Eugene Tan and His Aquabumps - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Summer is just beginning in Australia – revel in it with surf photos from a guy who took quitting his day job to a whole new level.

Imagine it was your job to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, strap on a wetsuit, head down to a gorgeous Australian beach, dive into crystalline turquoise water and take pictures of your surroundings: waves, surfers and a 24-karat sunrise.

Sound magical? For Eugene Tan, one of Australia’s most famous surf photographers, this is his reality.

Rain or shine, Tan, nicknamed “Uge,” has been photographing Bondi Beach and neighboring surf spots in Sydney almost daily since 1999, save for a handful of sick days, the birth of his two sons and when he’s off gallivanting to other exotic locations.

Whether diving to the ocean floor or hanging out of a helicopter over the sea, Tan will do whatever it takes to get the right photograph.

His brand is called Aquabumps and it’s a household name in Sydney. Tan battles tumultuous waves — some as much as three stories high — amateur and professional surfers and the various creatures the ocean has to offer. He once cracked his head on a rock while shooting at a particularly dangerous beach, and another time he was chased out of the water by a massive stingray. Whether it means diving to the ocean floor or hanging out of a helicopter over the sea, Tan will do whatever it takes to get the right angle for a photograph.

Every day the 39-year-old prepares an email for more than 50,000 subscribers. He selects around eight photos he shot that morning, titles them with names like “Bondi Curly Bits ” or “Red Velvet Ceiling ,” writes up a short blurb about the day’s surf conditions and signs it ::uge. 

“Putting an email in front of someone just after they go off to work every day, it’s a way of giving them escapism,” says Tan.

His website receives 180,000 unique visits a month, and his framed photographs sell for $150 to $3,950 each, shipped to locations across the globe. His aerial shots are his most popular.

Once you’re familiar with Tan’s work, it’s easy to spot his trademark images, which capture moments of nature in motion merged with bold surfers . We feel it is only fair to warn those of you about to subscribe to Tan’s addictive bursts of daily beauty: The fiery skies and glassy waves of Bondi Beach will have you itching to drop everything and move to Australia. Expats of the Land Down Under sometimes say it’s heartbreakingly bittersweet to open the emails because it makes them long for home.

Tan’s success in photography is no small feat. Aquabumps’ sponsors include Canon, Audi, Telstra and Corona beer. His images are showcased on an Aquabumps  Speedo collection and on  Havaianas flip-flops . He travels frequently to Hawaii, Fiji and Bali and has been commissioned to fly to countries like New Zealand and Italy. (Rough life, Uge.) Tan just released his latest photography book,  The Beach Blog , which follows his first book,  A Day at Bondi . Tan says the most common misconception about him is that he spends all of his time taking pictures in the water. In fact, he’s often running his business and working at the gallery.

However, photography remained just a hobby for many years. Tan’s job as a creative director took him to Sydney in his early 20s, and one day he was inspired to borrow the company’s digital camera to take pictures at sunrise. It was the late ’90s when digital cameras were beginning to become more affordable, and email was the number one way to communicate and share photographs.

“I’d send the pictures to a few mates. I used to shoot and say, ‘Look at what you missed out on early this morning,’ to kind of rub it in,” he says, laughing.

When his friend offered him gallery space for cheap rent, he began to print his pictures. He sold out on opening day.

His email blast, which included the morning’s surf conditions, began to grow. Eventually he was invited to join famed surf photographer Jon Frank to shoot pictures for Surfing World magazine. Frank mentored Tan on how to shoot in the water, and as Tan’s photography skills grew, so did the word of mouth about his daily emails. He branded his emails with the Aquabumps name, and companies began to contact him for advertising. As the company became more popular , Tan decided to quit his lucrative job as a creative director to work on Aquabumps.

Tan’s dedication — not only as a photographer but as an entrepreneur — paid off. At first he resisted selling his images, shrugging it off as a hassle, but when his friend offered him gallery space for cheap rent, he began to print his pictures. He sold out on opening day. Oh, this is where the money is , Tan realized. It was also where his family would begin. Tan’s wife, Debbie, was a customer at Aquabumps. They now have two children: Jet, 2, and Spike, 9 weeks.

Debbie says that when Tan goes to photograph at Pipeline, the infamous surf break on Oahu’s North Shore, she waits on the balcony praying he’ll return. And with good cause for concern: Numerous photographers and surfers have been killed at there.

Does knowing the adrenaline-pumping risk Tan takes for his pictures make you less envious of his life? We didn’t think so.

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