The Deadliest Wave Killed Her Father. Then She Captured It
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This stunning short film will leave you breathless.
By Matt Foley
Somewhere, burrowed deep inside a rarely examined space, you feel it. The fear, pain and sadness that accompanies truly devastating loss is, eventually, realized by us all — and often dealt with through denial. But how do you know when it’s time to confront your greatest demon?
For Hawaiian surf photographer Amber Mozo, each inescapable trip to the ocean opened the ever so slight of wounds. It had been 13 years since her father, surf photographer Jon Mozo, was killed at Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline — commonly known as the world’s most deadly wave. And for 13 years, Amber — born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu — avoided the Pipeline, even as surfing’s biggest events frequented the break. She’s traveled the world taking photos, yet avoided her own backyard.
Amber embarked on a personal journey to confront the wave that took her father’s life, and to discover why he let it happen.
This year, that changed. With the help of friend and fellow surf photographer Zak Noyle, Amber embarked on a personal journey to confront the wave that took her father’s life, and to discover why he let it happen. The beautifully produced short film Forgiving Pipeline documents her exploration. When Noyle — who produces films and photography for Red Bull — first brought the idea to the brand’s production team, it was immediately greenlighted. If Amber wanted to share her story, they wanted to help tell it. “Zak’s known for a long time what this would mean to me,” says Amber. “I trusted him that we would do it right.”
Jon owned a gallery on the island’s North Shore and was known as a pioneer for turning wave photos — most from the nearby death trap — into art. Day after day, he swam out to Pipeline alone, snapping breathtaking empty wave shots that no one else dared to try. “He was more concerned with beautiful photos to sell around the world,” says Amber. “People appreciated that it was his passion and reflected his way of life.”
“My dad knew he was going to die there,” Amber says. “I had to find out why it was worth it to him.”
Amber now sells her own work — she’s amassed a sizable fan base of over 128,000 followers on Instagram — but she had yet to overcome her biggest rival. “My family centers our life around the ocean,” Amber says. “It’s my inspiration. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with Pipeline.”
When the 2018 Volcom Pipe Pro World Surf League competition rolled into Oahu in January, Noyle had a feeling that it was time to show Amber the way. And because of his own debt of gratitude, Noyle knew that he wanted to guide Jon Mozo’s daughter himself. He put Amber through days of underwater rock runs to help train for Pipeline, where one wrong move can spit a photographer back on the sand — or, worse, stick them tumbling through the shallow water into the reef.
As the film progresses, we learn whether Amber will fold or flourish from the existential pressure bubbling beneath the thunderous waves of this deadly reef. For a while, both options seem possible, but the ecstasy that bore her father’s passion is undeniable. “I could feel that Pipeline was my dad’s friend,” says Amber. “I know that the last few seconds of his life, he must have been really happy.”