How a former professional Rugby player tackles walls of water
Seb Diaz was a talented footballer with a promising future when fate dealt him a cruel blow. He’d just bee asked to trial for the Balmain Tigers (at the tail end of a Golden era when the likes of Tim Brasher and Paul Sironen were still pulling on the iconic yellow and black jersey) when a car accident prematurely ended his career.
“As pre season with the tigers was wrapping up I noticed a guy getting into a car so I thought I'd walk behind it as he was parked pretty close to a wall and by walking behind it he could drive straight out. ”
Instead the driver, who later explained he hadn’t slept in nearly two days, accidentally hit the reverse gear and pinned Sebastian against the wall.
“At that moment I was directly behind the Ute; it forced me into the air and trapped me between the car and the wall. The collision left me with two fractured vertebrae and ended my footballing dream right there and then.”
With top-flight football no longer an option Seb started working as a Qantas flight attendant, which meant plenty of travel, and nurtured a hobby in surf photography.
“Lucky for me I picked up a camera and it replaced my focus from the footy field to the water and I've never left it.”
Although Seb shoots photos wherever and whenever he gets the chance, the famous Newport Wedge has become an obsession for the Sydney-based photographer, who travels to the USA regularly with work. Below, he discusses why the colossal, Californian sidewinder has him under a spell.
Obviously you travel a lot as a flight attendant, but how did your infatuation with The Wedge begin?
The wedge is definitely my favourite wave in the world because it's unique to any wave I've ever seen. Each wave is different, each wave speaks a different language; but they all bring the pain if you don't judge it well.
Can you describe why the wave actually turns into a mutant sidewinder that doubles in size once it hits shore?
So the wave is a man made accident; a break wall was built to protect the boats coming into Balboa and what it created was a wave that has taken lives and broken bones. The wave comes in and because of the wall the water can't go out like a conventional beachie where the water runs out via a rip either side of the peak. So that pushes the water of the previous wave parallel to shore and when it hits the next wave, well that's when the magic happens.
Is it a scary place to swim?
It is a daunting; yet exciting place to jump in the water at because of the strong rips, size and thickness of each wave. And when it hits the side wash it can double or triple in size and that's where, as a photographer, you don't want to be.
Have you witnessed stand up surfers making barrels?
Plenty of guys surf it before the black ball flag* goes up but none better than PunkerPat , Rudypalmboom and Shreddyhb.
What’s the craziest thing you have seen?
A 20 ft wedge – I thought I was going to drown.
Witnessed any bad accidents?
There's always someone hobbling up the beach. I think The Wedge has claimed eight lives to date.
Is there a crew of guys who are regularly on it? Bodysurfers, surfers, skim boarders
The wedge crew are a tight bunch with plenty of likeable photogs like Robbie Crawford, Jason Fenmore Ohdagyo, Shaun Smith smitherspix and Rick Mosley Ricky shoots.
Who gets the best shots in your opinion?
(*Blackball is an American term, used to describe a flag system, which legally prevents surfers from riding a break. In Newport it is usually operates between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)