You have probably seen Franco Tramontano at the beach, with his camera set up, shooting pictures, with his large hat perched on top of a chair. You may even have had him as a physical education teacher or school counselor at Waialua High School and/or Intermediate School.
Today, Franco follows his passion of surfing through photography. With support and backing from his wife, (who takes cares of the business side of things) and son Rocco (who created the website and graphics), www.HawaiianSwell.com was created. Today Sean Bray, with Breezy Built Web Solutions, helps Franco run the site. The website focuses on ocean and island lifestyle photography. Franco recently partnered with us at Aloha Update and provided some amazing shots of the Massive Summer Swell at Bowls. I caught up with Franco for an interview one rainy morning to get his story and perspective on photography.
Franco moved to Hawaii in 1977 with a backpack, board, and camera. Soon thereafter, he moved to the North Shore. He worked several jobs waiting tables, working for the city and county, and dabbled in photography as a hobby. Eventually he found his niche in education and spent the next 25 years as a counselor and teacher at Mid-Pacific Institute and Waialua High and Intermediate School. Throughout that period, he met his wife and soon his family grew. Due to the cost of living in the islands, photography and surfing took a back seat to make way for prioritizing family and maintaining a roof overhead.
Around 2000, Franco had several complications caused by a spinal cord injury, knee injuries, and loss of balance, all of which prevented him from regaining a surfing lifestyle again. His lifestyle became more sedentary, so he picked up the camera and found he could re-live through the lens. As his son and daughter grew, his new hobby became photographing their hula and sports activities and this became his medication for survival…and his life. His children along with the camera and his supportive wife was his ”prescription” remedy. They became his “fix” that enabled his survival in the most difficult times of his life.
When his son Rocco, whom Franco taught how to surf, became obsessed with surfing, Franco really wanted to become reconnected with him and the ocean. Finally, he invested in a big lens and started shooting his son and others at Ali’i Beach Park in Haleiwa. Many of the surfers he photographed were his past students (now parents with young keiki surfers) who he taught at Waialua Intermediate School. It was another great way for him to give and reconnect with his students of the past.
At the same time, photography continued to serve as his medicinal therapy. “Surfing was always an outlet for me to get away from the daily stresses and be a kid forever,” says Franco. “ It was the reason I came to Hawaii at the age of 24 and it continues to be the reason at 60. Almost every day I try to get to the sea. I shoot town in the summer and north shore in the winter. It fills a big void and serves as a holistic way to ease the pain and get off the meds. Photography has become my Rx.”
Some of Franco’s favorite spots to shoot are Waimea Bay, Pipeline, Kewalos, and Ala Moana Bowls. I asked why he said Waimea and Pipeline first and he replied, “Still to this day, and I never will, ride either one of them. I respect them too much. I bow to them, I am humbled.”
Throughout the interview I gained an understanding and respect for Franco and his perspective on photography. It all came together when I asked him what makes an ideal photo. “I like shooting 4 man outrigger canoe surfing. The teamwork involved, the skills, the understanding of the boat, the wave, the break. Seeing a canoe with 4 guys surfing. The element of teamwork becomes critical, where one is depending on the other. And the shared experience, where four guys come to the beach and have connected on a level that words can’t describe. It’s like surfing but to the 4th power. And to capture the moment with all those elements coming together, that is the ideal photo.”
“It’s not a business process for me. I do it for the love and the passion and the healing. It’s always a better day with a camera.”
If you are out surfing and see Franco sporting his big sun hat, shades, and lens check out HawaiianSwell.com and you might find he has captured a moment that you will remember for the rest of your life.