Welcome to the Db Family Album. For the last couple of years we’ve had a whatsapp group that's been growing by the day. Any time we need something, we take our questions to the group, write our message and get this amazing wisdom back from the most talented people in any of our fields. We then moved from WhatsApp messages to Zoom calls (because the world needs more Zoom calls, right?). Why? Well, it's actually really useful to meet the people making it happen. Everytime we have a Db Zoom sesh, Christa Funk calls in from either Hawaii or the North Shore and there is usually a dog (named Zazou). No matter where she is though, she has feedback for us and a point of view which flips our train of thought and helps us thrive.
Over the years, we have had the pleasure of front-row seats to her stories - whether they’re centered around her background in photography or tales of the North Shore. Christa will recount how she swims and shoots in the line-ups on the heaviest days - and we just sit there open-mouthed and listening (the only thing missing is popcorn). Her career is fascinating and we’re oh so happy she is here with us at Db.
Where are you from?
Grand Junction, Colorado, though I currently reside in North Shore, Oahu.
How long have you been shooting?
I started with film in 2003, and shooting in the water began in 2014.
What led you into this kind of photography?
Life. I was a competitive swimmer from age 7 to 22 and during my junior year of high school, I wanted to be either a photojournalist or Marine Biologist. My Mom recommended I get a science degree first and continue with photography in the background. I attended the Coast Guard Academy in 2008, and was stationed in Hawaii when I graduated in 2012. In late 2013, I started shooting after my surf sessions from land. I kept seeing water photographers and decided that I wanted to be in the ocean shooting. Everything I loved came together for me in the form of water photography.
At what point did you realize this would become your career?
In 2013 I realized the Coast Guard was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Water photography was my release at the time, but my perspective toward it completely shifted. I decided that it would be my career and started committing more time and energy towards it. I finished my required five years and was honorably discharged in 2017 as a Lieutenant. I’ve been a full-time photographer since.
What’s been your biggest challenge in your career so far?
The current media scene is saturated with photographers and photos. The biggest challenge has been to carve a place for myself in a field where there are no empty seats at the table.
Any tips for young photographers who want to follow in your footsteps.
Figure out exactly what you want to do and go for it. Be flexible with what you are shooting; I wouldn’t pay my bills if I only relied on water photography. I shoot modeling, products, real estate, families, weddings, and a number of other subjects. That diversity has helped me improve how I shoot in the water and vice versa.
Can you tell us about your time in the Coast Guard? That seems a pretty amazing way to get woven into the fabric of the north shore?
The Coast Guard didn’t get me woven into the North Shore. The experiences and jobs I had taught me how to make critical decisions under pressure, and that ability served me well, but time and dedication shooting in the water wove me into the fabric on the North Shore. I started out with small days and kept progressing to bigger, there’s no shortcut.
When I moved to the North Shore, I would shoot anyone surfing. I had the freedom to fail because the Coast Guard was my main source of income. Eventually, I met surfers and divers that were willing to work with me consistently: Flynn Novak, Ulu Napeahi, Hank Gaskell, Kimi Werner, and Leah Dawson (thank you).
How’s the adrenaline on big days on the north shore? Swimming out on those days with the shore break pounding must get the heart rate going.
That adrenaline is addicting. The anticipation before a swell, seeing the waves on the way to go shoot in the early morning, standing on the beach looking at barrels that are blowing their guts out, the potential to get my best shot, and being in that intense environment; it keeps me going back.
Do you have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken and why?
Yes, my husband (Jake DiPaola) getting blown out of a barrel at Pipe. It would be my favorite even if we weren’t together. That wave was 30 years of surfing experience coming together for him for a few glorious moments. His drop was late, he barely made it under the lip into the pit, I saw him briefly, then he disappeared as the barrel spit once, I couldn’t tell if he was still in it, then it spit a second time, and he flew out soul arched. His expression was that of pure ecstasy. Everything I could want in a photo is in that shot: emotion, light, and action converging in a single frame.
Number 1 travel hack? (like specific headphones, or amount of water drunk or something that makes travel easier).
If you’re traveling for a shoot, pack enough camera gear in your carry-on that if your bags get lost, you can still do the shoot and you don’t have to scramble to get gear rentals sorted. It’s much easier to get extra clothing than a camera lens.
What’s in your bag?
My camera bag feels like a Mary Poppins bag. For trips, 2 x Canon 7dmkii camera bodies, 5 x lenses, memory cards, neck strap, 15” computer, hard drive, chargers, kindle, wallet, phone, extra contacts, and water bottle. If I’m not traveling, the computer, hard drive, and chargers stay at home.
My bag changes if I’m shooting locally in the water. I have either my SPL Waterhousing (surf) or Nauticam Dive Housing (spearfishing / free diving) set-up. In my bag, I pack an additional camera body, lens, memory cards, batteries, emergency water housing parts, Cliff Bar to put in my wetsuit, sunscreen, and water.
What Db Bags are you running?
I’m running The Backpacker Pro, CIA pro, and The Vain Washbag. The Backpacker Pro w/ CIA Pro insert fits everything I need for shoots without being bulky or cumbersome. I use The Vain Wash bag for trips as well as at home to hold toiletries. My toiletries tend to take all the space on the bathroom sink, the Washbag prevents that hostile takeover.
Wise words you live by?
The worst they can tell you is no. My high school journalism teacher, Mark Newton told me that when I didn’t enter a photo contest. I didn’t think I stood much of a chance and was making heaps of excuses. He said I should have entered; I may have lost but by not applying I had no chance to get anything from it. That’s carried through to my life now in being willing to send my work out for usage. If I get a no, I can’t take that judgment personally, I have to keep pressing on until I find a yes.
A book to recommend to us for our next journey.
This is a hard question because I’m a reader. Full disclosure, I’m not reading smart non-fiction books that better my worldly understanding. I gravitate towards fantasy / action books that I likely would have read in middle school. I’ll go with a book I finished recently, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. I devoured it on my last trip back to Oahu. The characters and plot were such a welcome imaginative escape from my economy seat partner who kept falling asleep on my shoulder.
Heck yes! You’re welcome!! Thanks for fan-freaking-tastic bags!!!