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Google Street Views, Privacy, and Surf Wax

A few years ago I was photographing surfers off the Northern California coast. My Jeep was parked at water’s edge, way out on a jetty.  I had a Canon 400MM fast telephoto lens, which is large and white like you see at NFL football games. A big lens, and very obvious. If you don’t know anything about surfing, you need to know that surfing is good when there are waves but no people, and surfing is no good when there are no waves or too many people.

I didn’t know any of the surfers, but at the end of the day I brought over my LCD player and showed them the shots. I collected some email addresses so I could send them pictures of themselves. Some had been surfing for many years, yet never had a photo of themselves on a wave.  We talked about surfing and photos, how the surfer magazines cover the events, but more importantly how they expose secret surf spots to a huge audience that subsequently shows up and crowds out the “real” surfers. “That’s your Jeep?” one of them asked me. “I almost waxed it. It’s good you came over”.

Privacy is important, even if it’s not a “guaranteed right” by legal standards. Sometimes we want privacy, even in our public lives. Yes, I had a right to shoot photos of surfers and publish them in a magazine along with a map and description of how to get to that great secret spot. But that wouldn’t make me any friends among the surfers. In their eyes, I would be exploiting them and their lives for my own gain. A shitty way to behave.

And that is why my car windshield would have been waxed. So I could experience that shitty feeling in my own life. And, I was told, if I ever show up at a surf spot where they don’t already know I’m cool, I should beware the seemingly friendly surfer walking up to me and my Big Lens with a smile and an outstretched hand.  Chances are good the hand will be coated with surf wax, and the fingers will divert away from handshake pose at the last second, to swipe across the front of my lens. Surf wax, in case you didn’t know, if very very hard to clean off glass (especially a high-end photographic lens).

Privacy is like courtesy – it’s required for quality of life, yet not legislated. We owe it to each other. Although we can’t always afford to guarantee it, we should always try.

Which is why Google is pissing people of (again). Google’s StreetViews program exploits people’s public lives, by publishing it for the world to see.  The poor social skills of technologists lead them to all sorts of uncomfortable geeky situations, and it seems Google is making that mistake again. People picking their noses, visiting alternative book stores, getting lectured by traffic cops, all published by Google for the world to ridicule see.  Oh Google, you’re geeky immaturity is getting you in trouble again.

Street View vans roving around us, pointing cameras at us, so Google can exploit our public private lives.  Thank god we have surf wax, eh?


  1. Simon says wrote:

    Can you point out the surfing spot for me on google maps?

    but seriously: I dont know any surfer that doesnt check out webcams for surf. So it a bit of a double standard with us watermen,

    Nice reading though! thnx

    Wednesday, August 8, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink
  2. Jurgen wrote:

    Most people love to watch, a lot of people hate being watched. The problem is that our arms are not long enough to surf-wax Goog’s cams. That’s why we take being watched for granted.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2007 at 6:28 am | Permalink
  3. Simon says wrote:

    oh and by the way: its called ‘sex wax’.
    (should form nice linkbait: sex wax the google-cams)

    Wednesday, August 8, 2007 at 10:32 pm | Permalink
  4. IncrediBILL wrote:

    Privacy schmivacy, if people are out surfing it’s legitimate editorial sports coverage.

    As a photographer myself, one who has shot a few surfers as well, the first one that ever waxes my lens will have some explaining to do to the judge in small claims court about why he shouldn’t pay to replace a $6K lens, or maybe explain to the cop why that wasn’t misdemeanor assault.

    Not sure about nose picking though …

    Thursday, August 9, 2007 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  5. Simon says wrote:


    your so right. this localism stuff is the result of copycat behaviour. (reading too many hawaii magazines..) protecting your home spot is ridiculous. just surf till the hype is over.

    and I think th streetview has dugg its own grave when it invaded so detailed and unasked for.

    Monday, August 13, 2007 at 1:13 am | Permalink