Recent Coronado High School graduate Samantha McNall hasn’t been afraid to leave the beaten path of steps for success and spread athletic, creative wings for achievement.
The 21-year-old graduated in 2019 from CHS and still resides off and on aboard a boat with her family at the Loews Crown Isle Marina on the Silver Strand. She has leapt in and strategized her life, earning her way to become an accomplished surfer and travel photographer.
“I still live with my parents because I’m always traveling,” she said, explaining how she typically comes back for six months at a time to work and save; she recently returned from some travels.
The family originally hails from New Zealand, then moved to Huntington Beach, known as a true “surf city,” where McNall fell in love with the surfing life. She shared how her dad has always had a love for boats and has always had a boat. Thus, when they moved to Coronado her freshman year of high school, her parents decided to try boat-living.
“My sister and I, we were concerned,” she said with a grin in her voice; her sister is a senior at CHS. “We didn’t know what to expect. But it’s amazing, waking up on the water every day.”
McNall became an avid swimmer growing up, swimming competitively and excelling. She learned to surf at age nine and also grew to always have a camera in hand with friends throughout high school.
In high school she was additionally inspired by many local photographers who she’s actually pretty good friends with now, she said. But during school she couldn’t tell if photography was something she wanted to do.
“It wasn’t until I graduated high school. I left and moved to Mexico with absolutely no plans.”
Yet she got a job as a photographer in an adventure park.
“That made me realize how much I actually loved photography and that there are jobs available for photographers out there.”
McNall is currently trying to build her photography brand and is also working with a surf coach in Coronado, Jeremy Handysides — hired as a photographer.
She said they go out whenever the waves are good, and she gets photos of him and the people he coaches; these photos then promote his business and can be shared with customers.
Moreover she’s gained some brand work.
“Surf Hut has always supported me and my work,” she shared. “They are an amazing local business down in Imperial Beach. I recently got featured on their Instagram and hope to one day have my work in their store.”
She also recently took volunteer photos for the brand URT at the URT SPOOK event, which was a great way to have her work seen by the community, she said.
“I’m kind of putting myself out there more with my photography,” she described. “These past few years I figured out what I want to do. It’s something I love. Surf photography is a huge part of my life … I focus on surf, travel and lifestyle … And then I traveled right up until COVID happened,” she added with a slight laugh.
She returned home and decided she wanted to dedicate time to a selection of UCSD classes which could help her with the basics and more. She has also gained channels for support, including the Clique Online Community to connect with photographers and creatives for inspiration, educational content, career connections and to touch base with other female photographers.
“In that community you can do all these courses,” she said, and “can post and ask questions and get feedback. One of my favorite photographers actually created the community.”
When asked was it was like moving to Coronado, McNall remembers that coming from a complete surf community was an adjustment but she eventually met her boyfriend, Zachary Hastings from Imperial Beach, and soon many new people she could forge friendships with. Hastings and she were able to experience New Zealand via van for a while until COVID struck.
“I had never explored the country,” she said. “There’s amazing surf. It’s just beautiful. You can drive an hour and be at the beach and drive 30 minutes and be at the snowy mountains. That’s when I really got into the travel photography.”
The two recently returned from working on a catamaran in the Caribbean for five months, using her camera’s water housing (used to take photographs underwater) all the time, she said.
“I’m in the middle of creating a portfolio, now I’ve kind of figured out this is my thing. Honestly through connections it’s starting to become more like a business for me.”
She mentioned how she holds swim records at CHS. “It’s a great thing for kids to get into at a young age.” And it was hard to leave that option behind of furthering her swim career and traditional education, she said.
She recalled telling her coaches she wasn’t going to swim competitively in college. She had been swimming for 12 years. It was her decision for herself, she said, to travel and see the world.
“I wouldn’t change that for anything. I’ve seen and had the most amazing experiences. I’ve grown as a person.”
This month she’s headed back to Cabo for a surf trip. They’ll bring the camera. Hastings helps with the equipment. In 2022 they have plans to travel to South America and maybe Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
McNall shared a quote she loves as encouragement to herself and others.
“The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find (herself) in places no one has ever been.”
— Albert Einstein