In a bit of strange irony, optics on cinematographers is blurry. From Hollywood to the surf industry, actors and directors get the bulk of the credit for a film’s success.
That explains why, despite a storied career, Adam Klevin is not better known. Klevin’s partnership with Clay Marzo yielded 2008’s Just Add Water and 100s of webisodes and movie parts. 2020’s The Dry Reefer provides evidence that the relationship remains creative and productive. Bringing Klevin’s work into focus means digging into one question above all: why pursue an occupation so preoccupied with the person on the other side of the camera?
It turns out, that question is moot. At 16 years old, Klevin and friends took turns getting water shots in the barrel. Klevin is emphatic that his number one love is spearfishing. Regardless of the activity, Klevin needs the water; needs to feel it. The mental ease that comes from spearfishing feels similar to the joy that comes from swimming in big, heavy waves. Filming from the water can induce a natural Zen state that Klevin likens to being a monk seal. That satisfaction represents a built-in reward.
Maintaining a flow state is a necessity amidst the ebbs and flows of a fickle industry. Tracing Klevin’s career arc designs on a spearfishing film sloshed into testing a camera with Cheyne Magnusson and shooting a session at Honolua. Magnusson went off. True to family form, Marzo’s mentor and big brother stuck everything. In only two days, Magnusson and Klevin cut an edit called Wake Up and sent it to Taylor Steele who replied: “That’s so sick.” Steele’s praise and approval fueled the fire. That fire led to joining Quicksilver and filming the best in the world at places like Teahupo’o on salary. Fifteen hours on a tower represented both success and confinement because the freedom to do solo slab chases and feel the water is at the core of Klevin’s passion. Ebbs and flows.
Klevin’s easy demeanour should not lead to underestimation of his drive. A mental Rolodex of inspirations speaks to a desire to improve and an appreciation of the challenges of surf photography. The work of Daniel Russo, shooting Teahupo’o from behind as the surfer is barreled shallower than the photographer is emblematic of work Klevin appreciates. The picturesque Tahitian aesthetics belie the impossible demands placed on Russo when capturing his unique angle at one of the world’s heaviest waves. Klevin senses the danger and appreciates the beauty. Intimate knowledge of water filming facilitates the visceral awareness of tough shots. Other notables on the extensive mental list include Brian and Brent Bielman, Chris Bryan, Hank Foto, Dan Merkel, Larry Haynes, Jeff Hornbaker, and Tom Servais.
Filming on Maui, much like surfing on Maui, presents challenges and opportunities. Maui is an island of grovelers and grinders. The consistent trade winds complicate surfing and shooting, while Moloka’i and Lana’i can block swells. As a result, putting in the time on Maui means training for narrow swell windows. Training means surfing a lot of choppy, windy conditions. The rebrand of trades as “air wind” is classic silver-lining framing. Water filming in the wind is challenging, but few surf events reward like working to hang in the spot until an air explodes overhead. Water footage provides viewers the experience of being in the lineup with a friend. Watching a progressive air from Klevin’s vantage gives the vicarious, time-bending thrill of experiencing surfing excellence in the moment and imagining a future viewer reliving that moment.
Ecstatic moments require patience and positioning. Adam Klevin has witnessed generations of Maui surfers with talent. These days, Klevin shoots Maui’s world-class talent pool across sports to bring deserved exposure. Representing the island is a win for everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats. As Maui’s new generation takes flight, Adam Klevin aims to capture them at their apex.