Allow us to introduce you to Ed Hartel, better known to some as Drone Dude Ed. If you're a surfer in the San Diego area, chances are you've spotted him or his drone hovering above the lineup. What began as a pandemic pastime quickly evolved into Ed's passion, capturing surf footage and sharing the stoke within the community. Through his Instagram @dronedudeed, Ed has fostered a vibrant community, evident in his sizable following and the number of positive comments his posts receive.
Join us as we dive into Ed's journey, marked by resilience, community, and an unwavering dedication to spreading love through his lens.
Q. How did you get into drone surf videography?
Ed - I’ve been into photography since I was knee high to a grasshopper, never for money or profit but just a passion that I had. When covid hit and my job turned to remote, I found myself with hours of unused time on my hands. I bought a drone and figured nobody would bust or ticket me if I was hiding in my car flying – hahaha. So I flew every day, and have since 2020.
Q. What’s your favorite surf break to shoot at?
Ed - I love ALL the breaks here in SoCal, but the vibe at a few chases me away. Yes, I can film there but if I don’t feel right, I won't. My favorite is Tourmaline Surf Park. 1st surf park in America founded by legends in the surfing community… it was formed and still operates in a Aloha manner, love all, teach and build instead of yell at and destroy. Kooks can be kooks and the locals still love them.
A lot of folks don’t know it, blow it off as a newbie or kook spot – but world champs surf here. I've seen shortboarders get barreled and with 1m 30s rides – I've seen champs walk the nose in the sunset, and of course, the same champs get snaked by a kook and instead of yelling at them or grabbing their boards – ride the wave together and coach on the way back to the lineup.
The love, which is why I ultimately continue to do this, is great there… and that’s why I am there majority of my time.
Q. What inspires you to continue capturing drone content?
Ed - The love. I don’t make money on this, I could – yes – but I choose not to. I feel that I am just an observer capturing someone in a moment that is theirs – not mine – so I want to give it back to them without any cost associated with it. Its their memory, I just was blessed to capture it – and here you go, you can have it to enjoy years later.
When the joy and love from the crowd is gone, or when the cheers turn to fingers and agro comments – I leave. I’ll do this until the love in my heart is gone, rich or poor, and when that moment comes I’ll know.
Q. How does being around the ocean and pursuing your passion affect your mood and mindset?
Ed - A few years ago, post covid but pre “drone dude” – I went thru a traumatic event for me. I was left with nothing, no family, no money, no place to live. “Loves gonna getcha” for sure. One day I was contemplating that long walk off the short crystal pier, sitting on the log at Tourmaline. Just sitting there, soaking it all in… deciding next steps.
I had checked the boxes I needed to check in life.. got tons of shirts in my closet of all the cool stuff I've done. Kids grown. Wife turned to ex... really, why go on and whats next?
A bunch of surfers I didn’t know sat behind me and started talking to me. That group is now my best friends. They talked of the love and joy the videos brought them, how the community loved it and how we needed more of this in the world. They gave me love. This old fat dude who just lost everything and these perfect strangers to me came up and saved me with love.
It was then I knew I needed to be here, doing what I do. I rented a place down the street on the beach in PB the next week. I was home.
I feel that since living on the beach, walking it and feeling the power and energy of the waves crashing, and seeing all the love the waves bring – that’s when I knew I needed to be connected to it.
I see it daily and it warms my heart… even on the coldest, wettest days – I'm home.
Q. How has the ocean, surfing, and drone videography shaped your community?
Ed - The community here is and has been great before me. Champions, heroes, and every day joe’s are amazing here.
All San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla specific, needed was some exposure. I lucked out with a seal and a few kooks and “insta-made it” lol. That provides a ton of outside eyes on our precious community – and I have people weekly message me about where to go to get boards and where to stay when they come in from.. say.. Netherlands. (true story). I even run into folks every time I go into the PB Surf Shop – the foot traffic in there has a ton of my viewers in it – and it's cool when I go in and some random is like “you're drone dude, huh”. Haha, love it.
With my surfing footage going into the local bar scene here in PB, that has been huge. No secret, I like to go out, hahaha. Yeah.. not good for this old dude, but yeah, I go out to the various bars to watch my footage…. Not so much my footage, but the faces of those who camp out at the TVs and watch the feeds. They’re stoked out – saw themselves or a friend or whatever – but pure stoke without knowing I'm there watching. Its such an awesome feeling.
With that exposure, all I can do is hope that the Aloha and love all vibe catches on beyond Tourmaline and Pacific Beach. The passion and love of surfers is there – and I feel its contagious. Maybe if we show the world you can surf a break with 200 other surfers, all sharing and taking enough of the wave that others get joy too… dang.. we could change the whole scene. All it takes is love.
Q. Can you share one of your favorite photos/videos and the story behind it?
Ed - That’s a very challenging task to be honest. I don’t actually take pictures while flying.. instead, I record in 4k and cut framegrabs from that. Whoops.. secrets out.. haha .. but yeah, that’s how I do it.
From those video captures, I don’t always cut the perfect pictures.. I cut the ones that speak to my heart. If I see a smile, bam, cut. If I see stoke – bam, cut. But never so much going looking for a good shot.. the universe will provide!
My favorites, in general, are groms catching their first waves.. anything family oriented (mom and dads surfing with their kids, etc). Anything friend oriented. Anything that shows stoke and love.
Id rather cut a crappy picture of a groms first popup than getting the perfectly framed sunset rip.. so no “favorites” – but ones that I feel will be reviewed years later once the memory of me is gone.
Q. How do you hope your video content inspires others?
Ed - I just hope it brings some love and light to someones dark or boring day. Stuck in an office.. check my footage and smile.. bingo I win.
I edit my footage typically at night and post it.. late hours.. why? I want someone to wake up the next day and see themselves… stoking them out! Think of it.. they then take a shower whistling, buy donuts for the crew at work, let people cut them off on the road without being agro.. they’re having an awesome moment because they just saw the reel I made from their ride the night before.. I changed that persons morning (hopefully) – and if I can change a bunch of peoples morning, then maybe I can change a community for that morning. Its addictive... takes all my time up.. but so worth it.