As a testament to personal experience, I embarked on a journey from resisting the necessity of a crash helmet to embracing it wholeheartedly. This journey, marked by concussions and injuries, compelled me to reevaluate priorities and advocate for safety in surf photography.

As a surf photographer, capturing the perfect shot is everything. Getting that perfect moment frozen in time, it’s my passion that drives me to push my own limits. Preferring big waves, heavy shore & reef breaks. However, there’s a side to this pursuit that often gets overlooked – the importance of safety, particularly when it comes to protecting our heads.

For years, I resisted wearing a crash helmet while out in the waves. I always felt it was cumbersome, restricting my movement and interfering with my vision. Plus, there was the belief that I was skilled enough to avoid any accidents, that I could handle whatever the ocean threw at me.

I always prided myself on my wave knowledge & swimming skills. I believed that with enough experience and expertise, I could navigate the waves without the need for additional protection. We all know that eventually, Mother Nature always wins and at times can be unforgiving, and accidents can and will happen.

Skindog slotted, shot by Nathan.

The Resistance

In the initial stages of my surf photography endeavours, the idea of donning a crash helmet seemed burdensome. I revelled in the freedom of movement and the uninhibited connection with the ocean. The thought of encumbering myself with protective gear felt unnatural to the raw spirit of what I wanted to achieve.

Stubbornness, combined with a dash of invincibility, led me to dismiss the importance of safeguarding my head against potential hazards. It was me Vs. the ocean and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of my relationship with the deep blue.

The Wake-Up Call

For 3 years I remained relatively uninjured…until reality struck. A rogue wave caught me off guard, slamming me into the ocean floor. The impact knocked me out, leaving me with a bloody head, blurred vision and severe headache. Ignoring the warning signs, I persisted in my pursuits, unaware of the gravity of my situation. Subsequent incidents only exacerbated the issue, leaving me grappling with the repercussions of multiple concussions. Each blow served as a stark reminder of the fragility of the human body and the dire consequences of neglecting safety measures.

After 4 concussions in the following 12 months, I am now left with a permanently damaged eye socket, cataract in one eye, some memory loss and mild aphasia. On a very personal level and something I keep extremely private is just how much this has impacted me behind closed doors. Being uncomfortably honest about the affects it has had; it’s ranged from mood swings, not always remembering people’s names, to being impatient and reducing my levels of concentration. All of which made me feel at times pretty miserable, especially as I’m normally an extrovert. 

Nathan. By Nathan.

The Transformation

Reluctance gradually gave way to acceptance as I recognised the imperative of prioritising safety above all else. Watching many pro surfers surviving serious head injuries that could have been fatal if not for wearing head protection brought home a sense of urgency. It became clear to me that no amount of skill or experience could guarantee my safety in the unpredictable ocean environment.

I knew I needed to take proactive measures to protect myself.

The turning point came with the realisation that wearing a crash helmet didn’t detract from the experience; it didn’t get between my relationship with the ocean; rather, it enhanced it by instilling a sense of security and confidence. Embracing this newfound perspective, I made a conscious decision to prioritise my well-being without compromising my passion for surf photography. After all, a turtle uses its hard hat to protect against sharks and who doesn’t love seeing a turtle swim off after fending off a Tiger shark!!

Life’s better with a lid. Photo @hanok_upnorth

The Benefits of Wearing a Helmet:

  1. Protection: A crash helmet serves as a vital line of defence, shielding the head from impact and reducing the risk of serious injury, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
  2. Confidence Boost: Knowing that I’m adequately protected allows me to push boundaries and explore new angles without fear of potential harm.
  3. Setting an Example: By advocating for safety-conscious practices, I hope to inspire fellow surf photographers or other water users to prioritize their well-being and lead by example within the community.
  4. Longevity in the ocean: Investing in safety measures prolongs one’s ability to partake in surf photography, ensuring a fun and fulfilling journey free from preventable setbacks.
  5. Memory: The ability to remember my son’s first word, even when I’m 70…Hiiiyyyahhh

My journey from resistance to resilience underscores the paramount importance of prioritising safety in surf photography or other dangerous water conditions/sports. Through firsthand experience, I’ve come to appreciate the invaluable role of a crash helmet in safeguarding against unforeseen dangers. 

Nathan and his son Otter.

Wearing a helmet while shooting surf photography has been a game-changer for me. Not only do I feel safer and more confident in the water, but I also have peace of mind knowing that I’m taking steps to protect my long-term health. As someone with a young son, I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to prioritise safety and set a positive example for him. By prioritizing safety and taking precautions, I hope to instil in him a mindset of responsibility and mindfulness when it comes to engaging in adventurous activities.

In the end, wearing a helmet wasn’t about admitting weakness or lack of skill; it’s about acknowledging the inherent risks of the sport and taking proactive measures to mitigate them.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice enthusiast, investing in proper safety gear in my opinion is always worth it in the long run. So next time you hit the waves, don’t forget to strap on your helmet – your future self will thank you for it.

Which helmet and why? I started researching and testing out different helmets, determined to find one that offered both protection and comfort without compromising my performance and connection to the ocean. After trying several different brands, I discovered Extreme Sports shop in Cornwall and Gath helmets. 

All the gear.

After lots of testing I settled on Gath helmets, and they quickly became my go-to choice for surf photography. Not only are they incredibly lightweight compared to other brands, but they’re also designed with comfort in mind, especially for long periods. The adjustable straps ensure that the helmet stays securely in place without feeling too tight or constrictive. For me and perhaps most importantly, they provide the level of protection I need to feel confident in the water.

Since making the switch to wearing a helmet, I’ve noticed a significant difference in my peace of mind and overall safety. I worry far less about the potential consequences of a hard hit or collision – instead, I can focus solely on capturing the perfect shot.

In conclusion, my journey from resisting helmets to embracing safety has been a transformative one. It’s taught me the importance of prioritizing protection without compromising on performance and with Gath helmets leading the way, I can confidently pursue my passion for surf photography knowing that I’m taking the necessary steps to safeguard my wellbeing.

Thank you to Chris at Extreme Sports. He is great to talk to if you have any Gath specific questions. There are a few different styles to choose from depending on what your needs are. I personally use the Gath Surf Convertible helmet (SFC).

I’d also like to thank two of my friends who are surf photographers. Talking to them about their own thoughts and feelings around surf safety, as there is a big split of fellow photographers and surfers who wear and don’t wear helmets. In particular Tommy Pierucki and Ben Hartley. Both of whom a) wear Gath helmets and b) are lovely human beings.