It was dark when I first saw him standing there looking down at the pounding surf surrounding Nubble Light.
At first I thought, like me, he was a photographer here to shoot the massive waves coming from the fringe of the artist formerly known as Hurricane Dorian. But he wasn’t. In his hand he was holding a fishing pole.
This guy, is crazy to be fishing here today.
The wind was so strong it ripped the car door out of my hand as soon as I opened it, and threw it wide open. I made a mental note: I’d have one hand on my tripod all morning, so that Dorian didn’t claim it and my camera as it’s own. Mother Nature demands your full attention if you dance on the waterline with it on days like this, and failure to give it that can result in way worse than losing gear.
I was 40 minutes into shooting before I noticed him again. Now, he stood at the very edge of the rocks that sloped into the water - a risky spot to be in even on a good day. And as the next set of large rolling waves approached- I got nervous. Scared, actually.
I watched as waves hit him again and again, some were up to his knees or higher. Still, he casted into the surf, and reeled in. He quickly retreated several times when very large waves were about to hit - only to be caught from behind by the surge as he moved. He’s done this a million times, you could tell. He was no novice, and yet I watched with a mixture of fascination - and concern.
The heaviest of waves come in sets, about 7-10 minutes apart, and when they do - the pounded the rocks in quick succession. And when the next set rolled in, my attention was no longer on Nubble Light, it was completely on him. I was about 40 yards away when I turned the camera towards him - just in time to see a wave crash in front of him that was bigger than he was. He crouched and leaned into it as it washed over him, covering him. And he was reeling in his line the entire time. It was about as crazy and as dangerous a thing as I’ve ever seen at Nubble Light. In my mind, it was insanity.
Moments later, as he was switching bait, further back from the water, I approached him. I greeted him and asked how the fishing was. “Nothing yet” he said in a strong French accent. I told him he was kind of freaking me out - and he laughed. His accent was thick enough to make deciphering what he was saying a bit of a challenge admidst the wind and noise, but I did get parts of it: “I love the sea, I love to fish.” And then he said something I took to understand as - “It’s what I live for”.
And it was in that moment, that I understood.
This salty Frenchman wasn’t crazy. He was passionate. He knows the risk. He sees it, and feels it- but he dances with it anyway because of the feeling he gets when he does so. The fish? That may be the icing on the cake - but being in that moment- when the wave hits him, and he stands in it and wins - that’s where he feels alive.
Two minutes before I thought this guy was certifiable to be risking his life like that - and make not mistake about it - he WAS risking it. But talking to him, I totally got it. Not in the sense that I would do what he did - no way - but I get why he does it.
Doing land and seascape photography, there have been many times when I’ve put myself in situations - or positions- that could cause concern from someone watching from a distance. There is a thrill of capturing the moment, especially from a point of view most don’t take.
In that respect, the fisherman and me? We’re not that different. And even though I wouldn’t do what he does - to the extent he does it - I can totally see WHY he does it.
As he zips up his tackle bag, and spins to go back to the crashing waves and the spot where sea and land meet- he turns to me, hands stretched out wide at his sides- with a huge grin, and says:
“If I die at the sea, I will die a happy man”.
And with that, he returns to the dance, and casts yet again into the ocean.
Some may still say he’s “crazy”, but I wouldn’t be one of them. I understand him.
And I envy the hell out of him.
And heres a little video so you can see what I mean...