Joe Surf: Bott a unique photographer

He's become a fixture at the Huntington Beach Pier, along with several others like him, armed with his camera and a tripod.

Only he isn't like the others on or next to the pier, shooting surfers and posting his photos to social media.

The surfers range from the weekend wannabe ripper to the world's best, old men with no hair and expanding waistlines to young groms who seemingly pop back up on their boards after even the gnarliest of wipeouts.

And to Brian Bott, it doesn't matter. He shoots them all and loves every minute of it.

Bott, though, is different than the others. All you have to do is know his social media tag — FakeLegPhotography.

Bott, 46, had his left leg amputated in 2012 after years of battling infection and his body ultimately rejecting multiple components of a reconstructed leg following surgery for Stage 4 bone cancer and chemotherapy.

"My surgeons tried to save my leg after removing a massive cancer tumor by reconstructing it using titanium and cadaver parts," Bott explained. "It just got to a point where amputation couldn't be avoided and the infections were so dangerous it put my life at risk."

Bott, who along with wife Suzanne are the parents of Hunter, 11, and Savannah, 8, worked in the Action Sports industry for 20 years as a marketing specialist for companies like Ogio and Nitro Circus. But the cancer diagnosis pushed Bott into starting his own business, B2 Action Sports Marketing.

Photography wasn't a part of the business, though, until the amputation directed him to it.

"Some amputees experience phantom pains, which are basically very specific pains, on the amputated or missing body part," Bott said. "The brain still registers pain, and therefore it is a very real pain as if that body part was still there.

"My phantom pains unfortunately hit between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. The only successful means for me to get rid of them is to get up and move around. I don't want to wake up my wife and kids, so I just get out of the house and head to the ocean."

Bott, who grew up in San Diego and now lives in Newport Beach, would be at the beach by sunrise. And usually the only other creatures at the beach that early are surfers.

"I've surfed all my life and have always viewed Mother Ocean as a healing entity," he said. "Knowing that I had a reamputation coming up, and it would be a while before getting back in the water, I started trying to capture surfers with my iPhone. It's just snowballed from there. There's something special about surfing and I love it all. The history, the brotherhood and mostly the people. I couldn't imagine my life without surfing in it, it's been too helpful in dealing with my amputation. It's my therapy."

That iPhone eventually gave way to more sophisticated photography equipment, and the results speak for themselves. Bott regularly shoots Huntington Beach High School surf team members because they surf the south side of the pier every morning at daybreak. He also catches images of all the regulars at the pier, and they've come to know him.

Bott, a U.S. Army veteran who served during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, says he isn't focused on making his photography a professional endeavor. His reward, he says, is more valuable than any money he might make.

"Every day I try to go out to capture surf magic," he said. "The skill level of the HB locals is insanely high and I admittedly get lost watching them as if I were riding the wave with them. Ultimately surfing is an incredibly intimate means of expression, and I can't get enough of it."

Bott's love of surfing came from his family.

"My dad and uncles grew up surfing the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas and it was my dad who taught me to surf," Bott said. "There's a lot of surf history in my family and I still find myself in awe of stories about Rincon and C Street throughout the '60s. It's a sport that is embedded in my family and will always be important to me and my kids as a result."

Despite being an amputee, Bott isn't sitting still. He is still active and plans to get back in the water himself eventually.

"For the most part I have thrived," he said. "I have not quit or stopped riding motocross, I snowboard and even wakeboard as an amputee. My first attempt at surfing will come in the next couple months, and I couldn't be more excited to be back in the water. My wife and parents have seen some rough times, but I have to do this right so that my kids can see and learn that life is limitless and to never give up."

Surfing and the ocean have always been a big part of Bott's life, but his life experiences have created an even stronger attraction to be in or near the water.

"The ocean is without a doubt the main draw for me," Bott said. "Having experienced so much death and destruction, cancer and even multiple amputations, I needed the ocean to heal both physically and mentally.

"Surfers in my opinion are the wards of our oceans. Surfers understand the value of our oceans well beyond it just being a body of water to play in. They are active in maintaining and preserving our oceans and environment so that future generations can feel the magic they draw from it. I couldn't be more in line with those beliefs."

Follow Bott on Instagram at fakelegphotography.

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JOE HAAKENSON may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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