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Students Behind the Lens: Carly Stone

The Cal State student captures behind-the-scenes excitement at surfing competitions with her Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 lens.

By Jenn Gidman
Images by Carly Stone

USA Surfing Championships 2019 Recap from Carly Stone on Vimeo.

When California videographer and student Carly Stone was growing up in Huntington Beach and Long Beach, her family spent much of their free time at the shore, sunning and watching the surfers hang 10. Fast-forward a few years, and now, in between taking classes through Cal State Long Beach's Open University program, Carly serves as a videographer for USA Surfing, capturing the nation's most elite athletes and up-and-coming youth surfers at competitions in the Golden State. At the end of June, Carly created a recap reel of the 2019 US Surfing Championships, using the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 lens to capture every aerial and Eskimo roll, as well as the action going on behind the scenes during each heat.

"I can't say enough about the 150-600 lens," Carly says. "There's no way I'd be able to film the surfing competitions I do without it. I can be yards away from the action but still be able to capture the surfers in the water, then zoom out to get a more 'lifestyle'-type shot of surfers running down the beach and into the ocean. Plus the 150-600 is really rugged and durable, a perfect outdoor lens. I'm shooting close to the water, in sea air; the 150-600's moisture-resistant construction makes me confident it'll perform well in those conditions."

Looking back, Carly's childhood was an obvious lead-in to what she now refers to as her "dream job" shooting video for surfing competitions. "My dad surfs, so I'd watch him a lot," she says. "And when I wasn't hanging out on the beach, I was always running around filming stuff. I had a camcorder and would make home videos in my treehouse with friends. As I got older, I became more serious about it, and because I was homeschooled, I was able to indulge my passion pretty extensively."

Carly's parents were also supportive, hiring an editing tutor for her when she was around 13 to teach her Final Cut Pro so she could learn to clean up and enhance her footage. "Once I learned how to make edits, I started bringing my camera with me to the beach to shoot short clips," she says. "I began entering student film festivals, including a surfing film competition for kids that I won when I was around 15. That's when things really started taking off. After several years of hard work, I got an apprenticeship with a Rip Curl videographer last year, and he connected me with the right people to start shooting for USA Surfing."

When Carly, now 23, sets up shop with her Sony FS5 II camcorder during the surfing meets she's commissioned for, Carly is already plotting out everything she wants to capture with her camera to best tell the story of the day, including the surfers themselves as they ride the waves, but also detail shots of their surfboards, the spectators on the sidelines, behind-the-scenes footage of the judges and other aspects of the competition that aren't usually in the public eye, and, finally, the awards ceremony.

"It's fun to wander around during the event and capture each of those distinct moments, with a contagious excitement that's palpable," Carly says. "The kids are excited, their coaches and parents are excited. Even the moments you might normally overlook lend something compelling to my reel: things like the kids putting sunblock on and playing pingpong while waiting for their heat to be called. Then, of course, there's the surfing itself, and the awards at the end. The kids are up on the dais and everyone's shouting congratulations and words of encouragement at them—it's really wonderful to watch."

The final touch on each video: the music backdrop. "It's supposed to be a highlight reel, so I try to pack in as much as I can of all the best moments, with upbeat music to accompany it all," she says. "I want the video to keep everything moving, so the music I choose has to complement that and capture that fast-paced feel."

The main challenge for Carly in shooting an event like this is the grueling physicality that can accompany a full day on the beach. "I'm out in the sun all day," she explains. "And they're really long days: The surfers compete in 20-minute heats all throughout the day. I'll usually get there around seven o'clock in the morning to start setting up, and I'm typically not out of there until five or six in the evening. I have a little umbrella I stay under for much of the day, but the elements can still take their toll. And it's not even over after I head home: At the end of the day, when I'm completely exhausted, I'll often have to crank out my edits almost immediately, because they need them right away. It's like running a marathon!"

None of this, however, has dampened Carly's determination to dive even further into her work. And she isn't limiting herself to surfing videography—she also recently shot a video for Manuel the Band, a musical group out of Southern California that counts John Mayer and Dave Matthews Band among its influences, and has also created footage for a local trampoline fitness studio. Although it hasn't yet been confirmed, she may even have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo next year for the Summer Olympics to help a friend shoot a documentary for one of the US teams.

"I want to keep capturing video for people who are doing awesome things and help them highlight those achievements," she says. "I'm really grateful I've been able to merge my childhood love of the beach and surfing with my passion for videography. I wouldn't have been able to map this out any better if I'd planned it."

Check out more of Carly Stone's videos at Vimeo and on Instagram.