Mike Chlala sees the “perfect surf” through the set of two lenses: one through the eye of a surfer, the other through the lens of whatever camera he’s working with. This tandem skill has propelled his career as both a professional oceanic photographer and an avid surfer. A Fairfield native, Chlala used to daydream of a big swell as he was skimboarding along the shore of Penfield Beach or reading surfer magazines. In 2013 he decided to see the big waves for himself and took his passion and his camera to Hawaii, and he’s been attempting the perfect shot ever since. He’s worked with the World Surf League and been published in The Surfers Journal and Freesurf Magazine in Hawaii. How did his love of the ocean propel his career?
“I woke up one morning and announced to my family: ‘I think I am going to the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii in two weeks to see what I can do. One-way-ticket style. I have to see Pipeline!’ That was almost seven years ago,” he says, “and I haven’t looked back.”
My vision for my photography is to see the BEAUTY OF THE DANCE BETWEEN WATER AND LIGHT paired with perfect waves and being able to capture that emotion.
Although he missed out on a childhood of authentic surfing, Chlala is the first to say that his Fairfield roots were anything but lacking. “Growing up in a place like Fairfield is like winning the lottery and something I’ve never taken for granted. With amazing public education and proximity to New York City, you can literally do anything you want and get the skills to back it—that is, unless you want to surf and photograph the most perfect waves of consequence the world has to offer,” he says. “That early deprivation of my passion is why I’m so fired up at the age of thirty-three. I know what it’s like to not have what feeds your soul.”
Chlala’s father is from Lebanon, where, Mike says, “hospitality and family support is a priority.” His proud mother, Roe Chlala, is a well-known local event designer and caterer and introduced her son to the business at a young age. It turned out to be the first taste of his future career. “Skills in the service industry have allowed me to support my passion of surfing and photography and my love of the ocean until it could become my career,” he says. “It was also an amazing background for my wedding photography. I had no idea washing dishes at fourteen was building me up for what would be my career almost twenty years later.”
I’m a far cry away from a professional surfer but that hasn’t stopped me from sharing the lineup surfing and PHOTOGRAPHING THE BEST SURFERS in some of THE BEST WAVES IN THE WORLD.
The North Shore of Oahu is his mecca, for obvious reasons. The tide is high and the chance to surf the waves he’s been dreaming about are finally a reality. “Surfing is my favorite thing in the world. It’s given me so much—a love of the ocean, a passion for health and fitness and a unique perspective on how life can be,” he says. “I’m a far cry away from a professional surfer but that hasn’t stopped me from sharing the lineup surfing [where the waves break] and photographing the best surfers in some of the best waves in the world.”
As for how he creates the perfect shot, he focuses on the emotion of the wave. “My vision for my photography is to see the beauty of the dance between water and light paired with perfect waves and being able to capture that emotion,” he says. “Sharing it with others in the form of art, while also creating a record for myself with the intention of a life well-lived, is my journey.”
Like most things, not every shot or every surf comes without hard work, and he’s had a few bumps and bruises along the way. “I’ve endured multiple injuries, surgery. I’ve been broke and put my life on the line for these photographs as I swim out to capture the waves up-close and personal,” he says. These hard truths don’t stop this athlete/artist from fueling his passion and mastering his craft. ”My true goal is to take my viewers with me and get them a perspective they may not otherwise see.”
To collect Mike’s art and see more of his photography, go to mikechlala.com and on Instagram @chlala_shoots.
MY TRUE GOAL is to take my viewers with me and give them A PERSPECTIVE THEY MAY NOT OTHERWISE SEE.