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FEARLESS // The Story Of A Female Surf Photographer

Jinna Yang interviewed by Caitlin Creeper

It’s been three years since Jinna Yang quit her corporate job in New York City to pursue photography full time.  What started as a late-night, weekend hobby turned into her everyday career through a lot of sweat, hard work and faith — faith that even though she had no idea whether she’d be able to pay her bills this month, everything would work out. 

And despite the difficulties and life’s challenges, it did.

Now she has a new dream, to push the limits of possibility even further. And she needs your help.

Two years ago you started to feel less and less passionate about the direction of where your work was headed. Can you talk to me a bit about that?

I think I started to get caught up in instant gratification, or instant documentation — the trend of where travel photography was headed towards was becoming more staged, more touristic, and less about the road less traveled. And I was becoming a victim of it. And once I realized that I was no longer as inspired by my work, I started to regress and knew I needed to take a break from traveling just for the sake of photography. So I took 11 months off of work and traveled just for the sake of travel. I was looking for inspiration in just everyday life, and I wanted to get lost without any expectation or responsibility. I was in search of freedom.

You talk about the impermanence of Insta shots. Can you tell me why it’s important to you to put your shots in a hard copy book?

It was important to me to materialize my work into more permanent, physical keepsakes. It has been a dream of mine to see my work in the flesh — something that I’ve never prioritized in the past. But seeing something in the flesh is a feeling that is unmatched — especially in this digital age. I can touch, hold, feel and remember it forever. And it’s also a question of how people consume media — it’s much more personal and random when you’re sitting somewhere (or in someone’s home/office) and come across a photography book, as opposed to the explore page on just another day trying to distract yourself at work.

To your knowledge, is there many female surf photographers out there?

There are female surf photographers who currently shoot in the water — but not nearly as many as men. In my time in Bali (two months), I didn’t see ONE female surf photographer in the water at Padang.

After my first session photographing Padang Padang, I got back to my room and received a message from a pro surfer on instagram (from Brazil, who I had shot in the water just hours before). He messaged me and told me that I was the first woman he had ever seen shooting in the water there. And he had respect for me because of it. It was an incredible feeling for me because I think it shows that women have just as much balls as the boys do. And there was no level of disrespect and no one was condescending. Everyone out there was and is supportive. And that’s the most important part.

Why is it important we support female surf photographers and women’s roles in action sport?

I think women often get underestimated in terms of capabilities (especially physical). Many females get dropped in on when they’re in the lineup just because they’re women. It’s just become the nature of the sport. But that’s all because there are just not as many women who surf, and not a lot of women who photograph the surf from the water. The more women we have shredding, or shooting in heavy pumping surf — the more respect we get as a whole. And the amount of respect that goes into anyone who is willing to risk their idea of safety to share the feeling of the power of the ocean is unmatched in my entire career. We feel the same thing when we’re in that place. And there’s nowhere else we’d rather be. It truly makes us feel alive.

What is the scariest day of filming you can remember? I want all the gory details, man

Honestly, I got scared every single time I went out to Padang Padang. I went out four times in total. I was lucky enough to have the other photographers talk me through the process when I first got out. I am forever indebted to them. But the scariest part about being out (besides when a rogue huge set comes in the distance, and you realize you’re gonna get a wave on top of the head), is getting out of the water.

Because you have to wait for the sets to calm down and then sprint swim to the reef shelf. If you do not make it in time, and a set comes in, it will absolutely hit you on the head, but over the shallowest part of the entire break. This happened to me because I simply did not swim fast enough (mind you, I’m swimming with one arm because my camera is in my right hand), and I had 4 waves on the head, and nearly thought I was going to die.

Finally the sets stopped and I stood up on knee-deep reef and then had to basically run over the reef before the next set came to hit me on the head again.

“Because you have to wait for the sets to calm down and then sprint swim to the reef shelf. If you do not make it in time, and a set comes in, it will absolutely hit you on the head, but over the shallowest part of the entire break”

It’s also incredibly intimidating when I am the only girl out there, and I know for a fact that I am not even that physically fit. I am not a competitive swimmer, or that great of an athlete (never been an athlete in my entire life), but that’s the whole point of my story and my journey — that I feel like a normal girl, but I still have this dream to photograph these waves and challenge myself. And that’s sometimes all it really takes. The will and the ambition, the drive and the confidence to make your dreams come true — whatever they may be.

How can people help your project?

I’ve only got 11 days left to hit $5K on my Fearless Kickstarter Campaign. If you pledge, you will get a print in the mail, hand signed and delivered by me. It will help me materialize my work in print (and my first hardcover photography book), and everything else will go towards funding my professional-grade water housing. Something I’ve been working on building up towards ever since I started surf photography!

For more from Jinna, follower her Instagram, Facebook or check out her website.

About the Author:

Caitlin is a journalist and writer from Australia. She’s into collecting and sharing the stories of other human people. Mostly women’s stories. You can find her at @caitlincreeper

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