The story behind the photo

Photo:  Matt Lusk

Photo: Matt Lusk

This photo is one of my favorites. Matt Lusk took it and I used it for the cover of When Oceans Rise. I get asked about this photo a lot so I figured I’d share the story of how it came about. 

It was circa November 2012 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Cape Hatteras. This was the first Nor’easter of the season and there weren’t many places to surf this day. The winds were howling and the ocean was essentially out of control. When it gets like that the Lighthouse is about the only option. Whenever I’m on the Outer Banks I stay with Jesse Hines. Jesse is one of my closest friends and biggest sources of inspiration. He is a world-class surfer who had a long and successful career as a professional, known mostly for surfing some of the world’s scariest waves. I’ve surfed with him enough to know that when he gets really excited about the wave forecast it generally means I’m going to be terrified.  

Jesse and I made our way south from his house toward Hatteras. We checked a few spots along the way but everything was disorganized and too big for the sandbars to handle. When we arrived at the Lighthouse we met up with Matt Lusk and Brett Barley. Brett is a successful professional as well and enjoys the same types of waves as Jesse. 

The waves looked anything but inviting: rain, howling winds, cleanup sets that just washed through the line-up, lots of close-outs, and you could literally see the river-like current that the Lighthouse is known for. I thought it would be easy to convince them not to paddle out. But every once in a while there would be a random wave that looked almost makeable and that was enough to get Jesse and Brett interested. 

As they suited up I debated if it was worth joining them. Not wanting to be the only one who didn’t give it a go I decided I’d suit up as well. We began the paddle out together and before I had time to think I got swept down the beach. I was separated from Jesse and Brett rather quickly but kept paddling. After a bit of nonstop duck diving I looked back to see where I was and realized the current had already taken me well past where I needed to be. I turned around and headed back to shore feeling a bit sheepish for not making it out. 

The photo was taken as I stood there contemplating whether or not I wanted to try the paddle out again. Jesse and Brett are two of the best surfers I’ve ever seen in those types of conditions. As I watched them struggle to find a surf-able wave I realized that it was far out of my league. I waited at the waters edge for about fifteen minutes to see if the ocean would have a lull long enough to let me get out to the line-up, but it was relentless. I finally decided to leave it to the pros and I headed back to the car. It was very humbling not to make it out, even more humbling when your friends do and you don’t. 

I really wanted to get a good surf photo that day, and I figured the only way it would be possible was to actually catch a wave. The fact I didn’t even stand up on a wave is a testament to Matt Lusk’s talent as a photographer—making lemonade out of lemons. I love how he captured the scale of what paddling out on a day like that is really like. Often photos have a way of taming the experience, making the reality of the situation seem less critical or threatening. Part of what I love about it is how Lusk was able to not only capture the scale but also the feeling and the moment of contemplation. Anyone who’s paddled out on a big day knows that feeling and has certainly had that inner dialogue about whether or not it’s worth it.    

Another reason I like this photo is that it reminds me that God’s grace is as relentless as the ocean. It’s amazing how He is able to bring something good out of any situation. I would’ve never imagined one of my favorite photos would come from one of my most humbling surf experiences. It reminds me of something I heard my friend say one time. He said, “God is able to win with any hand.” Sometimes life has a way of making it difficult to believe that statement, but then I look at this photo and I’m reminded if God did it once He can do it again.  

Road Map

I was at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island when I stumbled upon this empty beach break. With not another surfer in sight, it was a pretty special surf in a very special place, and another great example of why I love God's creation so much. 

I was at the bottom of New Zealand's South Island when I stumbled upon this empty beach break. With not another surfer in sight, it was a pretty special surf in a very special place, and another great example of why I love God's creation so much. 

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them…” Genesis 1:27-28a

What was the purpose of creation? Why did God create this universe and us?  Notice in the account of the creation of man, the first thing God did was to bless man and converse with him. His first order of business with us upon our creation was not only to bless us, but also to start a dialogue with us. This should immediately tell us two things. The first is that God desires to bless us; His intentions toward us are good ones. He wants what’s best for us (Jeremiah 29:11). The second thing it tells us is that God has always intended for us to have a personal relationship with Him.  In Romans 1:20 it says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” God made creation in such a way so that we can understand it, and He did this in order to draw us to Himself. His creation stands as a testament to us, declaring His existence in order that we might enter a relationship with Him. 

            As a surfer, I have often considered the source of my playground. For instance, if earth had no atmosphere the oceans would evaporate. Yet our planet has an atmosphere that allows for life to flourish as well as for our oceans to flourish. Or did you know that waves are actually a restoring force to calm the surface of the ocean when it has been disturbed? The very waves we ride, the activity that brings so much joy and peace to surfers, is a result of God’s intricate handiwork designed to restore and calm the oceans. Is it any wonder that waves have a similar affect in a surfer’s life?

            Tides play an important role in our daily surfing lives since each wave breaks differently depending upon the tide. Science has allowed for us to understand how tides work and thus predict them, so we monitor the tides and determine where we are going to surf based on that information. But the very fact that we exist in a world that we can understand, the fact that the universe exists in a way so that we have the ability to understand it through reason and logic and natural laws is one of the most astonishing facts about creation. Astrophysicist and author Ethan Siegel said this, “When you put it all together, it means the most astounding fact about the Universe is this: that it exists in such a way that it can be understood at all.” 

God made His creation in an intricate yet understandable way so as to draw us to Himself. It is as though He left us a road map to Himself, a road map that the human mind has the capacity to read and understand. 


Wales, 2016.

Wales, 2016.

“Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity…Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself into the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in His immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”

--Charles Spurgeon, The Immutability of God (A Sermon delivered on January 7th, 1855 at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark)


Photo:  Chris Burkard

I can't remember if this was published somewhere or not (seems to me it was for DEEP Magazine), but I found it in the archives and since I've been spending time up north lately it seemed appropriate...


There is nothing quite like the stretch of coastline that is known as Big Sur.  Tucked neatly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it attracts many a tourist, and rightly so.  Majestic hills lined with oaks, pines, and all sorts of beautiful fauna come to an abrupt halt at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, creating surreal views and landscapes that seem to come straight out of a Tolkien or Lewis novel.  Every time I traverse that stretch of California’s Highway 1, I can’t help but feel that at any given bend in the road I may stumble upon the best waves of my life. It has yet to happen, but I still get a little excited whenever the ocean comes into view from my car window.

Although finding quality waves on this stretch of coastline can sometimes be a maddening affair, some of nature’s finest work is always on display. I have fond memories of sleeping amongst pines, waking up and walking through open pastures to a trailhead that meanders down the side of a cliff to an empty beach, with head high, glassy peaks peeling away with no one else in sight. It’s this kind of solitude and natural beauty that draws people here, scoring fun surf is usually just an afterthought. 

I’ve hosted a number of surfers over the years and as any good host would do, I try to find them the best surf experience possible. This has generally meant at least a day trip up the coast to Big Sur with each new guest. Usually the waves we score are basically forgettable, but almost always people say they plan on coming back. It’s a testament to the magic of the place. It matters little how moody the place can be, it has a unique draw that is hard to put into words. One minute it is laden with fog providing it with a feel more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, the next minute it is sunny and glassy allowing for ones imagination to draw comparisons to the north island of New Zealand or some other far off surf heaven. 

I think one of the things that captivate people about Big Sur is the allowance it affords for escape. One can’t help but get a little lost in the vastness of the natural beauty that surrounds them there. It doesn’t matter whether you are a million-dollar lawyer from Los Angeles or a computer engineer from Silicon Valley, when you enter Big Sur none of that is important. Nature takes center stage and man gets the privilege of simply experiencing something bigger than himself.

My last trip there was just a day trip with some friends. After our surf, as I was changing I began contemplating the pull this stretch of coastline has on me when I caught a whiff of some sage blowing through the air. It’s funny the way smells can trigger memories, and suddenly I remembered past trips along this coastline. I pulled my beanie down and headed back to the car. We checked probably a dozen spots before we ended up here, at this ordinary beach break, only to surf for about an hour. We’d end up spending more time in the car than in the water that day. As we loaded our gear in the car and began to drive away I rolled down my window for a second. That’s when I smelled it again, crisp and invigorating. It was nature, and I was content.