Photo Essay: Ode to the Ocean

By Ella Frances Sanders, Illustrator in Residence Share

There is nothing quite like the fear-inducing yet heart-lifting nature of the ocean. Like staring into the night sky or watching the flicker of a flame, there is something truly mesmerising about watching the waves break repeatedly onto the shore. With the Maptia HQ currently fewer than five meters away from the Atlantic ocean at high tide, a wave-related photo essay was inevitable, and we are actually quite surprised that this collection took so long to appear!

Below you will find 20 incredible photos of uncharted waters, world-famous waves, and the never-ending oceans that cover so much of our planet. Many thanks to all the charming photographers for sharing their beautiful compositions. 


1 | Portugal by Aline Nédélec

Portugal is home to some record breaking waves. At the end of January, a beastly wave was surfed off the coast of Nazaré that exceeded 100 feet (over 30 meters). Due to a deep water canyon connecting to the shore (one of the only a few like this in the world) the north beach of Nazaré, Praia do Norte, sees some abnormally large waves that are fearsome and awesome in equal measure.

I am the shore and the ocean, awaiting myself on both sides.
— Dejan Stojanovic

2 | Esperance Coast, Western Australia by Trent Mitchell 

The notorious wave seen captured below - known to surfers as ‘Cyclops’ - can only be accessed by boat and is found in a secret spot seven hours from Perth off the Esperance coast. A sudden change in water depth and a shallow reef below cause this wave to take the shape of no other anywhere in the world. The hollowing barreling movement in both directions, means that for anyone trying to surf this wave it quickly becomes a matter of life or death. 

Always be like a water. Float in the times of pain or dance like waves along the wind which touches its surface.
— Santosh Kalwar

3 | Waimea Bay, Hawaii by Gregg Miller 

Some of the biggest and most impressive waves are to be found in Hawaii, and if nothing else they make for some incredible photographs. Man has always been fascinated with trying to tame the ocean, with varying levels of success, and for anyone looking to harness the power of the waves, Hawaii is probably top of the list. 

Water is sufficient... the spirit moves over water.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

4 | Mississippi, USA by Longland River

The oceans have long been a source of inspiration for writers and poets, with the sound of the sea leaving its impression throughout centuries of fiction and fantasy in so many different cultures. There is something intangible, fearful, and yet beautiful about its uncontrollable and unpredictable nature.

For whatever we lose (a you or a me)
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea.
— E.E. Cummings

5 | Nazaré, Portugal by Rui Palha 

This amazing photograph gives you an idea of the incredible scale on this stretch of coastline - the human figure is dwarfed by the whitewater, and though stood in such seemingly precarious position, appears unconcerned by the incoming tide.

Should you ever feel too lonely... listen for the roar of the sea - for in it are all those who’ve been and all those who are to come.
— Simon Van Booy

6 | Oceanside, California by Phil Gibbs

Home to Phil Edwards, credited as being the first professional surfer and the first person to tackle this beast of a wave in Hawaii, Oceanside is a coastal city in San Diego County with a strong beach-centered community. This abstract capture is stunning - the evening sunlight looks like oil on the wave. 

Ocean: a body of water occupying two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.
— Ambrose Bierce

7 | Puerto Rico by Carlos Gotay Martínez 

With a coastline stretching 501 km, it's hardly surprising that Puerto Rico has some incredible waves - part of the reason for this being it’s close proximity to the deepest submarine depression in the North Atlantic Ocean. The trench lies about 120 km north of the island, roughly parallel to its northern coast, and within it lies the Milwaukee Deep - the deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean. 

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more.
— George Gordon Byron

8 | Waimea Bay, Hawaii by Warren Ishii 

The incredible, beastly swells here are generated by huge winter storms from the North Pacific, and the really big waves only break a few times a year - in the summer the waters here are actually clear and relatively calm. 

Tell me once more about the eternal surf.
— Rob Bignell

9 | Cabo Espichel, Portugal by Manuel Raposo

Located not far from Sesimbra, there are some breathtaking views to be found at Cabo Espichel, with the 150 meter cliffs facing into the Atlantic Ocean. The movement in this symmetrical shot is amazing - it somehow manages to be simple, yet stunning.

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
— John F. Kennedy

10 | Mentawai, Indonesia by Carlos Silva 

There are about seventy islands and islets that make up the Mentawai Islands Regency, which is found off the western coast of Sumatra. A more-than-notable surfing destination, these islands are also home to the indigenous Mentawai people. This beautiful shot does a great job of capturing the perfect waves and amazing waters in this part of the world. 

My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

11 | Jeffreys Bay, South Africa by Deon Lategan 

Jeffreys Bay has changed and grown from the sleepy, hippie-populated little fishing town of the 60s and 70s into one of the ‘fastest expanding urban areas in the country’. Also one of the most famous surfing destinations in the world, the wave here is fast, hollow and powerful. 

Whenever I look at the ocean, I always want to talk to people, but when I’m talking to people, I always want to look at the ocean.
— Haruki Murakami

12 | O'ahu's North Shore, Hawaii by Erick Wilson 

The North Shore - referring to the north-facing coastal area of the island of Oʻahu between Kaʻena Point and Kahuku Point - is considered by most (in fact, everyone who has ever ridden a wave) to be the surfing mecca of the world. The largest settlement of Hale'iwa is both beautiful and historic, and the perfect winter waves in this area are legendary.

Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
— Bruce Lee

13 | Porto Moniz, Madeira by Seppo Ranta 

A municipality in the northwest corner of Madeira, the main sources of industry here are agriculture and fishing - although clearly it is also an ideal spot for capturing pretty incredible photos of heart-stopping waves. 

Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.
— Wallace Stevens

14 | Tasmania, Australia by The SouthLand

‘Shipsterns Bluff’ (also known as Devil’s Point) is widely regarded by the surfing community as being one of the most dangerous (and wildest) waves in the world. Not only because of the unusually powerful wave that breaks onto a sharp coral reef, but also because the area is known for great white sharks, and the nearest hospital is four hours away - an hour of which can only be covered on foot. 

Life in us is like the water in a river.
— Henry David Thoreau

15 | Waimea Bay, Hawaii by Clark Little 

The Hawaiian Civil Defense alert ‘Condition Back’ was issued for the first time on January 28, 1998 - this declares the oceans dangerous enough to be off limits to everyone. That day it was issued for all the North Shore beaches, including Waimea Bay. Despite this, a few surfers actually defied the warnings and headed out into the ocean - everybody else stood slack-jawed on the shore, stunned into a respectful silence. 

The shorebreak is my comfort zone. I absolutely love it. It’s always different. The light, the colors, the water, the sand and what happens to it. And to be there to capture it and share it with the world... what a dream.
— Clark Little

16 | Ke Iki Beach, Hawaii by Gregg Miller 

It was difficult to resist including more of Gregg Miller’s photographs, as they are unusually evocative. Ke Iki Beach can be found between the famous Sunset Beach and Waimea, less than an hour from the crowded, tourist-populated white sands of Waikiki. The high resolution version of this image that Gregg was kind enough to send to us was spellbinding - so much powerful movement, forever frozen in motion.

I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.
— Anaïs Nin

17 | Plettenberg Bay, South Africa by Ray No 

Known simply as ‘Plett’, the town here was originally named ‘Bahia Formosa’ (beautiful bay) by early Portuguese explorers. It lies on South Africa's famous Garden Route, 210 km from Port Elizabeth and about 600 km from Cape Town. Ray's photo below captures a real monster of a wave. 

What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.
— Werner Herzog

18 | Teahupo'o, Tahiti by Sean Davey 

Teahupo’o is a unique wave, as the shape of the underlying reef causes it to effectively break below sea level. This unstable beast is often as thick as it is tall, and there are some incredible videos that have been filmed here, this one by Chris Bryan being a particularly terrifying example. 

The sea does not like to be restrained.
— Rick Riordan

19 | Namotu Island, Fiji by Stu Gibson 

If nothing else, Namotu is a tropical island paradise. Located about three miles to the south of the island is a reef pass known as ‘Cloudbreak’, which is often voted one of the 10 best (and most challenging) waves that the world has to offer. 

In still moments by the sea life seems large-drawn and simple. It is there we can see into ourselves.
— Rolf Edberg

20 | Cape Town, South Africa by Ray No 

Ray No’s third wave collection on Behance is absolutely stunning, a beautiful education in colour and form that carries a strange, sea-related moodiness. Almost a photo essay of its own.  This one was a particular beauty.

The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.
— Isak Dinesen

Thanks for taking the time to peruse these beautiful photos of our world's oceans. If you have a moment, why not tweet this post and @mention any friends who you think might also enjoy it.

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Date added
Location Taghazout, Morocco