For more than three decades, Mike Prickett has filmed world-famous surfers on monstrous swells at the best surf spots across the globe.
He has pursued his passion for cinematography despite two critical accidents that would test anyone’s resolve.
Prickett, 51, grew up in Hawaii Kai and landed his first photography job as a 15-year-old Kaiser High School student.
He started with stills, then moved on to video and eventually commercials and major motion pictures, including “Point Break 2,” “X2” and “Chasing Mavericks.”
>> Whistling never fails to uplift Peggy Harris
>> Suzi Mechler cherishes her time on the water after starting the sport at age 47
>> Hiking keeps retired professor, 82, active and sharp
>> Young at Heart, Sept. 21, 2016
His work landed him coveted jobs with “Hawaii Five-0,” National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, among dozens of other productions. For 17 years, he traveled with the Association of Surfing Professionals (now the World Surf League) filming with cameras weighing 15 to 50 pounds for eight hours a day amid dangerous, pounding surf.
“I did it for 17 years nonstop, traveling nine months of the year,” he said. “I traveled with about 17 cases of cameras.”
The schedule was grueling, but he loved it.
Prickett discovered his passion after a 1984 car accident that left his right leg shattered in 33 places and left leg broken in six.
“Doctors said the best therapy for me was to swim. I was a surfer, so I said, ‘I’ll put a camera in a water housing and I’ll go take pictures of guys surfing as my water therapy,’” he said. “That’s how I started shooting from the water.”
Then, in 2012, the ocean cinematographer suffered a near-fatal blow when he rescued a fellow diver 220 feet underwater in the last week of shooting “Chasing Mavericks” in Tahiti. Prickett ran out of air after sharing his air tank and quickly swam up to the surface, resulting in decompression sickness, also known as the bends. The accident initially left him completely paralyzed from the chest down. He later gained some movement and is currently paralyzed from the waist down.
“I can’t feel my legs, but with my eyes I can will my legs to move,” he said. “It’s been getting better and better. After I got hurt I didn’t want the paralysis to get the best of me.”
He used his passion for filmmaking and love of the ocean to keep him going.
“I love making films. To do what I do I’ve got to get out in the water and go swimming. It forces me to crawl across the beach. First in a wheelchair, then I crawl with my cameras to get to the water, then I use crutches,” he said. “At first I could only go 20 feet, then 40 feet. Now I can go a mile and a half, maybe 2 miles. My driving force is to still make movies.”
A year ago Prickett started a new company, Salt + Air Studios, specializing in water and aerial cinematography, which has helped him diversify his talents in directing and producing, as well as virtual reality.
“We’ve been doing a lot of virtual reality. We’re building new cameras and doing all these crazy new techniques in virtual reality that’s been exploding as well,” he said.
His next big production will feature sharks, whales, dolphins and other marine life with explore.org, part of the Annenberg Foundation, a philanthropic family foundation that supports nonprofit organizations.
Prickett most recently returned from Guadalupe Island, 250 miles off the coast of Mexico, to film sharks with Ocean Ramsey, a conservationist known for swimming with great whites.
The project will take him from Hawaii to Mexico, Ecuador (the Galapagos Islands), Tonga, Palau, Tahiti, China and South Africa.
“At first I thought I couldn’t (continue filming), then I just said I’m never going to quit,” Prickett said. “Now I realize I’m getting better and now traveling the world with my new company, Salt + Air, making movies and doing everything I thought I couldn’t do.
“I’m trying to make people fall in love with the ocean again.”