One look at Streeter Lecka’s Twitter Bio, and you’ll know what he’s all about: “Blessed to travel the world and do what I love.”
So you shouldn’t be surprised that he journeyed all the way to Alaska to shoot a feature on surfing. Yes, surfing. Yes, Alaska. We asked Streeter to recap his incredible experience:
About six months ago, I randomly saw an interesting image online of something called “Bore Tide” and instantly wanted to know more about it. That curiosity lead to the shoot of a lifetime. To me, it’s pretty cool that things like that can happen.
After doing some research, I learned that the Bore Tide occurs when the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave. It’s something that occurs only a few times a year as a result of the Super Moon. This year’s moon substantially increased the size and power of the normal wave, making it a heaven for local surfers. Occurring in July, tourists and locals don’t miss the chance to experience it first hand. And neither did I.
The phenomenon of the lengthy bore exists in very few locations worldwide. The lower arm of the Cook Inlet, Alaska’s most famous Bore Tide, occurs in a spot outside Anchorage called “Turnagain Arm.” While others may have similar geographical characteristics, this region boasts the second largest tidal range in North America. It can climb to as high as 6 to 10 feet tall and can reach speeds of 10 to 15 MPH. The area does have one downside for surfers though - the water temperature stays around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
It can also take over 5 hours for the bore to travel its lengthy coastal course. Along its 40-50 mile course, there are many stop-offs on the highway that tourists and locals can observe this unbelievable event.
Being a photographer at Getty Images provides you with the freedom to grow as a photographer. I badly wanted to do this shoot and we got really into it. But there was so much back-work that went into it. It took about six months coming up with the plan and pushing it through budgetary and logistical concerns. But eventually I got the green light. I would be there for six days, and there were a few challenges to overcome once I got there.
Because surfing can be very territorial, I had to create a relationship with the surfers and build their trust in order to photograph them. This was even more challenging when it came to meeting surfers open to having me follow them around during the week and letting me mount GoPro’s on their surf boards.
Additionally, each day I had to drive several miles to find the right spot. That is – I would shoot from one spot with the gear I had picked out earlier while doing reconnaissance work, and then I’d have to speed off by car to get to the next spot. That went on for about an hour and a half during each tide. As such, there was a very limited amount of time to grab the right gear. This was made even harder because I had to work out of the trunk of my car the entire time – tough for someone like me who likes to stay organized.
I think that the uniqueness of this story is that, on paper, the sport of surfing and the environment don’t seem to fit together. But in reality, they combine to form an unreal wave to surf. Everyone knows about surfing and everyone knows about Alaska, but one would never think the two could go together. I also liked the idea of a feature story on sports, which is a bit of a challenge to find something so odd that goes together. Sometimes you think we have photographed everything in the world so many times that it piles up on the Getty Images site so I was delighted to see that there was hardly anything about this amazing natural event.
On the last day there I finally watched the Bore Tide roll past without a camera in my hand. I realized I had been behind the camera for every second of the wave and finally had everything I was going to have so I decided to watch it go off into the distance of the huge Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. Once it passed, a tourist walked up to me and asked “Did you really think it was that good?” My response was simple, “Yes. I did.”
Some people just check it off their list of things to see while on vacation. But I had poured everything I had into the project. I got the chance to document something truly special for six straight days. I lived it and I breathed it. All photographers need to evolve and expand and this project did that. You’re always searching for that next shot, and this was one of the best experiences of my life. It re-energized me and reaffirmed how much I love what I do.
Note: A very special thank you to surfer Leif Ramos for all his help in this project.
See Streeter's shoot featured in The Atlantic: "Surfing Alaska's Bore Tide"
View the entire set of photos on Getty Images
About Streeter Lecka
After realizing his passion for sports photography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Streeter Lecka decided to pursue a degree in photojournalism. After graduation, Streeter freelanced for several newspapers in the Raleigh/Durham area and for Getty Images. After training with Getty staff photographers for a year in Los Angeles, CA, Streeter signed on as a full-time staff photographer in November of 2004. Since that time he has honed his skills, photographing major sporting events around the world. Streeter’s work has been featured in such publications as Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, TIME Magazine, Newsweek, USA Today, LA Times and the New York Times to name a few. As a North Carolina native, some of Streeter’s favorite events to shoot include football, basketball and golf. He has photographed 5 straight Olympics, the 2010 FIFA World Cup, several Super Bowls, Golf's Majors, the MLB Playoffs and the NCAA Final Four. Based out of Charlotte, NC, Streeter has the opportunity to work at a wide variety of sports venues. In his spare time, he enjoys getting on the other side of the camera, playing golf and basketball.