John Muir on his 1880 exploration of Alaska hit it spot-on when he described Ford’s Terror as,
“A smooth mirror reach between granite walls of the very wildest and most exciting description, surpassing in some ways those of the far-famed Yosemite Valley.”
Ford’s Terror is a narrow fjord, roughly 60 miles southeast of Juneau, Alaska that when the tides are right will a few times a year produce a bore tide. Six years back I went down with a group to photograph whitewater kayakers and a few surfers surf the waves, that over a century earlier terrified a young naval officer whom the inlet is named after. The young Ford had the misfortune of rowing a dinghy into the narrow fjord at slack tide and as the waters began to retreat was caught for two hours inside the narrow and turbulent inlet. We spent twenty-four hours, and two high tides, inside the inlet experiencing the raw power of a large volume of water exiting a shallow bottleneck. The kayakers and surfers had roughly a 2-3 hour peak wave window to surf the waves. The surfers were towed by a jet ski into the wave, as far as we knew this was the first time anyone had tried to surf the waves of Ford’s Terror on a surfboard. The waves looked like so much fun and given that I didn’t know how to whitewater kayak, I put on a wet suit and swam through the waves. It was quite the experience to be whisked along at about 9-10 mph being dunked one second and then to be spit feet out of the water the next.
The trip was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. In fact it is probably one of the seminal moments that pushed me to try and pursue a career in photography. I had just purchased my first digital SLR, a nikon D70, and was excited to put its through its paces. While photographing the kayakers and surfers in the remote and natural cathedral of the granite walls jutting straight from the ocean, I came to the realization that I couldn’t imagine doing anything more rewarding than what I was doing at that moment. The simple act of documenting and portraying people exploring the world through their athleticism mixed with the confluence of a desire to experience the world through their passion in sports. In turn this would allow me to fulfill my own need to experience and explore the vast wonders that Alaska and the world at large have to offer. These are the things that pushed me to drop a German minor in college and forgo a semester abroad in Germany, enroll in a second major in Studio Art at the start of my Junior year, and take up a summer internship at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in Massachusetts for no-pay. I learned countless things during my summer internship, but most of all it cemented my passion to photograph people and the world around me.