surf session

feature, portrait, shaper, surf session

Interview: James Otter - Otter Surfboards, UK

As you may know, yours truly is from England, and though I deeply love living in New York, from time to time I glance over my shoulder to see what I’m missing. Brexit isn’t one of them, but Otter Surfboards most certainly is.

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We recently caught up with Otter Surfboards founder, James Otter, to find out more about his wooden surfboard company. Otter descends from a family of farmers and carpenters, so if there’s a gene for finding pleasure in working with your hands, Otter almost certainly has it. Growing up connected with the land and with craftsmanship Otter went on to attended one of England’s more outdoorsy, coastal universities, Plymouth. It was here that the idea of building wooden surfboards first struck.

Ice Cream Headaches: Tell us about the genesis of Otter Surfboards - where did the idea come from?

James Otter: The thought of making my first wooden board actually came from a magazine: The Surfer's Path. I was studying furniture making, heading into my final year and through the summer break they ran an issue called 'The Wood Issue', which exposed me to a whole world of wooden surfboard makers. I loved the idea of it, so began working out how to use local timber to make surfboards. After two years of experimenting, I got to a point where I was happy with the boards and started working out how to sell them.

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ICH: Did you know right away that you could make it work, or were you considering other paths at the time?

JO: I definitely didn't know if it would work, but I was young, so didn't have any financial commitments or dependants, and I had the 'If not now, when?' question rattling round my head. So I jumped into it and gave it all the energy I had. Luckily I've had such supportive friends and family that are still by my side to this day, who have helped make it all possible.

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ICH: You've said in previous interviews that you were surprised and very happy to discover that teaching people how to make these boards was almost as fulfilling as making them yourself. What is it about teaching, or the combination of teaching and making, that’s so satisfying?

JO: By teaching people to make things, you open them up to what they are capable of doing with their own two hands. It gives them such belief and confidence that you can't help but smile. Today, not many people stop and take the time to make anything, let alone something they plan on playing with in the ocean, so the excitement and anticipation that rattles round the workshop during our courses is just magical.

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ICH: What's the hardest thing about running this company?

JO: For me, it's simply the ambiguity of it all. We never know when the next order might land in our inbox, which leads to some pretty lean months, even years, which can be tricky to deal with. Although we definitely aren't in this to make lots of money (I think that would be incredibly hard), we do need to make enough to keep going, and that can be challenging at times. Luckily, after 8 years’ running the company, we're still here and still smiling. It still doesn't feel like a 'real job', hanging out with friends, laughing and surfing for most of our waking hours.

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ICH: For people who are deeply attached to surfing, but who’ve never tried a wooden board, what would you say to convince them to give it a go?

JO: I know for a fact that it isn't for everyone, but for those with an open mind it can transform your surfing. Our boards finish about 25% heavier than a typical foam board. They have momentum and carry speed, so they really suit big, smooth turns and flowing lines. If that's the kind of surfing you aspire to, then they could be just what you're looking for. Also, knowing exactly how they are made and what they are made from - literally being able to see where the trees once stood - is a big plus side for us. We make our boards to the absolute best of our abilities and know they will last decades, all of which contributes to better care for our planet.

Surfer Jonny Leon

Surfer Jonny Leon

ICH: How important are partnerships with other brands or sponsored surfers in spreading the word about your work and your boards?

JO: We love working with like minded people, companies and charities. It's a way to elevate what we do and expose ourselves to new audiences, so it works really well as a way of getting our name out there. It's also one of the most enjoyable parts of the job because each new partnership or project demands creativity and a new story.

ICH: Is there any surfboard technology you're aware of, or following, that you believe could make a meaningful dent in the environmental impact of mainstream surfboard manufacturing, and what are the barriers to wood as a material playing a bigger role in the industry?

JO: I think there are several that are interesting to keep an eye on, but it's a tricky question because most of them are still based on a very capitalist attitude of selling more products to make more money. It's really encouraging that you have larger manufacturers trying out new materials and manufacturing processes to try to make boards more sustainable, but there is also a heck of a lot of miscommunication and green-washing. The big manufacturers still, ultimately, rely on selling a huge volume of products to make their businesses viable. We focus on doing the least amount of harm we can and making the best product we can, but above all for us, we are building a community of like-minded individuals who will make real changes in their local communities. We can all make a difference.

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ICH: What is your vision for Otter Surfboards in the long term - do you plan to keep growing organically, or are there other plans for growth or diversifying on the horizon?

JO: There are some fairly natural progressions for us, but we enjoy doing what we do so much that it's mostly about the preservation of that. It's funny, we got together a few years ago as a team and decided that growth for us doesn’t mean chasing targets for more customers and more sales. Instead, it’s about finding ways to improve our customer's experiences, add more value to the surfboards and our care for people. We've got a few projects and plans up our sleeve, but ultimately we're keen to keep doing what we already do. When you have customers that make positive, life-changing decisions off the back of their experiences with you, it feels like we could hang up our tools tomorrow and be more than happy with how we’ve affected the world around us.

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We’d like to thank James Otter and photographer Mat Arney, for their time. Check out Otter Surfboards at their website here.

For news, action and offers, follow Ice Cream Headaches on Instagram here.

portrait, feature, surf session

Fiona Mullen - Three Frames

Finding surf photography that goes beyond the classic barrel and beach shots is a rare pleasure. Waves themselves and the act of surfing can be so visually compelling that the bigger story gets lost, but one photographer pushing to find new angles and narratives in New Jersey surfing is Fiona Mullen. We invited Fiona to send us three shots and tell us the stories that led up to each one. We're stoked to share the images and their stories with you here!

Bradley Rain

Bradley Rain

"On a gloomy day in early June, some of my friends were surfing the jetty down my street. I put on my spring suit for the first time of the season, hopped on my bike, and headed for the beach. While swimming I saw these clouds coming from the distance and knew something crazy was about to happen. Lighting, thunder, hail, and rain all arrived at once. The waves turned on and the few of us that were out there were just amazed by what was going on. Even though it might not have been the biggest day of waves, I still got some of my favorite images ever. The solitude and subtle moments of surfing are what I love to capture the most."

Bradley Sunrise

Bradley Sunrise

"When there's waves in New Jersey, most of us are up at dawn to check the surf. This means endless sunrises, watching the sun rise above the horizon from the water. Every year, there are those select few mornings when the sky does some amazing things. This specific morning while waiting for the tide to change, we experienced the most colorful sky I had ever seen- with a rainbow and even lighting out in the distance. These moments make getting out of bed in those early hours so worth it. Being in the right place at the right time is what its all about. Not everyday in New Jersey is a perfect day for waves or weather, but when those days do come around we appreciate them that much more."

Long Branch

Long Branch

"The combination of fear and adrenaline before swimming out on big days like this always makes me question what I am about to do. With three feet of snow on the ground, straight brown water, and perfect barrels, I knew I had to document it. The passion and dedication surfers have in New Jersey is like no other place. People who don't do it think its crazy and most likely they will never understand why we go out in below-freezing temperatures. I think a little bit of craziness and adventure seeking is only healthy; life would be boring without it."

To see more of Fiona's work (highly recommended), check out her Instagram.
For our updates follow @icecream.headaches.

feature, surf trip, surf session

Stephanie Gilmore - The Tempest

Monster Children just dropped a video called The Tempest, filmed in glorious technicolor in Indonesia with Stephanie Gilmore. It was filmed by Jon Frank with music written by Maurice Ravel and performed by Alberto Bof. It is beautiful and joyful and we suggest you watch it to get your week off to a good start...

Keep up with our latest updates on Instagram!

surf session

Hurricane Hermine

As with any good swell, Hermine kept us guessing until the last moment and then showed up with a blank check for fun times. The week before the swell arrived in New York, reports called for 12-14 feet at 10-12 second intervals - Pacific proportion with an Atlantic period and almost impossible to believe.

Aaron Austin

Aaron Austin

Jacques Naude

Jacques Naude

What arrived was not 10 feet, but it was nothing short of spectacular - well overhead waves that touched down on a high tide, easy us in gently with wall-y rollers and occasional chucking sections to keep us on our toes. As the tide dropped out on day one (of three!) the waves started to get bigger, hollower and more technical. It's rare that an Atlantic swell lasts for more than a day, let alone two, but Hermine truly delivered with three days of picture perfect waves in warm water and groomed with perfect offshores. 

With the wild swell report came a sense of trepidation from our beloved servant-protectors. Park rangers and police lined the beach, blaring sirens and shouting "the ocean is closed" through bullhorns, but to no avail. The size and the impossibly perfect conditions were too good to resist and New York surfers turned out to take their share. We even did the responsible thing and paused to take a few photos... 

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Aaron Austin

Aaron Austin

Will Warasila

Will Warasila

feature, surf session

When the magic happens...

Some days, the ocean works its magic. Friday the 8th April 2016 was one of those days.  

Balaram Stack

Balaram Stack

Last week, perfectly timed for a Friday we both had free, a 10 second period South swell whipped into the New Jersey shoreline for a one-day-only showdown. This swell angle and mid-length period, groomed by a steady offshore wind, sent absolutely perfect overhead barrels driving up the beaches all day long.

During the peak of the swell in the mid-morning there were barely even sets - just seemingly mechanical barrels grinding down the beaches to the whoops and cheers of anyone (read:everyone) who had the day off. Fortunately, we had made plans earlier in the week to link up with one of New Jersey's top pro surfers, Sam Hammer, to try and catch him in action.

Sam Hammer

Sam Hammer

As we pulled up to the spot, Sam had just broken a board. He sprinted up the beach, leapt the fence and dove into the back of his car to grab another before we could even say hello. A quick nod and a fist bump and he was back in the water in about 2 minutes remaining there for at least the next 4 hours. 

Sam Hammer

Sam Hammer

Hucking gear up and down the beach for the whole day gave us a decent workout, but it also yielded some photos we're really stoked to share here and a few special frames we'll be even more stoked to share with you in the book. Enjoy!

surf session, shaper

Fish Fry 2015

On Sunday, we attended New York's annual Fish Fry, an event organized by Pilgrim Surf + Supply which takes place on Long Beach. The idea is simple: people bring board(s) down to the beach and trade off with other folks so everyone can experience surfing some new and different craft.

Bryan Siegfried Doring - friction free ride

Bryan Siegfried Doring - friction free ride

It's also a great opportunity for local shapers to show off samples of their work, so this year we were stoked to check out boards by the likes of Danny Callaghan (D-Cal, NJ), David Murphy (Imaginary Surf Co, NY) and Mark Petrocelli (Faktion Surfboards, NY), not to mention out-of-towners including Josh Hall (Josh Hall Surfboards, CA) and Richard Kenvin (behind the Hydrodynamica project, CA).

Mostly though, the Fish Fry is all about goofing around, ridiculous party waves and a slightly sunburnt feeling after better-than-expected surf. 

The only thing you can't expect at the Fish Fry is any actual fish actually frying. Perhaps the local council won't allow anyone to have that much fun on the beach... Anyway, we're resolved to find a way around this next year. Who doesn't like to start the day with a little fried fish?

Thankfully this time around the good folks from Lost Weekend NYC kept everyone juiced to surf with a classic New York breakfast of coffee and bagels. 

Ross Fredella - On a Deepest Reaches

Ross Fredella - On a Deepest Reaches

Johnny Knapp - On a Faktion

Johnny Knapp - On a Faktion

Chris Gentile - On a Josh Hall

Chris Gentile - On a Josh Hall

Chris Gentile - On a Josh Hall

Chris Gentile - On a Josh Hall

Danny Callaghan - On a Hydrodynamica

Danny Callaghan - On a Hydrodynamica

Dion Mattison

Dion Mattison

Richard Kenvin - Mega Fish

Richard Kenvin - Mega Fish