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The San Clemente-based surf photographer shares her life’s journey as a lenswoman
By Andrea Swayne
San Clemente resident Sheri Crummer has long approached surf from the lineup and from behind the lens. Through more than five decades of surfing, a talent for capturing the magic of wave riding in pictures developed.
Surfing since the age of 7, the ocean has always been a part of her life.
“My mom bodysurfed when she was pregnant with me, so my love for the ocean must have been innate,” she said. “It was definitely passed down to me from my mom.”
As a kid, Crummer spent as much time as she could honing her surf technique, almost to the point of obsession, she said. Her second love growing up was baseball. In the early 1980s while living in Oceanside, Crummer was injured while playing and found herself sidelined from both sports.
“I couldn’t do either and was kind of moping around doing nothing,” she said. “My roommate handed me a camera. I went to the south jetty at the harbor and shot my first roll of film of the surfers there. When I saw the photos I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
A few years later she invested in her first camera gear and began taking photography classes at Saddleback College. Spending countless hours in the darkroom as a student and as a lab aid for some of the instructors further encouraged her.
She was featured in a few photography shows in Laguna Beach and at Cypress College and worked on a photojournalism project covering Operation Desert Storm.
In the early ’90s she turned down an opportunity to be under the mentorship of Guy Motil, publisher of Longboard Magazine.
“My confidence was lacking. I didn’t think I was good enough, so I passed,” Crummer said. “I think about that from time to time and can’t help but wonder what could have been. No regrets though.”
By that time she had built a successful amateur surfing career in Western Surfing Association and the Women’s International Surfing Association. She had some success in pro contests such as the Converse and Margaritaville longboard events. Crummer also competed in the ISP (International Surfing Professionals) which as the precursor to the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) where her best season ended with her claiming the No. 17 ranking in the world among women shortboarders. During that time, big titles were elusive but as a prolific competitor, she racked up a long list of individual contest victories.
The constant shooting and competing led to a bit of a burnout. Restless and looking for a new adventure, she left the coast behind in about 1994 and set out to see the rest of the country. From the Pacific Northwest and desert Southwest to the East Coast, Crummer tried a variety of jobs from transporting cars cross-country to banking.
The pull of the ocean took hold once again and in 2002 she returned to the West Coast, competitive surfing and surf photography. She also added judging to her repertoire.
Crummer became the three-time U.S. longboard women’s champion in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and at the age of 62 was the runner-up in 2012, and then again in 2013.
A longtime WSA board of directors member, she became the association’s official photographer in 2005. She is now the Scholastic Surf Series photographer, web master, social media director and a regular on the judging panel. She has also been the official photographer of the San Clemente Ocean Festival for four years. Crummer’s work was most recently published in Foam Symmetry Magazine out of New Zealand, in the form of a two-page spread featuring WSA and Surfing America Prime surfer Frankie Seely. In addition to all of her regular gigs, Crummer has become sought after for private photo sessions with the area’s most promising groms, as well as seasoned adult competitors.
Her love for experiencing the magic of wave riding from both atop a surfboard and behind the lens has remained a passion Crummer hopes to continue for the rest of her life.
“I love both so much and enjoy incorporating my surfing and judging abilities into my work,” she said. “Through the lens I can capture the perfect moment in time to share the stoke. If my photos evoke emotions, whatever they may be, then I was a success.”