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Below the Surface With Todd Glaser

From collaborations with Taylor Steele and Kelly Slater to sessions with Jack Johnson, local photographer shares his top 13 photos of all time

Todd Glaser Photos

GREG LONG - SECRET SPOT - 2009 | “Greg and his brother Rusty have spent their whole lives traveling the world and experiencing new cultures, constantly on the hunt for a new wave. With the right swell, wind, and tide, a wave that others may not have thought existed can turn into one of the best waves in the world. When you figure that formula out, you keep those notes to yourself and keep the circle of friends you trust even closer. When Greg called me to go ‘find a few waves,’ I knew we’d be on an adventure. To where I’ll never say. But we surfed alone that week with his brother, good friend Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, and our dear friend Noel. This image was my first cover for Surfer Magazine and won their 2009 Photo of the Year.”

It’s rare to have the combination of sun, swell, and a good sandbar all come together,” says renowned surf photographer Todd Glaser. “When the conditions align, you get these magic days of waves.” Glaser’s hair is wet, dripping down his freckled cheeks. Considering he shoots the world’s top surfers at big breaks—including his gig as Kelly Slater’s go-to photographer—he could be talking about Mavericks or Pipeline.


Todd Glaser underwater

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE AND KELLY SLATER – SOUTH PACIFIC – 2017 | “We had some of the clearest water in the world here, which is why I was underwater most of the day. John John Florence was flying by in the tube, and Kelly had the choice of duck-diving behind me or in front of me—he chose in front. The image embodies the entire theme of the “Proximity” book project and serves as a reminder that every image we make is a collaborative process.”

Today, Glaser is in a coffee-fueled reverie about his home break—Seaside Reef, where he grew up bodyboarding and surfing, walking with his board from Earl Warren Middle School and High School for Surf PE. In fact, North County has become the main source of his creative collaborations, be it with laidback legend Rob Machado or prolific surf-film director Taylor Steele, with whom he co-conspired on the book and film project, Proximity.

“There’s this interconnectivity here,” says Glaser. “San Diego used to be the place where I’d rest and do laundry. Now, it’s where I get inspired, practice my craft and apply it elsewhere.”

Todd Glaser Rob Machado

ROB MACHADO – OCEANSIDE – 2019 | “Rob is a photographer, so he knows light as well as anyone, and you can see it in the amount of morning images we’ve made together. His zen-like approach to life on land is echoed in the way he surfs—without any extra movement, in control and poised. We made this image with a very wide-angle fisheye lens, and Rob passed by within a few inches of me after this frame.”

Equally talented in shooting land, water, and lifestyle photography, Glaser’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, GQ and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. He has an uncanny ability to shoot surfing from underwater, expressing the sport’s intimacy and action from an angle very few have mastered.

“It’s quieter underwater. The more you can push the noise away, the easier the story is to understand,” he says. “Sometimes I joke that if I never shot another photo above water, I’d be ok with it.” As he walks toward Lofty Coffee on Cedros Avenue, it’s clear that Glaser’s passion and career are one and the same.

“Because of this camera,” he says. “I’ve been in a room of people I never thought I’d be connected to. It’s how I communicate.”

Todd Glaser Black's Beach

BLACKS BEACH – FRIENDS - SAN DIEGO 2009 | “This image is a constant reminder for me to always keep the lens cap off until you get to the car. I was walking up from the beach after swimming for a few hours when I looked up and saw this wave.”

Todd Glaser Andy Davis

ANDY DAVIS – SOLANA BEACH STUDIO - 2020 | “I swung by Andy’s studio to have a coffee and catch up when we thought it’d be fun to take a few portraits. This was the last shot and my favorite—free-flowing, casual, relaxed, but with purpose. Andy sees the world differently, and his use of color and spacing leaves me wondering what combination he’ll dream up next.”

Todd Glaser Jack Johnson

JACK JOHNSON – SOUTH PACIFIC - 2017 | “Jack and I got a call from Kelly the day before about chasing a swell to one of his favorite waves in the world. On the flight, Kelly and I were fast asleep while Jack stayed up writing down a few notes and chords for an idea he had for a song. I had my camera, snapped a photo, then grabbed my bags, and off we went. Those lyrics turned into ‘Sunsets for Somebody Else.’”

Todd Glaser single fin

SINGLE FIN - FIJI | “Joel Tudor’s single fin among the clouds and between sets on a hot and windless day.”

Todd Glaser Pat Stacey

PAT STACEY – SEQUIOA - 2017 | “One of my dear friends and an amazing surf photographer. We were in Lemoore for a shoot at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch. He suggested we go check out Sequoia on a down day. It’s his happy place, and this was my first time there. We were just playing around, hiking, checking it all out when the fog came in, and he said he’d always wanted to skate through the redwoods.”

Todd Glaser Skip Frye

SKIP FRYE – SHAPING ROOM - SAN DIEGO | “Skip is one of our living legends that you still see gliding through the water daily. He defines style, grace, poise. He’s a true craftsman, through and through, and does it all wearing his Chuck Taylors. Skip was kind enough to open up his shaping room for a few portraits in Surfer Magazine.”

Todd Glaser Kelly Slater

KELLY SLATER – KELLY SLATER SURF RANCH - 2017 | “Kelly and his team have created the most perfect man-made wave in the world. It’s wild to think that this wave breaks daily like this, stoking first-time surfers and 11-time world champions.”

Todd Glaser Seaside Reef

SEASIDE REEF – SAN DIEGO 2020 | “The wave I’ve spent most of my life surfing. From walking down the street from Earl Warren Middle School with my board to Surf PE in high school to present day, it’s been a second home. When the conditions all align, you get these magic days of waves.

Todd Glaser Mark Cunningham

MARK CUNNINGHAM – PIPELINE 2022 | “Mark is a retired lifeguard who worked at Pipeline for nearly four decades. An incredible waterman and friend, he makes the difficult seem nearly effortless as he moves smoothly through the water. While we were in Hawaii this winter, we spent almost everyday body surfing through the reef’s little nooks and crannies.”

Todd Glaser Jussi Oksanen

JUSSI OKSANEN – CARDIFF 2021 | “Jussi and I are always talking about chasing shadows, which is what inspired us to make this image together. Every year on Jussi’s birthday, he does a kickflip for every year spent on this earth.”

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