Monday, August 16, 2010

Great Article on David Puu

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Courtesy of David Pu'u Pro surfer Mary Osborne of Ventura poses for David Pu'u in this 2004 photo shot near Solimar Beach and titled 'Voyage.' The 28-year-old Osborne has worked frequently with Pu'u over the years and says, 'He can capture things you don't even see. He has a real unique eye for surf photography. I mean, I just surf; he does all the beautiful stuff.'

Courtesy of David Pu'u
Pro surfer Mary Osborne of Ventura poses for David Pu'u in this 2004 photo shot near Solimar Beach and titled "Voyage." The 28-year-old Osborne has worked frequently with Pu'u over the years and says, "He can capture things you don't even see. He has a real unique eye for surf photography. I mean, I just surf; he does all the beautiful stuff."

David Pu’u has swum with the sharks 21 times and had his surfing photography appear in famous publications, but he’d just as soon stay well out of focus when the spotlight turns to him and his deeds.

The reclusive artist says the ocean, around which most of his life’s been framed, is all about solitude. He would not allow a mug shot of himself for this story, nor any photos of his studio. Said the longtime Venturan: “I spend all my time trying to maintain my privacy. I’d rather if no one knew who I was.”

That’s what Pu’u thought would happen in the mid-1990s, when he gave up life as CEO of his own surfboard and apparel company, which included beach shops in Ventura and Santa Barbara, and turned to photography.

The artists' surf-and-sea-themed work will be on display through Sept. 6 at Fox Fine Jewelry, 210 E. Main St., Ventura (across from the mission). Artwork also is hanging next door at J's Tapas, 208 E. Main St. The Fox store hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. J's Tapas is open 5-10 p.m. weekdays and 5 p.m. to midnight on weekends. For more information, call 652-1800 or visit For more on Pu'u, see

But things keep getting in the way. Like his award-winning, high-profile globe-trotting work, which has appeared in Surfer magazine and The Surfer’s Journal, as well as The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Time and Playboy, to name just a few.

Pu’u has surfaced long enough again for an exhibit — another rarity for him — at Fox Fine Jewelry in downtown Ventura, done in tandem with longtime collaborator Sandra Clermont, a painter and Aussie import who bases some of her paintings on his shots. For those who might wash down their art with a martini and a meal, the exhibit also has spilled over onto the walls at the adjoining J’s Tapas restaurant.

For these two artists, water, coast and surf are soulful spots. Pu’u spoke of how all life came from the sea, and how human blood is saline.

“It’s a fascinating thing to be in,” Pu’u said of seawater. “It’s a very visceral attraction.”

Clermont calls surfing “an art form in its own right.”

“It’s at the core of my being,” she said in a separate interview. “I love everything about surfing and the lifestyle, and the ocean provides an endless array of ideas to paint from.”

‘The beautiful stuff’

Despite his shy nature, the 53-year-old Pu’u was an engaging and genial interview.

He’s at a loss for how quickly his photography career — he started at age 11 with his dad’s Army-issued Nikon camera, but that was largely dabbling — has blossomed. Being a pro surfer for years, where he was around the photography end of it a lot and picked up a few things, has helped, he allowed.

When he started shooting professionally, he submitted stuff to old surfing contacts who told him to pursue it. One thing led to another, he said, “and the work became a virus that went everywhere.”

Mary Osborne, a 28-year-old pro surfer who lives in Ventura and has gone on shoots with Pu’u around the world, thinks she knows why.

“He’s very quiet and humble, but you can tell there’s a lot going on in that brain,” she said. “He can capture things you don’t even see. He’s different from others — he has a really unique eye for surf photography. I mean, I just surf; he does all the beautiful stuff.”

Osborne, who runs a surf camp for kids and a tanning business when not off competing somewhere, has gone with Pu’u to the Maldives, Panama, Mexico and other locales.

“I definitely could not have done a lot of things I did without Dave,” said Osborne, who’s known him since she was in her mid-teens.

She also saluted him for mentoring her on business aspects of surfing, modeling and such.

His photos, she noted, have become “extremely well-known in the surfing community.”

Pu’u was born in Santa Barbara and graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta and Santa Barbara City College, where he got a degree in business management.

Pu’u is of Hawaiian-Polynesian descent, and his surname derives from a longer name that his family shortened more than 150 years ago. He had relatives in Hawaii, and visited them often. The ocean became a lifestyle.

He competed in swimming and water polo (as well as mountain biking). In the late 1970s, he turned pro surfer, competing far and wide, often at the whim of his sponsors.

In the early 1980s, he moved to Ventura. Soon, he poured his surfing knowledge into his own company, under the Morning Star name. He had board-and-apparel shops in Santa Barbara and Ventura, and three more were on the drawing board. He had a radio show on Santa Barbara’s KTYD.

But some things didn’t click. He became dismayed that the surfing industry’s craftsmen couldn’t afford to live in Southern California. His personal life was crumbling, including a divorce (he has two sons, 23 and 21, from the marriage).

“I said, ‘You know, things don’t look right — I’m outta here,’” Pu’u recalled. “Everything was spiraling. That’s why I became a photographer. I figured if I went behind the camera, no one would need to know me.”

About those sharks
Stoked on sea and sand

* Courtesy of Sandra Clermont Painter and avid surfer Sandra Clermont, who moved to Ventura nine years ago, finds similarities between our area and coastal life in her native Australia. Among her favorite local surfing haunts are Faria Beach and C Street in Ventura, the latter the subject of this painting titled 'C-St Dreaming.'
* Courtesy of David Pu'u Renowned surfing photographer David Pu'u travels all over the world in pursuit of his art, but this striking shot of a wave catching morning sunlight was actually shot off Ventura in the winter of 2009. Pu'u calls this 'Gelid Inferno' -- gelid because he shot it on a cold winter's morning, inferno because it looks like fire and suggests the enormous energy contained in a wave.
* Photos Courtesy of David Pu'u Photographer-cinematographer David Pu'u has swum with the sharks 21 times during his long career. But this fin in motion is that of a dolphin that he encountered during a 2004 film shoot in the Santa Barbara Channel off our local coastline. He calls this wide-angle shot 'Rush.'
* Courtesy of David Pu'u Talk about the artist focusing on the artist: Photographer David Pu'u caught painter/sculptor/photographer Sean Tully gliding on the nose near his Ventura home last year.
* Courtesy of Sandra Clermont This Sandra Clermont painting titled 'The Rincon' is based on a photograph by friend and collaborator David Pu'u. Clermont likes to paint onto her handcrafted frames. 'It plays with the visual mind,' she says. 'It's a bit 3-D-ish.'
* Pu'u is known for shooting images while on the move -- from a helicopter, plane, surfboard or, as in this case, a Jet Ski. Asked what the attraction is, Pu'u replied, 'It's harder.' In this early 2000s image shot off the Central California coast, Pu'u holds the lens as pro surfer Mary Osborne of Ventura does her thing.
* Courtesy of David Pu'u David Pu'u captured water as almost a puffy cumulus cloud during a 2008 film shoot near the Maldive Islands. The movie, titled 'An Equatorial Conversion,' is still in production.
* Courtesy of David Pu'u Globe-trotting photographer-cinematographer David Pu'u never knows where he's going. In 2008 he traveled to the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean to shoot an unfinished film called 'An Equatorial Conversion' about humankind's relationship with the ocean environment.
* Courtesy of Sandra Clermont Aussie import and surfer Sandra Clermont finds a lot of vivid colors during her early-morning and late-afternoon surf sessions off Ventura. This locally inspired painting, 'Before the Carpark,' is a reflection of that and is among her works on display at Fox Fine Jewelry and J's Tapas in downtown Ventura.
* @TO 1-Caption Credit:Courtesy of Sandra Clermont All of Sandra Clermont’s paintings on display in Ventura, including this effort titled “C-St Reflections,” are oils on canvas and were done in the past three years. Clermont is new to oils, having previously focused on acrylics because she felt oils took too long to dry.
* @TO 1-Caption Credit:Courtesy of Sandra Clermont Painter Sandra Clermont tries to convey feelings of peace, tranquility, escape, reflection and freedom in her works and says this effort, titled “Can You See the Love?,” is a good example of those qualities. Says Clermont, “I believe that the greater artist of all is our Creator and I am but a clumsy admirer.”
* See all
13 photos
at full size

Despite occasionally being in what he called “the most dangerous circumstances possible,” Pu’u said he’s never had anything go horribly wrong.

That includes those 21 swims with great white sharks off such places as Ventura, Port Hueneme, the Rincon and, farther north, Moss Landing, where he saw a 16-footer.

“I’m on swim number 22 right now, coming up this fall, I think,” he said breezily. “That gets a little exciting.”

Pu’u claims that white sharks can sense a charge in a camera battery from 10 miles away.

“I’ve only had them come to take me away twice, but I talked them out of it,” he said wryly. “Usually, they are just like a cat. They come up to you, and then they leave you alone.”

Pu’u, who is a certified rescue boat operator, is known for shooting images on the move — be it from a helicopter, plane, Jet Ski or a board. That’s helped produce gripping you-are-there shots from inside the tube and a wonderful play of colors between sunlight and water, many taken off the county coast. His other ports of call with lens in tow have included the Seychelles, Bali, Java and Canada.

Pu’u said a good photo communicates an emotion, a tip he got from a female colleague who once tutored him on creativity.

His art takes a great deal of physical ability. He moaned about having to train longer as he ages, a fact that worries him because what he does is still a burning passion.

“You have to be physically, mentally and emotionally at the top of your game to get the image you want,” Pu’u said.

He has other interests. When he picked up the lens professionally, he also dived right into cinematography, knowing, as he put it, that “there was no money in surf photography.”

He’s mostly done films lesser known to the general public. More recently, he shot the in-water action scenes in Moorpark writer Jeff McElroy’s small surf-themed movie “Goofyfoot” that made the festival rounds earlier this year.

Pu’u could also pick up a brush. An uncle, an art professor at the University of Hawaii, taught him how to paint when Pu’u was 5. It’s one reason he loves collaborating with fine artists such as Clermont.

Painting in the spectrum

Clermont moved to Ventura from Australia nine years ago. Soon, aware of Pu’u’s work through surfing publications, she called him and asked if she could paint from his photographs. They’ve worked together since.

Pu’u, she said, captures a “beauty of tranquility” in his photography. On canvas, she tries to convey feelings of freedom, escape, reflection and peace. She derives those from surfing, but thinks the hustle and bustle of everyday life robs people of them.

“If I can transport the viewer to a place of peace, if even for just a moment, then I have succeeded,” the 42-year-old artist said.

The centerpiece of her smaller portion of the exhibit, a work titled “The Rincon,” is based on a Pu’u shot. All her works on display here are oils on canvas, all done in the past three years.

Clermont has a habit of continuing her paintings on to her handmade frames.

“It’s something different,” she said. “I really like the idea. It plays with the visual mind. It’s a bit 3-D-ish. Sometimes it works better than others, but you gotta try.”

Her work is bathed in vivid colors. Asked how she conjures those, Clermont cracked, “They make brightly colored paints.” But seriously folks, those gorgeous purples, pinks, oranges and such are what’s etched in her brain from her early-morning and late-afternoon surf sessions.

“These colors are so intense at times in the natural world that they are borderline surreal,” she observed.

Familiar turf — and surf

Clermont was born in Victoria state in Australia. When she was 6, the family moved to a tropical island off Papua New Guinea when her dad took a job in a sawmill there. It was a “very remote” existence; school was by correspondence. One year there, they were the only white family around; she and her siblings played with native children. She has fond memories — “I was able to run wild.”

The family later resettled on Australia’s Gold Coast, where her love of surfing and painting became ingrained. She later spent more than 10 years traveling within her homeland and abroad.

She had a simple answer for her move Stateside to Ventura.

“I married a Yank,” she said, her laughter conveying a typical Aussie cheerfulness. “He imported a bride.”

Being married has freed her to pursue her art, said Clermont, who remembers too much bar and restaurant work from her single days.

The Ventura area, she noted, has similarities in beauty to coastal Australia. Her local surfing haunts include the C Street-Surfer’s Point area in Ventura and Faria Beach farther up the Rincon. That’s reflected in paintings such as “C-St Dreaming” and “Before the Carpark.”

Clermont thanked Pu’u for his “gracious willingness to share” and considers it natural that they teamed on a show. She hopes there will be more. For Pu’u, surfing is more pastime than pursuit these days. He’s grateful for what he has and thankful that people still call him with work. He touched on a feeling Clermont and Osborne know well.

“I get to do some really nice stuff and hang out with some really cool people all around the world,” he said.

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