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Creators: The best known unknown in surf, Jim Russi

Banzai Pipeline © Jim Russi






Creator Profiles

Find out how a one-week vacation stretched into a 35 plus year adventure for Jim Russi

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 28 February, 2018 - The day Jim Russi graduated and collected his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooks Institute in 1979 he left Santa Barbara for Hawaii’s North Shore and a week-long surf vacation. Once there however, that one-week vacation stretched into a 35 plus year adventure capturing the winter surf action on the North Shore.

Jim Russi's images are often more well-known than he is. He is the man behind more than one hundred of your favorite surf mag covers and has at some point been a senior staff photographer for many major surf magazines. His work has been Published in hundreds of books and is the Author of his own book on Surfing, a beautiful hardcover coffee table book tilted “Flying Through the Clouds.”

© Jim Russi

Where are you from and what do you shoot with? 
I am from the North Shore of Oahu. I shoot mostly with the Canon Eos 1DX with a wide variety of lens ranging from Fisheye to the 600mm f/4. I have always specialized Water Shots but cover all angles from Helicopters, Boats, Jet Skis, Land, etc. 

Pipeline aquashot © Jim Russi

How did surf photography start for you?
Just being a surfer and being interested in photography. I started shooting my friends, then moved to the North Shore and met Dan Merkel, Aaron Chang and Jeff Hornbalker - I was off on the Journey.

Tell us something most people don’t know about surf photography
Most people these days don’t know that we as Surf Photographers before the digital world of auto exposure, auto focus, and Photoshop fix it - we had to build our own water housings, be trained to expose film within 1/3 of a stop, manually focus, set exposure and frame the image looking through the viewfinder wile swimming in giant surf at Pipeline, Sunset and Waimea.

Jamie O'brien © Jim Russi

Share with us your heaviest experience in the surf or while travelling
Heaviest experience in the surf? So many of them, but back in the late ‘80s going over the falls backwards at maxed-out Backdoor Pipeline while capturing an image of Tom Curren just before dark with a giant flash housing tethered to my wrist. After I landed hard on the rock reef bottom on my butt I was rolled and smacked the back of my head so hard I lost conciseness for a moment and woke up in the impact zone in near darkness. Fortunately I had just started wearing a helmet wile swimming water shots and have ever since. 

© Jim Russi

Name one photographic image you saw that changed the way you approach photography? 
There was an image of Gerry Lopez at Pipeline that was the “center fold” in one of the early ‘70s surf mags that I pulled out and taped to my wall growing up. I believe it may have been a frame grab from a 16mm movie. The caption read, “Standing Limp In the Eye of the Storm.” It was backlit, low-light, grainy grit of this massive barrel and Gerry’s overly casual style has been forever burned into my mind’s eye. I just wish I knew who the artist was that captured it.

Joel Parkinson at Pipeline © Jim Russi

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
Even though I have more than 100 Cover Shots, and that’s always a great affirmation for any photographer, you always remember your first. Mine came in 1982 when I walked into Sunset Beach Surf Shop to pick up film from the Kodak run and looked up to see My Image of Mark Richards at Uluwatu Gracing the cover of Surfer Magazine there on the rack with all the other legendary surf photographers there to pick up film as well. It was my proudest moment. 

© Jim Russi

Jim would like invite you into his world to view more of his recent images in Large Print as a featured Artist at the North Shores’ “Pipeline Gallery” in Haleiwa Town. His book “Flying Through the Clouds” is available on, most book stores, or autographed copies from his website. 

Creator Profils, Lengendary photographer, Jim Russi, Aquashot, Hawaii, Veteran
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