Who’d of thought that receiving a camera as a gift from his mother at the tender age of nine would be the gift that would shape the life and career of Dave “Nelly” Nelson. The veteran surf photographer has travelled the globe shooting pretty much every surfer that has mattered over the past 30-odd years and built up an incredible portfolio whilst doing so.
It’s not been all perfect waves and sandy beaches though. “I was sucked over the falls at Pipeline and bounced off Lava on two waves in a row,” he says recounting one of the hairier moments of his career. “First one tore my elbow down to the bone, second one bounced off the bottom again on the port of my water-housing port drowning my camera equipment and fisheye lens.”
Spending so much of his life in the water means he’s also had his fair share of run-ins with sharks too. “Went out to Ano Nuevo with the Pelagic Research Team to check out great white sharks and shoot some photos for O’Neill wetsuits….. We got surrounded by four huge ones and one stuck around. He was on his side by the back of the boat staring at us. I leaned over the back and was shooting pictures of him when he decided to launch himself up and onto the back of the boat. It was like a scene straight out of Jaws.”
“The boat sagged and the team were trying to get it off the boat. It was massive! Full-on panic moment. I was like two feet from him and we locked eyes. It was so weird like looking into the eyes of a dinosaur. I’ll never forget that moment. The shark eased off the back of the boat and used its tail to splash the boat with about 50 gallons of water drowning two of their cameras. It was crazy.”
These days Nelly has found a way to combine his passion for surf and family. “I love taking pictures of my daughter Kiala Nelson. She has a zest for life and loves to surf and dance and they compliment each other well. Also, I love to shoot anyone pushing the limits of surfing and empty waves and Nature.”
Check out some of Dave’s finest below and head here to follow him on Instagram: