A large wave breaks against a background of an iceberg.

The shape of water

Lucia Griggi is scared of the sea. Of the unknown that hides beneath. Yet, she is also passionately drawn to it, travelling the world in search of the best waves to surf, and in the process became an award-winning surf photographer. After the loss of her mother, the camera took her on a new journey and gave her purpose. Life, like the shape of water, is unpredictable, and Lucia is keen to carry her lessons forward. 

“When I was a child, my parents used to take me to the ocean and I would wear jelly shoes and refuse to touch the bottom. I was petrified of the darkness and what I couldn't see under the water. But I was always very determined, full of drive and would do anything to achieve the goals I set for myself, so from swimming in pools I became a highly successful competitive swimmer. My love for surfing grew from this and I would regularly travel from London to Cornwall to learn and fell in love with beach life and the surfing community. As soon as I handed in my dissertation (for my biology degree), my car was packed and ready to head straight to Cornwall.

It took me three years to even stand up on my surfboard. It didn't come naturally to me, especially as every time I fell off, I would have a panic attack because I didn't want to be in the water. But I loved the lifestyle so much, and it gave me a window to travel, so over time, I learned to feel more comfortable in the ocean and overcome my fear. Surfing and the community surrounding were where my heart lay, so I didn't have a choice in my mind – I had to go out into the ocean. I travelled to different parts of the world like Australia, New Zealand and Morocco, and it was during this time that I started to pick up a camera and eventually became a surf photographer. Surfing gave me a purpose, but even more so when I took up photography. With a camera in hand, I was completely at the mercy of the ocean. I was scared, but my drive for capturing this lifestyle of travel and surfing was so strong that I was going to overcome it, no matter what. I was capturing the best surfers in the world, becoming one of the top female surf photographers. Of course, I completely covered up the fact that I was petrified when I had to swim across the deep channel in the middle of nowhere to photograph surfers 40 miles from the coast. In 2012, I won a National Geographic award with a surfing image, which contributed to putting surfing into the mainstream media and opened more doors.

A large wave breaks against a background of an iceberg.
The perfect ‘Ghost Wave’ wave breaks in Antarctica. © Lucia Griggi

When my mother passed away in 2015, my life took a U-turn. Loss can change your direction and how you see the world. Even how I took pictures changed. An opportunity to work more in nature and with wildlife enabled me to spend time away from people – all I wanted to do was escape and get away from society – so I got on a vessel with a marine biologist to go to the Russian Far East to photograph wildlife, travel and conservation. One of the places I went to was Antarctica, where this image was captured. When you're there, it feels like you're on another planet. It was the end of the day and the water was calm. I was there to photograph penguins when I noticed these massive icebergs, the size of hotels. They had broken off from an ice cap and migrated – just floating in the ocean. I left the penguins, drove the boat over and sat there. All of a sudden, a wave broke so perfectly. It was amazing! That photograph got the cover of a prestigious surf magazine, which I had always wanted to achieve but never managed doing surf photography. And the magic moment happened in a place where there are usually no waves. I call it the ghost wave, as it will never break again. 

These days, as I settle after my loss and take time to look after my father, my mindset and how I organise myself is very different. I'm learning to appreciate a bit more stability and my relationship with water has changed from when I was younger. When you sit on a surfboard or in the water, your mind switches off. It's quite meditative. For me, my camera does the same. When I look through a camera, nothing else matters. My grief gave me a new direction and purpose. Photography became like therapy and gave me a purpose and a voice. It has been my teacher and become an extension of who I am. As I've grown and changed as a person, it has always been with me – leading me through bad times and good times. I sit in my room every day with the ocean just in front of me and I have to look at it every day. I've learned how to deal with the challenges I have with it. It shows me the weather patterns and the wind – everything is built around that. My vision now is to pass on my knowledge so that it doesn't die with me. I feel a responsibility to share it.

Left: A portrait of Lucia Griggi smiling in Antarctica, wearing a winter jacket with a hood and a hat. The sun comes in from the left side. Right: A quote that reads: “Photography became like therapy and gave me a purpose and a voice. It has been my teacher and become an extension of who I am.”

I'd love to support other females in action sports and travel, as there aren't that many doing it, especially in the surf world. I battled for years to be accepted and get jobs because my place was supposed to be sitting on a beach in a bikini, not to be out in the waves and shooting the guys. Female surfing has come a long way. But I also think it is a responsibility to educate future photographers to help them on their way and to understand that it's not a quick journey. My vision wasn't just the waves, but the photojournalism around the whole community, which is something a lot of the guys at the time weren't that interested in – they just wanted to get those epic surf shots. For me, there was much more to it, which I think brands and magazines appreciated. It has taken a lifetime to get here, so that's what I would like to do: support women and encourage them to not give up. 

Learn more about Lucia and her work here.

Written by Lucia Griggi and Cecilie Harris