Now forty-four, King still remembers the thrill of getting his first picture published—a cover shot for Surfing magazine—when he was just fifteen. "I was a sophomore at Punahou School," he recalls, "and my friend and I missed an assembly or something to go surfing. We went out to a secret spot, and the waves were perfect. This one beautiful blue wave came, and it barreled right over both of us. He was in the back of the tube, with this big blue curtain surrounding him, and I was completely inside it with him. At that time, you really didn’t see shots like that, and when the magazine came out, I was just so stoked, it was unbelievable. When you’re in high school, there’s nothing cooler than that."
He continued contributing to surf magazines through high school and then college at Stanford. He spent half the college year in classes and the other half shooting surfing in Hawai‘i and Indonesia. Eventually, he graduated with a psychology degree, although by that time he knew he’d already found his calling. "I just wanted to hang out and shoot waves," he says. "If I made enough money at it to get by, I was happy. So I spent my twenties taking pictures of surfers and enjoying life."
He became a staff photographer for Surfing, and his wide-angle shots from deep in the tube at Pipeline helped define the magazine’s look in the early ’80s. King’s work got even more dramatic when he started using a new kind of camera housing that could be operated with only one hand. A friend of King’s had originally made the housing for a photographer with only one arm. "He kept saying I had to try it," King recalls. "I was skeptical, because I thought you needed two hands to hold the camera steady. But I started using it, and I realized that holding the camera with just one hand meant that you could extend your arm out into the tube to get these incredible angles. And you had the other hand to help you pull through the wave at the last moment. That, along with using a fisheye lens in the tube, really revolutionized surf photography."
Over time—beginning with a job shooting a surfing contest at Sunset Beach for NBC—King switched from still photography to film work. Around 1990, he became the main movie cameraman for the surf-clothing giant Quiksilver, which sent him on dream trips to places like Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Maldives, Fiji and Tahiti. Probably the most memorable, he says, is the time he spent aboard the Indies Trader, a converted salvage tub that is legendary in surfing circles for the exploits of its colorful Aussie skipper Martin Daly, a modern-day Captain Cook of surf discovery. King tagged along as Daly explored a new surfing area in Indonesia—a remote, malaria-ridden maze of islands off the coast of Sumatra called the Mentawais, where the inhabitants still lived and dressed according to tribal custom, and the Indian Ocean waves were off the charts.
"It turned out to be one of the greatest surfing areas in the world," King says, "and Martin was always finding spots that had never been ridden before. I remember on one trip we surfed twenty-three different spots on eighteen different islands, with no one else around."