For photographer Matt Bauer, surfing is both a passion and the subject of his (stunning) images. We chatted with the Los Angeles-based photographer and creative director to hear his take on how he's traveling safe in the age of COVID (with family in tow) and why he loves Waikiki (hint: it's not just about catching waves)—oh, and how an old ski pole and some PVC pipe helped him launch his first in-the-water surf shots.
As a frequent traveler, we'd love to get some of your tips on travel in the age of COVID, but first we'd love to chat a bit about your background. How did you get your start in photography. Do you remember taking your first shot?
(Matt) What a great question. I honestly don't remember the first image I took. I became interested in photography and videography by being a curious kid (with two other brothers) growing up with the rise of technology and the birth of the internet. I remember experimenting and learning with all sorts of film and digital cameras as a teenager. My drive was all about documenting memories and making fun home videos of our family trips and adventures with friends. One memory that will stick with me forever was when I was in high school in 2003/2004. I took my summer savings as a lifeguard to buy my first digital camcorder. I then remember building a water housing out of PVC pipe and an old ski pole. I took it with me on my first trip to Costa Rica. I would push the record button, place it in the PVC pipe, seal it up, and hope it wouldn't leak. I never thought of it as a possible career but more as a way to make moments live on. Capturing photos and videos went hand in hand with building websites and using social media as each platform launched. I still remember the Myspace days and when my college got access to Facebook as a Freshman. As these platforms grew, so did my fascination in meeting other like-minded creatives and making things that made an impact on others.
Surfing is a key part of your imagery and aesthetic as a photographer. What draws you to the water? What does surfing mean to you in your day-to-day life as an Angeleno?
(Matt) The water is my happy place. I was very lucky to be introduced to swimming at a very young age. I grew up as a competitive swimmer in Pennsylvania surrounded by some of the most talented coaches and swimmers that really help shape who I am today. I went on to swim in college with the dreams of one day competing in the Olympic Trails (as most young athletes). While in high school and college I found myself spending any free time trekking through the snow on the beaches of New Jersey to surf in the freezing water while everyone looked at us like we were crazy. When my swimming career came to an end after graduating college, I found myself following my dreams of living the surf lifestyle in Southern California. I immersed myself in the industry working for Surfer and Surfing Magazine to eventually working for different brands within the industry. That's where my personal aesthetic really began to develop. I replaced my morning and evening swim practices with surfing and have never looked back. The ocean is a place that I can detach from all things, be in the moment with nature, and no matter how bad of a day I'm having, I can exit the water feeling better. It's honestly something I need to be the best version of myself.
As a Beachcomber Original, you've been a friend of Outrigger for awhile. What do you love most about the resorts?
(Matt) Easy! It's the people. I'm a simple guy and what I appreciate the most, is good humans. I've been very fortunate to travel to multiple Outrigger locations (Fiji, Kauai, Oahu) and the one thing that always stands out to me is how incredibly friendly and thoughtful each staff member has been to my family and me. The locations are stunning but the people are what make it special!
You’ve also been a frequent guest at Waikiki Beachcomber over the years, including a recent trip with your beautiful family. What was it like traveling in Waikiki during these times? How was it different (or the same!) as your trip here around the same time last year?
(Matt) It's been a very different year for all of us. My family and I have been extremely cautious during the pandemic and have done our best to follow every precaution to keep ourselves and the community safe, which has meant staying home quarantining. When things seemed to be getting better and travel was beginning to open up we of course jumped at the opportunity to experience Hawaii, a place we love so much again. Again, we followed every precaution (from pre/post-travel quarantine, testing, to wearing every mask, shield, visor you can imagine, while wiping everything down in sight with anti-bacterial wipes). Our Hawaiian Airlines flight was half empty and they did such a great job spacing everyone out. The airport was empty and travelers were very respectful. We felt very lucky to experience Oahu during this time. We've never seen the streets and beaches so empty. We know how much the local economy relies on tourism and felt better that we could help support some of the local businesses during our trip.
What are a few of your favorite moments from your stay this trip?
(Matt) This year was so special because our little girl is 3 years old and could really enjoy it. Seeing her swim fearlessly with her life jacket, kicking over waves was a memory I'll never forget. She didn't want to stop or want any help. She'd swim further and further out to sea. One of my favorite things about Waikiki is how beginner-friendly the beach is. It's so shallow you can walk so far out to the reef. Waikiki is truly a dream playground for all water activities for all ages.
What are your Top 5 Traveling-with-Family Tips for how best to stay safe and still have fun during the age of Covid?
Tip 1: Do your research. The COVID landscape is changing constantly and it's important to have the information you need to make the best decisions for you and your family.
Tip 2: Respect others. Take every precaution to create a safe environment for your fellow travelers and local residents.
Tip 3: Less is more. Do your best to limit what you think you need to bring (especially with kids).
Tip 4: Support local. Find local small businesses and support them.
Tip 5: Leave it better than you found it. Be a good human and pick up trash on the beach. Small acts can lead to a big impact.
What's your favorite way to stay positive during these times?
(Matt) Don't take anything for granted. Make the most of each day and try and do your part to support others (family, friends, and your community). I've been soaking up the time I get with my family while working from home. It's those little moments in between juggling video conference calls, being a dad, and a husband that I cherish. The worst part of my day used to be commuting in LA traffic and that's been replaced with extra time being with my family, I don't take that for granted. I've also made it a priority to connect with my family and friends on the other side of the country more since I haven't been able to see them in person in over a year. Last but not least, take time to be outside. Even if it's just a walk around the neighborhood. But don't forget your mask!
Check out more of Matt's photography collabs and his wish-I-was-there surf shots on his Insta and follow in his well-traveled footsteps with a Waikiki Beachcomber adventure of your own.