Tom Servais.

“The shell necklaces are from leaving Tahiti, the family I always stay with gives me them to me when I leave, as that’s a tradition there. I’ve probably had about 12 or so trips there. Other things on the wall include; Springbok gazelle skin from South Africa, cobra skin from Thailand given to me by Art Brewer, knickknacks from other trips, Surfer cover of Reef Macintosh from Tavarua, miscellaneous photos, replica of giant trevally fish I caught off the beach in Cabo which dragged me a 1/4 mile out to sea on a loaned surfboard from Pat O’Connel at Punta Perfecta, the rest is computers and office stuff. Behind my desk is a light table that I miss using, with 32 file cabinet drawers full of slides that need editing and scanning. Plus another 8 crates full of slide to sort out and refile.”

Tom Servais was born in Miami, Florida in 1953. He eventually moved to California in 1973 for a change of pace and to pursue surfing. Servais has lived there ever since, although with all the traveling, he feels he doesn’t live anywhere in particular. Servais started taking photo classes in college when he first moved to California. By 1977, he was working for Surfer Magazine and worked there for 20 years in the darkroom, assisting the photo editor and taking surfing photos. For the last twelve years he’s been working alone, developing a freelance business. Servais has other outdoor hobbies besides surfing include windsurfing, mountain biking, tennis, golf, snowboarding, to name a few. He feels very fortunate to make a living doing what he loves most.

FROM YOUR DESKS: How much time do you spend at your desk?

TOM SERVAIS: I was interested in being a marine biologist at one time, then I figured out 95% of their time is in a lab, not on a boat. Surf photography always had office work attached, but not as much as it has become with digital photos. I have to admit I spend way too much time in my office and it sometimes makes me feel psychotic, even worse is when you’re traveling and spending too much time on your computer instead of exploring, which is what you would expect you’re supposed to do when traveling. Nowadays, everyone wants the photos yesterday, so it’s hard avoiding the computer, if you do, your photos never see the light of day and you miss out on sales.

FYD: Is it hard for an outdoor guy to be indoors?

TS: Yes, it’s hard to be indoors so much.  I still love what I do, considering the alternative of working in an office all year with two weeks vacation, you have to be thankful for the better lifestyle than what most people have, but things have changed for sure.

FYD: How did you and Shepard Fairey hook up on the collaboration for Surfrider Foundation?

TS: The hookup was through a friend Jeff Divine, photo editor at The Surfer’s Journal. I’ve heard he’s a well-known artist and happy he chose to work with my photo. The photo (itself) is from Jaws and the rider is unidentified, uses like these are mostly a matter of luck, right place and right time.

FYD: Do you still remember like it was only yesterday,”The Perfect Day: Tavarua, Fiji?” How big was that wave?  

TS: That Perfect Day in Fiji- The cover shot of Reef (Macintosh) (small inset shot) is from a few days after the bigger wave of Shane Dorian (a huge wave by Fiji standards), and it is a 18-20 foot wave judged by big wave surfers, but the tow surfers ride much bigger waves than this fairly regularly.  We had the one really big day, and then a bunch of really good Pipeline like days before and after this big day. It was an unforgettable swell, 3 perfect days in a row, the stars don’t line up like that too often.  You can have plenty of swell for even longer than 3 days, but getting the good conditions at the same time is the hard part.

Nowadays, everyone wants the photos yesterday, so it’s hard avoiding the computer, if you do, your photos never see the light of day and you miss out on sales.

FYD: Are the waves getting bigger out there? If so, is this from the environment or have waves always been big? 

TS: Read the book called The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey.  It seems that the climate is having an effect on weather in general, but there have always been very big waves, but no one has been riding them or searching for them until tow surfing started.

It was an unforgettable swell, 3 perfect days in a row, the stars don’t line up like that too often.

(Image 1: Tom’s Desk. 2/3: Trevally fish and Springbok. Image 4: from the portfolio of Tom Servais. Image 5: Shepard Fairey/Tom Servias collaboration for Surfrider Foundation. Image 6/7: by Tom Servais)

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