hoping that somehow it will happen. This year it happened twice! But they were two very different experiences. The first time we were all alone deep diving off Maui when a pod of 5 humpbacks came up to us. I stayed completely still as they languidly swam and sang to each other until I was so cold I had to get back in the boat. The second encounter is captured in this picture, which was shot in the Philippines where it is legal to swim with the whale sharks. There were people everywhere in small canoes feeding the sharks. I decided to swim outside of the barrier of boats where I was rewarded with some really neat interactions like this one. I love that this shot is not ruined by people flailing around at the surface, but the experience itself left me with mixed emotions.

Bait ball, Hawaii.

We had just finished lunch after a very hot and sweaty beach clean-up when someone from the group spotted a huge bait ball. The only way to get in the water was to jump off a 40-foot cliff which is not ideal at all when trying to slow your heart rate down before free-diving. No fins or weights made it an especially strenuous dive and by the time I got out of the water I was dizzy probably from dehydration. I spent the next four hours throwing up and trying to sleep it off.

Ice caving, Washington.

During my road trip through the Pacific Northwest we decided to take a slight detour — as in drive 11 hours — to see the famous Big 4 Ice Caves. We knew it was somewhat dangerous so we went early in the morning when temperatures were cooler. Even so, once we got there we felt uncomfortable to the point that we didn’t want to go more than 15 or so feet in from the entrance. We definitely didn’t want to go to the waterfall at the back of the cave. My friend, Travis, carefully made his way further and used a wide-angle lens to make us appear further away. A few weeks later a section of the cave collapsed. A stark reminder to listen to your instincts.

Reflection on the lake, Alaska.

En route from Anchorage to Seward, Alaska we crested a hill and spotted this gorgeous blue lake and I started yelling, “Pull over, pull over!!” The glacial waters there create a milky blue tone and the sun was shining on the lake just right. We rambled Ben’s Durango over to the edge and he stood on top of it to get this photo of me. Visually such an incredible place, but the smell emanating from all the dead salmon meant our stay was rather short.

Rainbow, Kokee State Park.

Although this list has been predominately about how things are often much more challenging than they first appear I did want to include at least one instance where the world came together in a beautiful, effortless way. Those are the moments that really stay with me and are the ones that keep me going. This was shot after a short hike and although it was windy and rainy we were still having a great time. I sat down on this rock when the sun came blazing out of nowhere making a double rainbow over the waterfalls we had been looking at. I quickly shoved my camera at my friend, Sam. We thought we didn’t get a good picture as the rain was coming in sheets and getting on my lens. When I went back to edit them later I found this one and I actually like it more because of the wind in my hair and the water drops. 

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