Luke Forgay felt a buzz in his pocket while he was sitting in English class at Santiago Canyon College. He pulled out his iPhone to read the text message. Pro surfer Cameron Faris asked Forgay, a photographer, if he could come on a last-minute trip to Pascuales, Mexico, to shoot him and Frank Solomon.
There was one minor caveat. They were leaving California in two hours.
Forgay got up in the middle of class and called his mom to tell her he was going to Mexico.
“I just did it,” he said of the May 2014 trip that was featured by South Africa’s Zigzag Magazine. “I got a bunch of cool shots and got to swim in some of the biggest waves I’ve swam in in my entire life. I absolutely loved it and I couldn’t get it out of me.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than this.”
Forgay, 22, is now an assistant/freelance photographer with Volcom. He travels around the world, including recently to Bali, Indonesia, photographing pro surfers. Pretty ironic, considering Forgay wouldn’t put a toe in the ocean until he was 15 or 16.
“I was just too scared of how big the waves were, getting sucked out, sharks — just normal stuff like that,” he said. “It was that general fear of it.”
It wasn’t until accompanying a friend on a trip to Newport Beach, Calif., when Forgay overcame his fear of the ocean. His friend let him borrow a GoPro HERO, the first model that didn’t have video capabilities, to take some shots in the water. Not wanting to deny the request, Forgay ventured into the ocean as his doubts and concerns washed away.
He was hooked.
Forgay bought his own GoPro and began spending endless hours at the beach taking photos. He even racked up 45 hours of detention from ditching at Canyon High School to go shoot. In class, he would excitedly observe the local surf webcams, and if the waves were good enough, he’d leave class, elude the security guards and head to the beach.
The entire undertaking provided Forgay with the same adrenaline rush he received from motocross, skateboarding, football and hockey.
“I wasn’t partying at all, I wanted to skip school to take photos,” he said. “I’d be in bed at 9:30 p.m. to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to go drive to San Diego or somewhere in my little shitty Jeep with my buddy to see if the waves were good and take photos. I wasn’t doing anything super bad, I just wanted to take photos.”
Forgay got more and more experience and notoriety among the surfing community by having his photos published by magazines, expanding his contacts and developing an audience on Instagram.
Tom Carey, a surf photographer with Stab Magazine, asked him to go on an assignment to Mexico, but Forgay was unable to. The two stayed in touch and Carey, who also works for Volcom, asked Forgay to intern for him at the company.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“When I realized being out of your comfort zone is fun for me, and when I found that by going in the ocean and swimming and being scared, it instantly clicked,” he said. “It’s funny. My family had no idea I would do this. Now they can’t get me out of the water and I’m going into bigger waves trying to find that next adrenaline high putting myself in situations most people wouldn’t imagine or do.”
Sitting poolside with his feet dangling in the cool water and with a refreshing Bintang nearby, Nate Leal can’t help but laugh. The 24-year-old shakes his head and flashes a smile as he reflects back to how he became a professional surf videographer and cinematographer with Volcom, and how he’s now able to travel the globe doing what he loves most.
“I still don’t believe it,” Leal said while on a recent assignment in Bali, Indonesia. “I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘All right, fun’s over, time to get a real job.’ It’s amazing. If you told me I’d be doing this when I was a kid, I’d say it sounds good, but would never think it would actually happen.”
Leal grew up surfing with Volcom pro surfer Nate Tyler in California. In high school, Leal took a few photography classes and would film his friends at the beach. He would double dip at local surf competitions as a competitor and videographer.
As Leal says, one thing led to another and before he knew it, he was filming for Volcom in Galveston, Texas.
“I’m a surf filmer and my first trip with them is to Texas,” Leal says with a playful scoff.
Following his experience in the Gulf of Mexico, Leal was asked to accompany Andrew Doheny to Bali on his first “proper trip.” By the start of the following year, Leal was a full-time surf videographer with Volcom.
“They didn’t even have to pay me, but they did and now I’m here,” Leal said. “Especially being where we’re from there’s zero surf industry. Being from a small, little town in the middle of California up there … it’s crazy, none of my buddies up there are anywhere near the surf industry.”
Like Forgay, Leal is in the thick of the waves, currents and reefs with the surfers. As Leal says, you can be the best surfer in the world, but if no one is filming you, no one knows how good you truly are.
Equipped with his camera in a waterproof housing in hand, battery pack on his waist and fins on his feet, Leal is braving the swells for the best footage. He said his surfing background gives him an advantage reading waves and knowing where to position himself for the optimal shots. It also helps him keep calm under pressure when things get hairy.
The risks involved are worth it.
“All my friends and family ask me how I did this,” Leal said. “I don’t know — I got lucky and knew the right people. I was nice. I don’t know. If someone asks for me advice, I tell them, ‘Don’t be a dick, work hard and try to get good at whatever you’re trying to do.’
“That’s about it. That’s all I did.”
Travel and accommodations in Bali provided by Volcom.
NOTE: First appeared on Culture Trip