How This Woman Conquered Her Fears and Photographed the Wave That Killed Her Father
Amber Mozo never understood the physical and emotional strength it takes to shoot Pipeline, until now.
Amber Mozo first picked up a camera when she was just 9 years old. Her curiosity for seeing the world through a lens was fueled by her, father who died photographing one of the deadliest waves in the world: the Banzai Pipeline.
Today, despite her father's untimely and tragic passing, the 22-year-old has followed in his footsteps and travels the world taking pictures of the ocean and of those who love to spend time in it.
"This job can be really high-risk, especially when you're so close to unforgiving waves like Pipeline," Mozo tells Shape. "To tackle something like that, your timing has to be pretty much perfect to avoid getting hurt. But the outcome and experience are so amazing that it makes it worth your while."
Until recently, though, Mozo didn't think she'd be able to photograph the same insane wave that took her father's life.
"If you aren't familiar with waves, Pipeline is particularly daunting not just because of its 12-foot waves, but because it breaks in shallow water just above a sharp and cavernous reef," says Mozo. "Oftentimes when you're photographing a big wave like this, you're prepared to have a wave pick you up and throw you over. But if that happens while shooting Pipeline, the rocky bottom can knock you unconscious, like it did my dad, at which point you don't have long before your lungs fill up with water-and it's game over at that point."
Despite the obvious dangers and horrible memories associated with shooting Pipeline, Mozo says she hoped she'd have the courage to take on the challenge eventually. Then, the opportunity came late last year when she was encouraged to conquer her fears by fellow North Shore surf photographer, Zak Noyle. "Zak was a friend of my dad's, and I had told him a while ago that I really wanted to shoot Pipeline at some point in my life and he kind of just looked at me and asked 'why not now?'" says Mozo.
At that time, the 2018 Volcom Pipe Pro, an international surfing competition, was just a week away, so Noyle and Mozo partnered with Red Bull (the event's sponsor) to shoot Pipeline while the fearless athletes rode the wave.
"We only had about a week to prepare to shoot the event, so Zak and I spent hours sitting on the beach, watching the waves, observing the current, and talking about how we were going to tackle them safely," she says.
Noyle and Mozo did some rock training, which requires swimming down to the bottom of the ocean, picking up a huge rock, and running on the ocean's floor as hard as you can for as long as you can. "That kind of strength training really helps you hold your breath for longer and preps your body to push against some of the strongest currents in the world," says Mozo. (Related: Quick Surf-Inspired Workout for a Carved Core)
When the competition got underway, Noyle told Mozo that they were finally going to do it-if the weather and current looked safe, they were going to swim out there during a meet and capture the moment they'd been training for and the wave Mozo had been waiting to shoot.
After sitting on the shore, spending time watching the current and talking strategy, Noyle finally gave the green light and asked Mozo to follow his lead. "He basically said, 'okay let's go,' and I jumped in and started kicking as hard and as fast as I could until we made it out there," she says. (Related: 5 Ocean-Friendly Workouts to Soak Up the Best of Summer)
Physically, that test swim was a huge accomplishment itself for Mozo. There's a rip current not too far from shore that has the potential to sweep you a mile down the beach if you aren't strong enough to push through or don't get the timing just right, but she made it and proved to herself she could do it. "You have a helmet on and you're holding a giant heavy camera while you're swimming for your life, trying to get out there," explains Mozo. "My biggest fear was that I was going to get spit out by that current over and over again, and ultimately lose all my energy, which didn't happen, and that was a huge blessing." (Related: All You Need to Swim Confidently In the Ocean)
On an emotional level, making it out there on her first try and experiencing the wave for herself helped Mozo come to peace with her father's death. "I completely understand why my dad was out there every week and why he continued to do it, despite all the risk," she says. "Sitting on the beach my whole life, I never understood the physical and emotional strength it takes to shoot this wave, which helped me gain a newfound understanding for my dad and his life."
After spending a whole day photographing the wave and the competing surfers, Mozo says she returned to shore with a realization that offered her a new perspective into her father's passion for photography. "Pipeline was my father's friend," she says. "Now, knowing that he died doing what he loved just makes me so happy."
Watch what it took for Mozo to overcome her greatest fear in the moving video below: