Hatsumi shot one of my favourite surf pictures of all times: Leah Dawson squaring a wave face, hands in the air, balancing as only she does between the improbable and a miracle. All of the surf experience is condensed in that split second, the joint singularities of human and wave forever united.
Hatsumi didn't set off with starry ambitions. "I had Nikon camera a with 200mm lens. I was not into surf photography , but the local Canggu kids wanted to get their surfing photos, so I started to shoot them, and they LOVED it. Even the unfocused shitty photos they LOVED, haha! It made me feel good and they were happy about it too. I saved money for a year and bought a 500mm lens. After that, everyone wanted to get a photo from me, so I became the 'camera lady on the beach'! I didn't make any money and gave every away for free. It wasn't about the money: I just really enjoyed shooting, photography allows me to connect with people in a unique way."
'The camera lady' clearly had an eye for capturing humanity in waves and soon moved beyond the shores into the water. And she didn't laze about: 'my advice would be to keep shooting, most shots are a fail: it may have water marks, be overexposed, the water covers the surfer's face, etc.... Sometimes I might get ZERO shots, even after swimming for 3 hours! Of course shutter speed and aperture are important but you need to spend a lot of time in the water. Once a week is not enough to understand how the water moves, how and where waves break, how tides affect things etc... so many faces of the ocean to discover!"
Fittingly, it isn't just the ocean that has many faces.
Hatsumi is herself an accomplished longboarder, a prowess when you consider she started at the tender age of... 25! "I started surfing in Okinawa (Japan) when I was 25 years old. My friend pushed me to take on surfing, but she gave me a 6'4 sinker! I had no surf instructor, so I struggled to stand up for 9 months!! Just padding and falling off. Not fun hahaha! But I still enjoyed spending time with my friend in the water. Eventually I figured out longboards were probably better for beginners...."
She also figured out that surfing would be her life, left Japan, moved to Bali and now spends up to "8 hours in the water, my eyes can't open at end of the day!"
And when most people would be content with this, Hatsumi decided to take on shaping: "I shaped two boards in Bali. I was taught by an Indonesian shaper. My first board was a wooden board! It took a year to finish because I was working full time, so I could go only once a week to the shaping room. It was a slow process plus, if it was pumping, I had to go surf! I just wanted to learn what the process was all about. And I found out that it is a lot of work! Shaping by a hand requires skill and perfection. I am proud I actually sold the two boards I shaped and I used the money to buy a waterhousing for my camera!"
And as they say, the rest is history?
In one of her posts, Hatsumi had a short outburst on the current state of female representation in the media: ""I don't live to show the tits and butts in Gstrings that most brands, magazines, social networks call women."
She is conscious of the role of photographers and regrets that that everyone seems to think "showing tits and butts is the only way to get attention", as it creates "a big misunderstanding of who we are". As it happens: "a bunch of brave women charging and challenging their limits."
The surf industry is generally conservative and is not generous with women who don't wish to embrace the restrictive role they are assigned.
In another post, Hatsumi talked about how she had to face prejudice in the lineup: "since i started shooting in the Mentawais, i haven't seen any female photographers in the water. Pretty much everyone in the lineup looked at me like" what are you doing?" Some guy even didn't clock my camera and asked if I'd lost my board. I hope this year i can shoot bigger waves with boys AND girls in the water."
But as a true surfer, Hatsumi has learnt to go with the flow while not being shy of being herself: "After 5 years travelling and living by myself in places I didn't know made me so much stronger. I have been through so many difficult situations, I don't really fear trouble or difficulty. There are always ways to go forward and keep moving".
Did I mention Hatsumi is also a yoga instructor? I am sure her 'warrior' is of the most exquisite shape.
Follow Hatsumi on Instagram: hatsumisurfboard
Chief Storyteller at Swellbound