For 25 years, Aaron Chang traveled to over 50 countries, shooting photos of top surfing talent at exotic locations, as a senior photographer on assignment for Surfing Magazine. An internationally acclaimed artist with a passion for surf photography, his work has been published in hundreds of books and magazines. He began shooting photos of his friends surfing and learned to surf during his early years spent in Imperial Beach. The beach communities of San Diego County have served as Chang’s home base over the years. His successful Aaron Chang Ocean Art Galleries are located in Downtown San Diego and Solana Beach and last year, he moved his family to Carlsbad.
Viewing his photos, you are awestruck by their beauty and the breathtaking locations Chang has been to. But there have been challenges along the way. An incident that happened over 20 years ago has had a very profound effect on his life.
At the time, Chang was getting ready for an elaborate trip to Africa with his wife and some friends. He decided to go surfing before the flight to get some exercise in. “Popping an air” too close to the beach, he landed headfirst in the sand. “It was a game changer for me,” he shares. Chang fractured his neck at the C7 vertebra and was paralyzed in his upper body, unable to move his arms. The trip to Africa was put on hold.
While most people think of paralysis as lack of feeling, Chang experienced the opposite. For him, the sensation was incredibly painful. He describes a “mind boggling, numbing, crazy pain. It was like someone ripped my arms off and put a blow torch on them.” Out of commission for an extended period of time, Chang had to deal with intense pain for months. His doctors had him on a steady dose of painkillers and he couldn’t sit up in bed without assistance. “I didn’t know if I would ever regain sensation in my hands and arms,” Chang says. A nurse took special interest in him at the hospital and her advice saved his life. In hindsight, Chang feels going the surgery route could have cemented his paralysis.With good physical therapy, he completely recovered. A year later, Chang was back in the water surfing and taking photos.
Chang used that event to shape what he wanted to do with his life. He felt he had a clear purpose – he knew he wanted to share the beauty of the world through his images. “I really wanted to help people through my photography, appreciate how incredible life is and what a gift it is,” he says. People take so many things for granted and he didn’t want to do that anymore. “It became my mission to inspire people to see the beauty around them, I decided to devote my life to fine art photography.”
Some of Chang’s best selling releases in his gallery are recent photos shot in Carlsbad. One of these, titled Champagne, is a vibrant close-up shot of a wave breaking on the shore at Tamarack. “As I’m getting to know Carlsbad from a resident’s perspective, I’m finding a lot of great things about it,” Chang says. He’s getting familiar with local businesses and restaurants. His life is full with family responsibilities, photo assignments and two galleries.
After so much traveling, Chang finds it interesting that he has become a resident of Carlsbad. On his early trips here, he met Witt Rowlett of Carlsbad Pipelines Surf Shop. They became good friends and Rowlett even was the best man at Chang’s wedding. “A great photographer who is an interesting, methodical and thoughtful person” is how Rowlett describes Chang. “Most people think of Aaron as a photographer, not about his ability in the ocean,” says Rowlett. “They don’t realize how good a surfer he is.” Chang still finds time to catch a few waves when the conditions are right. His favorite local surf spot is Taramar. He rides a variety of surfboards that range from short ‘fish’ shapes to long boards and everything in between.
Looking ahead, Chang is being considered for a new TV show titled Captured with Aaron Chang, which will take viewers around the world and behind the scenes, introducing them to the adventure of extreme photography. Combining his love for photography and his love of surfing, Chang has begun creating photo-surfboard sculptures, some of which can be seen at his galleries in Solana Beach and downtown San Diego.