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Some Lefts, Some Rights and 5 Bright Lights, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Jasset Umbel, Taylor Pitz, Sara Taylor and Jenna Balester

Some Lefts, Some Rights & 5 Bright Lights on JettyGirl Online Surf Magazine

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Some Lefts, Some Rights & 5 Bright Lights
Kaleigh Gilchrist, Jasset Umbel, Taylor Pitz, Sara Taylor & Jenna Balester brighten up an otherwise gray day in Newport Beach this summer.
Photos by Chris Grant /
JettyGirl Art, Photography & Culture

Jasset Umbel in Newport Beach for JettyGirlI'm not sure where this fits in with the overall global warming story but the summer of 2010 has to have broken a variety of cold weather records in Southern California. Air, cold. Onshore wind, relentless. 3/2mm and even 4/3mm fullsuits were our constant companions even in July and August! Regardless of how scientists would describe the weather patterns, to surfers it was nothing short of ridiculous.

As the sun-less days of summer began to pile up, I even began to find encouragement in "bright overcast" conditions. Such was the case when a superstar crew of five surfers met one morning at a central location in Newport Beach. We were met with typical gray skies but we were also blessed to discover waist-to-chest-high, glassy peaks up and down the beach.

The crew for this special session consisted of Newport Beach's Kaleigh Gilchrist, Florida's Jasset Umbel, Laguna Beach's Taylor Pitz and Huntington Beach locals Sara Taylor and Jenna Balester. Although this group has amassed multiple surfing titles over the past few years, today there would be no horns or contest jerseys. Instead, friendships were celebrated and friendly one-upsmanship ruled the day. From my vantage point on the beach, it was quite a show indeed.

A few observations from behind my tripod...

Kaleigh Gilchrist is deliberate, powerful and really exciting to watch. As soon as she stands up, Kaleigh generates massive amounts of speed and when she leans into a turn, she simply hucks everything into it. If I had to summarize her surfing with one word...explosive. As a photographer, I absolutely love Kaleigh's style of surfing and I hope our paths will continue to cross in the future.

Jasset Umbel comes from a state that generally consists of small-wave, short-interval swells. However, by watching her surf, you might mistakenly conclude that she grew up at Rincon or some other perfect, lined-up pointbreak. Her surfing is stylish and elegant and at the same time on-edge and powerful. As the youngest of this group of girls and already a solid performer on the USA Surf Team, Jasset's future is looking very bright indeed.

I've had the pleasure of shooting with Taylor Pitz a bit in 2010 and she's a really fun surfer to photograph. Of all the surfers I shoot with, I think Taylor draws some of the most unique lines around. She can hit the lip at angles which seemingly defy logic and certainly don't look possible, yet she pulls it off over and over again. Taylor also has one of my favorite frontside snaps, a full hair-throwing, on-rail gouge that throws boatloads of spray.

The fourth surfer in the crew was Huntington Beach local, Sara Taylor. One of the most naturally gifted surfers I know, Sara can make the impossible, possible and she does so often. I've seen Sara pull airs, reverses, a variety of 360 spins, vertical blasts and watched her charging barrels with the best of them, all without much fanfare from industry insider types. Sara can surf BACKWARDS better than some of the surfers I see out there sporting a board full of sponsor stickers.

The last surfer to get out of the water on this particular day was another HB local, Jenna Balester. Jenna caught more waves than anyone else and stayed out way longer as well. Jenna has a special bond with her boards...her dad makes them. On this day with a new purple surfboard underfoot, she was firing! Jenna was whipping turns off the closeout with much more authority than I had ever seen her do before. Coupled with her powerful, driving backside style, Jenna put on an amazing performance at Newport that day.

About once each summer I luck into one of these sessions when a bunch of peers come together for a surf in front of my camera. A few of the girls I spoke to afterward downplayed the competitive energy that was in the water but from the beach I could definitely see it. As the session progressed, turns became more powerful, lip blasts more daring and each wave seemed to be ridden with more creativity than the wave that proceeded it. As a fan of all five of these surfers, it was an honor to be there and I look forward to having a repeat performance in 2011. --Chris Grant


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Caption Index - All photos © Chris Grant /

1. The morning started off right when current Surfing America USA Champion Kaleigh Gilchrist kicked off the session with a nice punt.
2. Florida's Jasset Umbel, one of the smoothest surfers I've had the pleasure of shooting with...and definitely one of the nicest!
3. I never rest when Taylor Pitz is riding because she hits the lip at really unique angles...and virtually never falls.
4. Jenna Balester's dad shapes insane boards and her new purple sled is the best one I've ever seen her surf. Energetic whip off the closeout.
5. I don't often hear her name mentioned in the mainstream press but one of the most naturally gifted surfers I know is HB's Sara Taylor.
6. I had never met Jasset until this particular morning and it was fun to watch the stylish regularfoot's approach in Newport's clean, little wedges.
7. Newport's just a quick drive up the road from Laguna Beach but Taylor hardly ever surfs there. Stoked she made the trip!
8. This summer was grayer than gray but Jenna provided plenty of color with her quick hooks off the lip.
9. Long story short, I loved watching Kaleigh surf! I had never met her until this particular morning and the USC freshman was firing.
10. Sara took a lateral approach to this air and traveled at least twelve feet through the air before exploding in the trough. So close to pulling it...
11. I've seen this frontside, slicing turn from Taylor dozens of times in 2010 and they just keep getting better and better.
12. I dig these backside banks that Jenna incorporates in her surfing. Her approach to walling rights is really refreshing.
13. Jasset's turns are so well-placed and precise...her ultra-clean turns and buckets of spray make her a perfect photo subject.
14. Sara was feeling under the weather out there that day, perhaps from the nasty green foam lurking in the water. Nonetheless, she was ripping.
15. I normally don't use spray-in-the-face photos but it really epitomizes Kaleigh's approach. She takes off, hauls down the line and simply explodes into the section.
16. Taylor carving a clean arc on a fun and wedgy Newport right...putting her Salt Creek technique to good use.
17. Fins-free on a sandy one, Sara Taylor's bag of tricks is seemingly endless.
18. Jenna Balester hooking against the grain on a clean left. Jenna committed to this one sandbar and ripped wave after wave all day long.
19. All in all I think Jenna put in at least an extra hour and a half over everyone else. I'm looking forward to shooting more with her on her magic purple board.
20. One last turn before heading back to her beloved Lowers. Jasset throws a perfect hook and stokes her sponsors out at the same time.
21. Especially for a Florida girl, wearing a fullsuit in summer is just plain wrong. Jasset never complains though...and she's always smiling.
22. Left: Kaleigh goes vert on her backhand. Right: Perhaps thinking about how her new spots in LA would be breaking on this swell.
23. While good swells come and go, solid friendships can last forever.

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