For the past 20 years Steve Sherman has been lurking in the background during every major moment in surfing history. From world title showdowns to raging after parties to intense locker room dramas, Sherm always has a knack for finding himself in the right place at exactly the right time, and he’s never been afraid of pulling the trigger. Below is a hand-selected collection of some of Sherm’s favorite photos, both film and digital, over the course of two decades documenting our sport. And the best part? He figures he’s only just getting started.

“This is just after Parko won his world title at Pipeline, and just moments after getting smashed in the face by another photographer’s camera. You can see blood running down my forehead. Justin Jay took this photo and I think it represents what it’s like documenting from the trenches.”

“This is two days after Andy passed away, when we had a memorial paddle out in Puerto Rico. I had a really tough time deciding whether to paddle out or stay on the beach and document. I was super torn. But I decided at the last minute to stay back and shoot photos, and I got some really powerful stuff. I think I did the right thing.”

“This was in 2009, at the Hurley Pro. Dane made it all the way to the final and he was so dehydrated that he actually asked me for a coffee or a beer before the final [laughs]. The doctor in the contest area offered him an IV and though he was skeptical he went for it. I got in trouble with the ASP for sneaking in and taking this photo but Dane was stoked. He didn’t mind at all. He did end up losing to Mick Fanning a few minutes later, though.”

“This was a cool moment in France between Kelly and Sunny. They were number 1 and 2 in the world at the time and Sunny had just signed a deal with Blue Hawaii but didn’t have any stickers, so Kelly offered to draw the logos on his board. This is in 1995, and it’s the first true photojournalistic moment of my career and the photo that made me go ‘Wow, I can do this.’”

“I have so many photos of surfers with hands over their faces — when shit hits the fan it’s the go-to. This is Kelly right after he won his 10th world title in Puerto Rico, which is right after Andy had died, so I can only imagine what sort of emotions he was feeling in this moment.”

“This is the last morning of the Pipe Masters, when Mick was going for the world title after finding out his brother had passed away the night before. Here he is embracing his Mom before his first heat. This is a really powerful, but also really beautiful photo.”

“I love Adriano. I was so generally stoked to see him win the world title this year. Nobody has ever deserved it more than him.”

“This is Sunny Garcia with Randy Rarick in the background. Randy was the contest director and he didn’t budge and allow Sunny to surf after Sunny showed up late to his heat at Haleiwa. It ended up costing him the Triple Crown. Sunny couldn’t believe it, and it was a really tense moment.”

“A lot of people kind of think Taj didn’t care enough to win a world title but that’s not the case. Here he is throwing a chair at Lowers after a last second loss to Kelly. You can see his trainer, Johnny Gannon, walking away in the foreground. This was a really uncomfortable moment.”

“Here’s Jordy Smith kissing his wife Lyndall at a party with Jarrad Howse in the foreground. That’s a real moment, it’s not setup. Party photos are tricky — you have to make sure you don’t cross the line and bum anyone out. I have a lot of party images that’ll never be shown [laughs].”

“Kelly and Pamela Anderson at the US Open in 1996. Within two hours of taking this I had major paparazzi magazines calling me trying to get this image, and I wouldn’t budge out of respect. This is a rare photo of these two together at a contest.”

“This is Andy and Bruce hugging after making the final in France together in 2004. This is the only real, heartfelt hug I ever witnessed between these two. I made a print for them and they gave it to their mom as a Christmas present.”

All photos and words by Steve Sherman

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