Mark McInnisis an Oregon-based commercial photographer with a passion for surf and adventure. For more photos and stories from the Island X expeditions, buy Mark's book.
Of all the world’s seas, there is none more infamous for death and destruction than the frigid Bering. With Alaska to the east and Russia’s northernmost tundra to the west, this terrifying body of water is known more for the Discovery Channel’s iconic show Deadliest Catch than it is for world-class surf. But, where there is a shoreline, one can often find surf, even in the most unlikely of locales, and that’s just what Ben Weiland and I (Mark McInnis) found smack dab in the middle of this horrifying sea.
Back in 2014, Ben and our dear friend Chris Burkard, made waves with their movie, The Cradle of Storms, which showcased picture perfect surf deep in Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain. Ben then went on to make movies in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, New Zealand, and Norway. It turns out that when you dedicate yourself to unveiling waves in some of the world’s most remote locations, people in similar locations start to notice. Some of them even reveal their own waves.
That brings us to 2017, when Ben was contacted by a Seattle-based scientist that had been performing federally funded research on an island in the Bering. This scientist, Jeremy Sterling, was also a surfer and started urging Ben to visit this mysterious island—he even included photos of beautiful waves in their correspondence.
Ben reached out to me as we had long dreamed of teaming up on a surf trip to truly new territory. Over the next two years, we schemed on how we could turn our dream into reality—and into a film and accompanying photo book. We swore each other to secrecy, dubbed the project Island X, and refused to tell potential surfers and media partners where we planned on going. We simply said “Alaska,” which tends to make most people drool, sight unseen. Recruiting Pete Devries, Noah Wegrich, Josh Mulcoy and Ben’s filmmaking buddy Mike Nulty, was like taking candy from a baby—dangling photos of a roping Alaskan pointbreak in front of cold-water surfers tends to make them make silly agreements. Thank God for those photos.
"The story the photos don’t tell is that of grit and tenacity. Everything was against us."
And thank God for Jamie Sterling’s local contact, Ricardo Merculief. Ricardo was born and raised on the island and, after spending years in Hawaii, had been surfing the island's waves with nobody but his partner, Brooke, for 15 years. We couldn’t believe somebody else was actually surfing out there. It’s just so remote. But Ricardo ended up being the best guide we could have ever asked for.
Generations ago, Ricardo’s grandfather somehow homesteaded some land far away from the island’s main village. The cabin he built there just happened to rest on the island's finest left-hand point break. The images you see here are proof enough that we scored. The story the photos don’t tell is that of grit and tenacity. Everything was against us. A global pandemic threatened the possibility of returning to the island to finish the film and the book and weather kept us on the ground in Anchorage for days on end, but the fickle nature of surf on an island in the Bering Sea was the biggest question mark of it all.
I don’t know what to credit the success of this project to. Maybe it’s just the dedication of six dudes trying to find something special. Or maybe it’s beyond us. Something tells me it’s the latter of the two.
*Scroll on for more original film photography from "Island X"