D.B. Dunlap
Santa Behind the Camera

I was introduced to D.B. in 1987 by a mutual friend. Since then, I've seen him behind the camera shooting surf around the island, good or bad conditions. This interview occurred on June 14, 1997, at Sandy Beach. D.B. was checking out the surf for shootability when I cornered him.

HSA: DB, what does DB stand for?

DB: I'm a Daniel Boone! I come from a family with Daniel Boone and a Kit Carson in it.

HSA: So which part of the nation are you from, originally?

DB: Started out as a San Clemente Californian kid, but I walked out of there in 1960, and don't plan on ever going back.

HSA: You've been videotaping surfing, well it started out as bodysurfing first...

DB: No, that's not true.

HSA: Not true? Oh well, let's get the scoop.

DB: With Tom Morey inventing the bodyboard, I became a total bodyboard guy right from day one. Started bodyboarding before I ever shot. And with the advent of videotape, it was just a natural thing to shoot what you love doing best, and bodyboarding was it.

HSA: Some of your best images I have seen was shot at Point Panic, where you caught the Pearl Kai II getting nailed... oh that was incredible (a 400 passenger cruise ship got stalled coming into Kewalo Basin during a huge south swell, got hit broadside by several waves, backed into Point Panic, and sadly killed bodysurfer Paul Stone--DB was there to record it). Any words on that?

DB: Actually that was the beginning of my professional career, if you can call it that. I had been shooting, prior to that, mostly just for fun... in terms of bodyboarding. When that Pearl Kai thing happened in 1980-something, it was my first official paycheck. I discovered, wow, man, you could make money doing this, and that was the beginning of it and I've been going ever since. But the Pearl Kai incident is what started it all; it was the classic "being in the right place at the right time, Rodney King" type of experience when you just happened to get this awesome thing that happened.

HSA: OK, another right place at another time thing--Lanson Ronquilio, that shot you got of him doing that insane spin. Tell me a little about that.

DB: Oh, that was great.

HSA: You were the only one who captured it...

DB: It happens every single day of all the camera guy's lives, we're all just standing there, doing our jobs, everybody shooting away. And it just so happened that Lanson did that when Hank's (photog Brian Stephen) scratching his butt and Brian (photog Bielmann) was right along side of me, he was changing film. Just basically, everyone was paying attention, but for that billionth of a second I was the only one who was happened to be on it, and that (maneuver) was the forerunner of today's ARS's and various kinds of backflip maneuvers. Lanson did that and nobody knew what the hell that was, and I just happened to be the lucky guy that got it.

HSA: Okay, talking about the modern day now, you've been one of the strongest supporters of bodyboarding women, you've been videotaping them a lot, and (I feel) have been doing a good thing. Tell me about it.

DB: I think so. I've always been a supporter of women's bodyboarding since the beginning, back when Shawnee (Oide-Lyman) and Chris Ann (Kim) and a couple others were the only women that there were. I always knew that they could surf as well as most of the rank and file guys, and so I've always been a staunch supporter of that. As of '87 or '88 when I was introduced to the world's perfect animal, the Brazilian girls, and saw what they were capable of, right then I knew they were every bit as saleable and interesting to watch as any guy. With the Brazilian girls raising all the girl's performance levels so much, it was apparent to me this was a viable thing... women's bodyboarding could be something.

And so I hung in there and shot the girls, really long before anybody was paying any attention to them. It's only been in the last three years that people have been paying attention. And consequently, I was on it, and, quite often was the only guy that had footage of the women, and it's been good for me. I'm doing really well off women's footage, and the reason I'm doing well is because I care about them. I pay attention to them, and I make sure that I'm where I need to be to get the shots of the women, when all the other guys are 200 yards down the beach shooting all the biggie guys. I've taken the time to shoot the women, and it has paid off.

HSA: There are so many good women, but who do you think is the best right now?

Oh, God... That's a tough one. In my heart, my favorites, though I love every single one of them, my favorites are: Neymara (Carvalho) and Karla Costa... They are my daughters, they are my number one girls, I love those girls, and either one of them are capable of being world champion any day of the week, assuming they have a decent 20 minutes.

In terms of who's the best, boy, that's a pack at the top of the list, and that's Daniela (Freitas), Mariana (Nogueira), Karla (Costa), Neymara (Carvalho), Stephanie (Petterson) still. Stephanie's been around for a long time, still surfing good. God I hate to leave names out. But the thing you'll notice from everything I've said is that you don't hear any American girl's names in here...

HSA: Unfortunately, or Hawaiians...

DB: ...Yes, and I include the Hawaiian girls among the Americans there. There are none that are even close to the Brazilian girls. Hopefully they will be motivated, just the way the initial girls were. They are going to get better because they've got to compete with those girls, so hopefully there'll be an American hope in there some day, but it doesn't exist right now.

HSA: Okay,... the editing room! Do you spend any time at all in the editing room, or are you strictly a man behind the camera?

DB: No, I've got my own studio at home. I would much prefer to be on the beach shooting, that's my forte, but you have to have an editing capability otherwise you got millions of hours of crappy footage. And the stuff I send out is grossly edited. My editing is just limited to that--sending out the shots that I need to send out for the various video projects or television programs or commercials or whatever. And so I do spend way too much time editing, but given a choice, I'd much prefer to be on the beach.

HSA: What kind of format are you using right now?

DB: I edit in 3/4" in my facility, but over this last year I became a product of the digital age and traded in my 200 lbs of camera gear and tripods, and picked up a VX-1000, one of the digital cameras, and been a happy little clam ever since, carrying my little three pounds of camera around. It's made shooting so much more pleasurable, I'm getting better shots because I'm more maneuverable than I was before... I can get move to where the action is and consequently I can get shots that I wouldn'tve gotten when I was shooting on the big 3/4" format and humping all that stuff around the beach. I recommend it highly--digital is the future!

HSA: Does anybody mistake you as Santa Claus?

DB: Quite often! I get shots every single winter. I get the obligatory sitting with Santa on the North Shore beach shots, I've even got my little Santa Claus hat in the van and at the appropriate time of the month I'll take that sucker out when I'm shooting and I probably get more shots than Mike Stewart does.

HSA: What about that secret videos that you have... butt shots? When are we going to get a look at that?

DB: There's nothing secret about it and you actually see 'em all the time, except that... now, as of today, there are probably something like seven hours or so of little shots of pretty girls on the beach and various body parts that I just accumulate as I'm shooting surf. You gotta take a break once in a while. And so there are something in the neighborhood of six and seven hours of that. It gets used, but it gets broken up in everybody's videos, just a quick little two-second butt shots or pretty girl shots. Essentially, you've seen most of what can be seen, just seeing it in small doses.

HSA: If someone wanted to get footage from you would you like to give them the opportunity to call you?

DB: Sure, DB's number is (808) 395-6966, that's an 808 area code right here is Hawaiiaaa!

HSA: Alright, that's it... thanks!