When I shared I’d be spending my summer on an island with a grizzly bear every square mile, I told everyone, “I hope this doesn’t turn into one of those stories of ‘Whatever happened to …’ and I get eaten by a bear.”
A canceled internship and another job rejection led me to have the best summer of my life.
When I asked my uncle if I could visit him in Alaska, he said he wouldn’t be around but that I could borrow his surfboard and stay at his home. I was astonished to hear he and others were surfing in Alaska. He mentioned there were some boys about my age that surfed there and lived in a cabin by the beach. We talked about it during a Friday in May, and I bought my plane tickets the following Sunday. My parents thought I was nuts.
I didn’t know if I would meet these surfers he spoke of, but I was willing to take the risk. After four weeks of searching for them, I dropped my cousin off at the airport — she’s my travel partner, and she came to visit me for three weeks. I said to her, “If I don’t meet them and photograph them, I’ll still make the most of being here these last four weeks.”
Those four weeks turned into seven.
After we exchanged goodbyes, I drove to the beach with my notebook to journal. It was raining, and I thought it would just be a peaceful day to sit among the wildflowers. When I pulled up, to my surprise, I met Mikey and Brayden.
Working on this project reminded me why I am a photojournalist. It’s really fulfilling work. It was definitely risky to buy a ticket and seek out people to photograph, not knowing whether I would have their permission. I wasn’t going on much. I could have gotten mauled by a bear.
I had no idea what I was walking into, but I knew I needed to do something — I couldn’t waste the summer before my senior year sitting at my parents’ house. This risk led to an opportunity to receive coaching from an editor at National Geographic. They believed in me and what I was doing. They made me think about shooting and piecing together the story in a different way.
I won’t forget the feeling of watching water bend as a wave crashes over my head. I won’t forget the beach parties. I won’t forget praying in the woods that I wouldn’t get eaten by a bear on one of my solo hikes. I won’t forget watching the boys surf naked under the moon. I won’t forget the summer love I experienced. I don’t think I could have had a better summer.
Contact Rebecca Slezak with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.