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Surf from the Outside and Inside
by Regina Ip
"Black's Beach"

Dave Frankel takes his camera underwater in search of unique images of the surf.
Internationally Known Photographer, Dave Frankel, Surfs Local Beaches with His Camera
Dave Frankel is a native La Jollan who has surfed the waters of the Pacific Ocean since he was five years old. He got his start as a photographer unexpectedly when he was a teenager in the seventies. Frankel was with a group of friends who went to Trestles, a group of surfing spots at San Onofre State Beach. Not everyone’s surfboard could fit in one car, so Frankel brought his camera instead.

Since then, the self-taught photographer has captured the spirit and enormity of powerful waves around the world — from Baja California to Indonesia. But most of his striking photos were taken here in his hometown of La Jolla.

His favorite spots to capture spectacular images of waves were, and still are, at Black’s Beach, where many photographers from well-known surfing magazines also hung out to take photos. Frankel showed his photos to some of the photographers, who then encouraged Frankel to submit his photos to magazines.

The first magazines to publish his photos were Surfer Magazine and The Surfer’s Journal. Since then, Frankel’s images have also graced the pages of Surfing Magazine, Longboard Magazine, Surfer’s Path (Europe), Pacific Longboard (Australia) and Nalu (Japan).

The Waves of San Diego

“Coast Blvd. La Jolla”

Frankel enjoys taking photos at Black's Beach and the La Jolla's reef breaks due to its dynamic character.

"Black's is known as a world-class surf break. A lot of people come to surf there...There's this tremendous submarine canyon that has a great influence on the waves. On a big swell, they typically come in at a third larger than any of the other beaches around. It also changes angles of the waves. They come in at these crazy angles and it produces amazing surf a few times a year."

However, Frankel does come across some challenges in shooting at the secluded beach, which is part of Torrey Pines State Park. “Shooting Black’s is challenging because the sun is frequently behind the waves and it’s shining in your face. The surf is big and there’s mist that always gets backed up against the cliffs. You don’t always have a clear shot from the beach. There are gorgeous trails that lead down the cliff where you can shoot from.”

He also described the varying degrees of difficulty at other parts of San Diego. The waters of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach have gentle sloping symmetry that makes waves not very critical, according to Frankel. On the other hand, the waters at Sunset Cliffs and La Jolla Shores get shallow more abruptly, so the waves are steeper and have more power.

“San Diego has such a beautiful coastline to take pictures on a nice day. Just get out of your car and find some really beautiful viewpoints that you might not otherwise see. They’re all over the place.”


“Ryan Bracker, La Jolla”
Surf Photography is Hard Work

“I’m usually running with a heavy bag, sweating, getting dirty, tripping and falling down some obscure trail to try to find a unique viewpoint. Actually, more and more lately, I’m way more inspired to shoot in the water.”

Frankel uses a self-built underwater camera case, called a water housing, to take photos in the water. “I go swimming out into the impact zone to get those close images with the water and really try to get a sense of what it feels like.”

He currently uses a Canon EOS 7D for his photography. With the popularity of photography, the emergence of various imagery styles and the latest cameras, such as the GoPro camera, finding a unique shot is difficult, according to Frankel. “There’s such an amazing, tidal surge of imagery coming into the publications. It just makes it incredibly competitive. It’s difficult to be creative. People have just thought about everything to get every kind of angle.” .

Displaying Photographs

“Close Encounter, Black’s Beach”. The name of this photograph refers to the shark swimming near the surfer!
At the moment, Frankel is putting together a gallery for Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. He also frequently participates at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, where he calls his 10-by-10-foot tent his “gallery.”

He plans on doing more local events. Last summer, he participated in the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival.

Inspired Woodworking

Frankel is also artistic in other ways. He builds furniture and surfboards as well. “I’ve just like doing things with my hands and I’ve always been intrigued with how a board works and how things can be different.”

His “other” career has mostly been in carpentry and construction. Frankel — who has worked with high-profile architects and technicians in the design industry — also builds high-end custom home furniture for houses in Rancho Santa Fe and other areas. “My forte has always been carpentry — everything from framing to finish to cabinets.”


Frankel, who grew up with beautiful furniture pieces and an artistic mother, said his designs draw heavily from the sleek Scandinavian and Danish classics and are fused with the materials found in early surfboard designs. But his construction company had to come to an end when the “economy hit the skids.” Now, he is mostly taking care of his two boys and working on his photography.

Frankel is in the midst of putting together prints, gallery wraps, coffee mugs and sublimation aluminum sheets with images of his work. A portion of online sales will be donated to WiLDCOAST, an international conservation organization, and art programs at local schools and foundations.

To learn more about Frankel, visit lajollasurfgallery.com

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