The Coast News Group
Amanda Scarski, a San Diego County lifeguard and avid surfer, has a passion for the ocean, made all the more apparent in her work as a water photographer. Photo courtesy Amanda Scarski
Arts Community Encinitas Encinitas Featured Featured

The key to capturing waves — don’t panic

ENCINITAS — You never know what you’re going to see when you look out onto the ocean — a sea lion, a whale, a dolphin — a young blonde girl tinkering around with a camera in large surf.

For more than a year now, Amanda Scarski has been riding the rip currents out to a spot at any one of the county’s local beaches she deems a good vantage point all to capture an image and an experience that only the ocean can offer.

To Scarski, who grew up and lives in Encinitas, the ocean has always been a passion of hers.

Always comfortable in the water, Scarski has formed a connection with the ocean, so much so that she’s adopted her “Gidget-by-The-Sea,” moniker, due to another connection she shares with the Gidget character author Frederick Kohner created (who happened to be based on his surfing daughter, Kathy Kohner) back in the 1950s.

“The bigger the better,” Scarski said of the waves and conditions she likes to photograph in.

Though the San Diego County lifeguard-turned-water photographer’s time in the ocean has taught her how not to panic if pummeled by a wave.

During a shoot at Black’s Beach she got “crushed” by a set, she said, and instead of panicking she just let it take her.

“It’ll let you up in a little bit. Don’t panic,” she said.

The ocean on its own can be dangerous, but then add a mix of surfers streaking down a wave and the environment becomes even more rife with risk.

Recently, she explained how she almost got hit in the head by a surfer’s board as he rode past her on a wave — she didn’t — but she understands, that as an avid surfer, too, how bad it would be to get in someone’s way.

“I really try to time it just right. Fortunately, I haven’t been hit in the face, yet — I say, yet,” she said.

Exploring the ocean’s power and beauty is what’s at the heart of her work.

“When I’m out in the water, my goal is to not get the same shot over and over again, or to experience the same thing over and over again,” she said. “It’s to experience something different because each day it’s a different experience — the weather’s different, the conditions are different, the tides are different.”

Her knowledge of the ocean — not to mention the physical challenges of being in it — have helped to shape her eye when it comes to taking photos, giving her an ability to capture those feelings being near the ocean gives off.

Her first efforts as a water photographer came a couple of years ago when she swam out at D Street with a GoPro camera in her hand.

And the results of that first shoot — were they what she had expected?

“Oh, no,” Scarski said.

Being 100 percent self-taught, Scarski said she was able to pick up a few tips here and there from other San Diego-area photographers, but added that the water photography community is pretty tight-knit and not everybody wants to share their little secrets.

“You’ll get a little bit here and there, but I think it’s more fun to experiment yourself,” she said.

And as for other women water photographers, there aren’t many in the area that she’s been able to come across too often, she said.

She’s had showings at Bird’s Surf Shed, and not long ago was the featured artist of the month at Culture Brewing Company in Solana Beach. Scarski was also the featured photographer during Ladies Night at Shaper’s Studios in North Park.

She has two collections in Encinitas on display now at Le Papagayo and at Yoga Tropics.

A few weeks ago, Scarski did have a set back when her new Canon camera and lens were destroyed after her waterhousing began to leak. The housing was full of ocean water and the camera and lens got completely submerged, she said.

To help her get back to taking photos, Scarski turned to crowd sourcing and selling prints of her work to raise enough money to get a new camera.

In just 11 days, 19 people had contributed enough money on her account to be able to buy a replacement camera and lens.

To see her work, visit