Sachi Cunningham does it all. She’s a professor of journalism at San Francisco State, a documentary filmmaker, and a critically-acclaimed multimedia journalist. She’s won a handful of Emmy awards for her work for FRONTLINE along with a nomination for her most recent project, “The Rise of ISIS: An in-depth look at the miscalculations and mistakes behind the group’s brutal ascent”. Her documentary for the LA Times, Chasing the Swell, won the Associated Press Sports Editors Multimedia Award, along with countless other acclamations. On top of all of her notoriety, she’s one of the best big-wave surf photographers around.
Between raising her two-year-old, and planning a surf trip to Mentawais with 10 other women, Sachi sat down with us to talk about how, in between earning awards and accolades, she found her passion in surf photography.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, but I fell in love with the ocean when I’d visit my family’s beach house in Capistrano Beach during the summers. After college when I was teaching English in Japan, I bought a Canon EOS1N RS film camera and my first underwater housing and I apprenticed with a Japanese water photographer who took me to contests and taught me everything he knew. I then saved up enough money to travel to Indonesia when there happened to be a huge swell, and I became totally hooked. When I came back to the states, I was determined to make a living as a water photographer. Of course I had no money, and my parents thought I was crazy.