Told by photographer Jack English.
It was the morning of October 23, 2007. Winds reaching up to 85mph and approximately 1,000,000 people had to evacuate their homes, the largest evacuation in California’s history. My emotions we’re in a weird place this day. I was up early to do my job and that was to shoot surf photos. I went straight to Torrey Pines knowing that was a great place when the winds are howling offshore. Once I arrived to the beach at around 6:30 in the morning it looked like something out of a movie. The sky was so covered with smoke and the sun was just rising which added a much more mystique look. The surf was around 4-5ft. I phoned Joel Tudor knowing he lived minutes away and the surf was great for longboarding.
Waiting for Joel to show up knowing good and well he will be late I phoned him again, get down here now I insisted. The lighting is something I had never seen. My intentions were to photograph Joel with the smoke in the background. Waiting and waiting for Joel I noticed alot of people at the beach for how early it was. Here it’s 6:30 and the parking is full and people are on the beach and in and around their cars.
I met this guy who tells me he is from Ramona and that all the counties inland were evacuated by the authority’s and everyone was told to go to the coast. I put on my 16-35mm lens and started shooting. I had just switched at that moment from a “surfing photographer” to a photo journalist within seconds. I remember telling myself what would a National Geographic photographer be doing in my position right now. Here I am at the beach to shoot a pro surfer and then I have all these stranded people all around me. I wasn’t excited being around all these people who are freaking out and are grieving over their homes possibly being lost to the fires. I noticed I was the only photographer around and with Joel not their I just started shooting.
It was so different shooting these type of shots from what I was use to. At a surf contest your battling other photographers for a shot and here I was with nobody else around. It felt to easy to get my own shot cause it was, feeling much like I was the assigned San Diego wildfire photographer for Torrey Pines state beach. Oh yeah, still no Joel Tudor.
By now the wind had kicked in so much it had blown much of the smoke that was overhead out to sea and to the north of us. By the time Joel finally did arrive that “look” was well gone. I wasn’t mad at Joel by any means as I was actually excited that he did take so long knowing I had just shot some pretty historical photos in San Diego.
Joel shows up with a joint dangling from his lips as if nothing is happening. He rolls down his window and without saying a word I take his picture. He clearly sees the waves are good and suits up. My only request to him was not to light his joint until we get to the shoreline. I wanted to take a photo of him smoking with all the smoke in the background.
If I would had gone way, way down towards the south end of the beach I may have been able to get some smoke in the action photos of Joel. Again the smoke was mostly gone by now. Joel caught around 10 waves and we wrapped it up.