Robert Gallagher: Skim

Sep 28, 2015
Photographer Spotlight

It's no secret that surfing is the most popular water sport worldwide. However, to many people, skimboarding—a sport that involves riding waves using a board that is like a surfboard without fins—can be a little more of a mystery. After discovering that nearby Aliso Beach is the birthplace and international proving ground for skimboarding, California-based photographer Robert Gallagher decided to investigate and learn more about the growing, worldwide professional sport.

Robert's personal project, Skim, shows some of the premier skimboarding athletes in action at Aliso Beach, paired with gritty portraits of them in their skimming "uniform." The photos are action-packed, raw and real, and we're happy to showcase them on the blog today. Read more in the Q&A with Robert below!

How does this project fit into your photographic style? How did you get involved with this?

When a story subject peaks my interest, because it seems new and fascinating to me, I think the chances are it will be new and fascinating to others too so maybe there’s a project to be done on it. Also, I’m really interested in shooting what I call ‘in the moment, but separate from the moment’ portraits, if that makes sense. Portraits that capture who they are and what they do, but with a graphic simplicity that comes from eliminating the environment. Kind of like environmental portraits without the environment!

What is skimboarding?

Skimboarding is derived from surfing, but distinct in that you start from the beach running full-sprint towards incoming breaking waves, throw down your skimboard and hopefully launch into to shore break ... and then the really good guys can throw in some 360 degree aerials and tube rides before landing back on shore. It’s really quite spectacular to witness. They’ll sometimes casually land back on shore, dry as a bone, pick up their board, as if nothing happened!

Why did you decide to pursue skimboarding as a personal project?

It’s just so visually cool, and I hadn’t really known about it—that It had a professional worldwide league, that these guys took it so seriously and that Aliso Beach is like Ground Zero for it. I’ve always wanted to do a story on local surfers at the Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu (Hawaii), so this was kind of like a derivative of that project idea.

How did you find your subjects? Were the portraits photographed near the beach or did they come to your studio?

Once I got to know some of the locals, I began to find subjects who would take part in the project. I shot the portraits right at the beach. Normally I’d have to take a backdrop with C-stands, etc, which is a nightmare at the beach, but thankfully, there was a little cafe right there with a perfectly clean, painted whitewashed wall. So in certain light, it became my portrait studio (daylight location photo studio idea courtesy of the great Richard Avedon.)

Were there any challenges involved with this project? If so, how did you overcome them? 

I had some very specific art direction ideas going into it. But, I quickly found skimboarding, at least as this high level, to be very hard to predict and nail down. For instance, at first glance, all the guys just seem to line up on the beach, very casually, then all of a sudden, one or two will take off, at full sprint. So the key ingredients for a good, "skimable" wave are very unpredictable and gone in an instant. You have to be on your toes, but planning a pre-determined shot, for example in a lit, staged manner, is very tricky. With an actual budget I would like to accomplish a cool shot with strobes on boats backlighting the action. We’ll see. I certainly have the models for it!


Robert plans to continue working on the project, and maybe even collaborate with one of the board manufacturers in making a book. For now, he's sure of just one thing:

Skimboarding is a great leg workout!

Check out more of Robert's work on his website, gallagherphoto.com.

Tags: aliso beach california los angeles photographer portraiture robert gallagher skimboarding sportsfitness surfing