Mikala Jones, a Hawaii-born surfer known for shooting awe-inspiring photos and videos from the inside of massive, curling waves, has died after a surfing accident in Indonesia. He was 44.
Jones had gone out into the ocean Sunday morning during a trip to the Mentawai Islands off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, when his surfboard fin cut his femoral artery, said his father, John Jones. The femoral artery is a large blood vessel in the thigh that delivers blood to the lower limbs.
“He was a humble artist. His pictures were incredible,” his father said in a phone interview from his Honolulu office on Monday.
Jones’s Instagram account shows stunning images of waves curling around him from above while he crouches on his board. In some shots, a sunset or sunrise is visible through the curved wave opening in front of him.
The elder Jones took photos for surf magazines starting in the 1970s, but mostly shots from the beach or snapped pictures of other people in the water. Not his son.
“He was interested in taking pictures while he’s surfing of himself and the wave,” the elder Jones said.
Born in Kailua, Hawaii, Jones started surfing at about seven or eight years old and began competing in the 12-and-under “menehune” age group a few years later. He won two national championships as an amateur.
Later, he gained sponsors and traveled to surf spots in Tahiti, Fiji, South Africa and the Galapagos Islands. Photographers would shoot images of him and other surfers on the waves that would appear in photo spreads in surf magazines. Manufacturers of surf clothing gear featured them in their advertisements.
In the 1990s, Jones began to experiment with taking images of himself on the water. Jones attached a camera to a fabric fastener on his board and held the camera under his chin while paddling out to waves while lying on his stomach. He’d grab the camera upon standing and hold it behind himself as he snapped photos.
He began to use a GoPro when the lightweight camera was invented and was eventually sponsored by the company. He used software to stitch together images from multiple GoPro cameras for 360-degree views.
Jones’s father said he was aware of the dangers that could accompany surfing, and once claimed to have had an out-of-body experience after nearly drowning.
“He was flying in the sky, and he looked down and his body was floating in the ocean,” his father said. “And then he heard his daughters calling to him ‘Daddy come home.’ And then he went back down into his body.”
He woke up on the reef, having been washed in by waves.
The elder Jones said he’s tried to get his four children to wear wetsuits, helmets and other protective gear while surfing. He said surfers are often told to use sandpaper to dull the edges of the fins on their boards if they’re too sharp.
“But they’re strict, you know?” he said.
Jones is survived by his wife, Emma Brereton, and daughters, Bella and Violet, who split their time between homes in Bali, Indonesia, and Hawaii. In addition to his father, Jones is survived by an older sister and two younger brothers. His mother, Violet Jones-Medusky, died in 2011.