portrait

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 trip

Interview: Fiona Mullen, New Jersey Surf Photographer

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We’ve featured the work of up-and-coming New Jersey photographer Fiona Mullen before, but after seeing glimpses of her new portfolio of work from trips to Indonesia and Australia, we felt now would be a good time for a proper chat.

ICH: Tell us about your trip to Indonesia - who did you go with and why?

Fiona: I first visited Bali in November 2016 - a short 10 day trip to Indonesia that had me itching to go back. This summer I traveled to Australia for an internship with The Mermaid Society, but I decided to dedicate the whole of May to a surf trip beforehand. I wanted to be somewhere close to Australia and cheap to live. Indonesia was the best option. I had no luck finding a surf camp to have me stay as a photographer, so I chose the comfortable route and decided to go back to Bali for the month. I met up with my friend Karson Lewis, who is a longboarder, on an island off Bali. It was nice to spend time with a fellow longboarder and photograph my favorite style of surfing. The trip was intended to be purely for surfing, but while I was there it seemed like we had days on end of flatness or well overhead swells that were more suitable for shooting. I had some seriously humbling swims on this trip! I also spent time battling crowds, dealing with bali belly, allergic reactions, and all the other unpleasant things that come with third world travel.

I now have a love/hate relationship with Bali. The place has changed so much even within the two years since I last went. The crowds are worse, the trash is worse, the traffic is worse, and I cannot see how the place is going to improve with the constant build-up in an already-crumbling infrastructure. Bali is an experience to say the least.

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So, what was the inspiring moment of the trip?

The most inspiring moment was swimming at Uluwatu. I surfed it when it was smaller a few days prior, but it was a whole different beast on this day. I made the long walk down the cliff, through all the restaurants and shops with my housing and fins in hand. I swam while my friend Jake paddled out. Swimming out wasn't bad, but as the tide filled in the sets just got bigger and bigger. Lots of Brazilians, a few locals and others filled the lineup. A lot of guys come up to me and ask for my name and info to buy photos if I got a shot of them. I love people's reaction when I tell them I'm from New Jersey. It’s always a shock to people. Swimming back in was the sketchiest part, getting swept so fast down the sides of the cliffs and timing my exit through the keyhole before I got swept past it to the next beach, which is a long way down!

It was a magical morning. I found out the evening before that session that my grandma had passed away. She had been battling cancer for a year, and I was sad to not be home with my family. The last time I saw her, I was telling her about my upcoming trip to Bali and Australia. I swam out at Uluwatu the next morning, just as the sun was coming up. The whole session switched between sun and rain showers. I came out without a scratch, getting some of the most rewarding photos of my life.

That sounds amazing! For you, what’s the most enjoyable part of your creative process?

The most enjoyable part of photography for me is that you have these unexpected moments. I feel when I force my photography, it's never enjoyable. I hate planning things - it never feels as genuine. On this trip there were various days where I had no plan on shooting, but the stars aligned and the waves ended up being too perfect for me not to swim out. Surf photography can be repetitive, and there are so many people that do it these days, but I have learned that keeping my passion for it alive consists of not comparing my work to others’. Despite the current over-saturation of surf photography, I’m always thinking of ways to create something new and personal to me: I don't want the excitement of shooting surf to dwindle anytime soon!

How come you decided to study PR & journalism at Monmouth, rather than photography?

I started off planning to major in art with a concentration in photography, but I found it too fine art based for my liking. I felt like photography was something I needed to pursue on my own time instead of studying. Public relations and journalism seemed like the most compatible with what I was doing with my photography. I’m constantly collaborating with other artists or companies, and having to write, so a communications degree seemed like the best fit for me. Monmouth is a beautiful campus - just a mile from the beach, allowing me to pursue what I love while studying!

Can you tell us about any barriers you’ve had to overcome to pursue photography?

Being taken seriously as a young female photographer was hard. When I was 17-18 years old it was difficult to find ways to take photos and still make money. Starting out with photographing friends is great, but it could only take me so far. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself and not be taken advantage of. Doing work for exposure is always great, but it makes me happy when people see the value in my work and trust me to do photography work for a company or whatever it may be. You can't break into photography by giving away photographs; there has to be a balance between taking photos for your personal portfolio and photographing professionally. I am still learning all of this.

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Yes - it’s a steep learning curve! You’ve often focused on coastal communities and surf culture. What do you find compelling about the ocean and surfing as a subject matter?

My time in Australia and New Zealand this summer reminded me why I spend so much of my time, money, and creative effort photographing surfing. I like to stay true to what I love and the water is where my mind is, so my photos reflect that. For my internship with The Mermaid Society, I lived with Sally (the founder) and her family after only meeting through FaceTime calls. It worked out perfectly. I had always dreamed of traveling to this end of the world, where surfers and ocean-minded people make up such a big chunk of the population. Coming from the northeastern US, where surfing year-round is almost unheard of to the average person, it was pretty cool how so many Australians prioritize surfing and time spent in the ocean in their lives. New Zealand was a quick solo mission - I rented a car and drove around the majority of the north island in a week. The place seems so raw and geographically distant from the rest of the world. The feeling is hard to explain, and I tried to capture that in the photos I was taking there.

So, what's the next big adventure you're planning and what would be a dream photo to come back with?

After doing a sailing trip in Australia, I am eager to get on a boat again. I am currently reading Swell by Liz Clark and it is really making me want to hop on a boat somewhere off Mexico and sail down the coast. I’m dreaming of a photograph that encompasses everything great about the combination of surfing and sailing!






Big thanks to Fiona for her time and the photos she shared with us here. To support her work, check out the new print store on her site!


feature, portrait

Interview: John Weber - Surfrider Foundation

If you’re a ocean-going soul and you’re not already aware of an organization called The Surfrider Foundation, it’s about time you got an introduction. 

In its own words, Surfrider is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.

Under the banner of this mission, Surfrider is focused on five key initiatives: to ensure public beach access, promote clean water, fight against plastic pollution, protect the ocean and preserve the coastlines around the US. It’s a tall order, but as the saying goes: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. 

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To learn more about the critical and complex work Surfrider does on our behalf, we dropped a line to John Weber, Surfrider’s Mid Atlantic Regional Manager. 

Weber grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey. His grandmother had a beach house on Long Beach Island, were he caught the surf bug during long school summers. After some time away from the ocean at college in Virginia, he found his way back to the Jersey Shore where he’s lived ever since. We asked how John became involved with Surfrider.

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“A few years out of college, in the early 90s, I went to this classic longboarding event with a friend. Surfrider had a table there and they invited us to attend a chapter meeting later on. After we surfed my friend wasn’t interested in going to the meeting, but I decided to go along and learned more about what Surfrider does. I was interested in helping out, and started going to the chapter meetings regularly. They gave me things to do like tabling at surf contests and concerts.”

Weber took up a day job organizing professionally for NJ Citizen Action - a not-for-profit that fights for social, racial and economic justice. He continued volunteering for Surfrider, taking on more responsibility as time went on. 

In 2005, Surfrider brought on a new CEO and restructured to operate regionally. The organization began searching for full-time regional managers to help organize the dozens of chapters in every corner of the US. Weber’s professional background in not-for-profit organizing meant he was perfectly poised to take on the role. He became the first Surfrider employee on the East coast, and has now worked there for 13 years. 

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Somewhat uniquely, Surfrider measures its impact by the number of victories it wins when pitching itself against politicians and businesses whose actions could harm the ocean or the coast. Though the organization is largely comprised of volunteers, this simple indicator of success helps Surfrider to stay focused in its efforts and to learn lessons from each campaign that can be applied to the next - even when the next campaign may involve new volunteers or take place in a different part of the country. These guys really understand how to win a political fight.  

We asked Weber about the actual process involved in legislative battles. “My role has a practical function, in that a lot of hearings and meetings take place in the middle of the day. Volunteers are generally at work during the day, so I go to the meetings, cover them and provide input. I answer a shit-ton of emails and have a lot of conference calls! My goal is to try to organize support for a specific position or idea so it’s all in one place. This way our voice is more powerful and impactful. I’m not running around trying to convert people who don’t believe in a particular point of view. You’d be exasperated trying to convert them! It’s a matter of getting people who already agree to do something.”
 

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Surfrider’s power to effect change and protect coastlines and oceans depends on its activist network. “We’re not doing this through high-priced lobbyists in D.C,” Weber explained. “At a local level politicians care about whether people are going to vote for them. We train volunteers so that when they do stand up in front of a town council, they’ve got the science and the speaking skills to make the case in their communities for protecting the coast and the beaches. We invest a lot in that training - that’s how we rack up the victories. We do it without spending lots of money. We can make a big difference with three people turning up at town hall meetings and speaking a few times.”

We asked Weber about where the work of Surfrider intersects with climate change, especially in an era of unprecedented environmental threat and climate change denial

“On climate change, Surfrider has a unique position. We recognize that it’s an underlying factor - what we see happening on our beaches and in our oceans all relates to climate change, but we’re not working on the emissions end of the problem. Someone wants to put up a seawall. Why? The water level is rising and the beach is eroding - that’s climate change, but we’re at the table with insurance companies, real estate developers and risk assessors. We’re not going to convince them with charts and graphs about global warming. We’ll convince them with the dollars and cents: ‘You will lose money.’ That makes it easier for people. Also, we keep our work local and grassroots: ‘Your local beach is disappearing and here’s a plan to protect the private property.’ If they love the beach, they’re in - we had them at ‘beach’. People can actually see the local manifestations of that work.”

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Of all the challenges faced under Surfrider’s broad remit, we wanted to know the most pressing issues for the East Coast region Weber manages. 

“Oil and gas affects the whole East Coast, so it’s number one to me,” Weber said. “In this region and for the NYC chapter, the Williams Transco Pipeline is a big one - it’s coming from New Jersey and multiple chapters are affected. NYC is doing an incredible job on that right now, and it feeds into the bigger climate change debate. When we’re fighting the fossil fuel industry, it’s never about the facts. We can win the fight because of power, because we have amassed an amount of power politicians can’t ignore. I can get more votes by bringing in the wind energy people, because it’s about creating a new industry.”

Another issue at the top of Weber’s list is plastic pollution in the ocean. The scale of this problem has come to the fore in recent years with scientific documentation of the mind-boggling Atlantic and Pacific gyres, swirling with slowly-degrading plastics that are working their way into the food chain. 

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“It’s a reminder that we’re not paying attention and we’re mucking the place up. Who wants to go surfing with a bunch of plastic crap in the ocean? Surfrider has been working on it for over ten years, and a newer offshoot is our ocean friendly restaurant program, with a goal of serving 500,000 plastic-free meals. Hundreds of restaurants have registered for that program. As seemingly the whole world has changed its attitude about plastic straws, one of the requirements for participating restaurants is ‘straws on request’ - i.e. for people who actually need them. You can live your entire life with a reusable coffee cup and a reusable water bottle. This kind of programmatic work is never really done - there is nobody on the opposing side fighting against you. Millenials are more on this than older generations for sure. Young kids just get it - it hurts animals!”

Finally, we asked how Weber stays motivated when this line of work can seem like an endless uphill battle. 

“The legendary environmentalist John Miur said, ‘All the victories are temporary and all the losses are permanent.’ I don’t know why I’m hopeful. There seem to be more losses than victories, but I’m super motivated by the volunteers that come out of the woodwork - they have plenty of passion. Because people continue to come forward and take a basic step like helping with a beach cleanup or leading an action, I continue to be hopeful.”

We'd like to thank John Weber for taking the time to educate us about the important work Surfrider does. 

Our enjoyment of the world's oceans is literally Surfrider's mission, so if you haven't already, please --> join the Surfrider Foundation <-- right now!

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Interview by Ed Thompson

portrait, feature, shaper

Lucid Dreaming with Luc Rolland

In your wettest and wildest dreams of surfing, where your soul drifts apart from your body to surf mystical breaks on rugged coastlines, shrouded in softly-lit morning mist, lapped with peeling, blue-green, head-high waves, and where magic wave-craft infuse your surfing with unequalled grace, Luc Rolland is your shaper. 

We were fortunate to get an opportunity to meet with Luc after two separate trips to France last year to enjoy the honestly-it's-tempting-to-just-fucking-move-there Côte des Basques. We'd seen Luc's shapes here and there online, but we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for until we met the man himself. 

Luc was born in St Cloud, France and grew up in Biarritz where he spent time in the ocean and eventually learned to knee board. Aged 13, amidst the shortboard revolution, he saw friends ripping the lamination off longboards to re-shape them into shortboards. “I couldn’t believe they would trash these classic old boards,” Luc said. “I asked my dad to buy a polyester slab and I made a board for myself. I just painted it because we didn’t have resin. Two sessions later it went to pieces,” he laughed.
 
Luc pushed his creativity in other directions. He told his mother he wanted to become an inventor so he would never have to make the same thing twice. He painted, drew and made sculptures. 
 

At school Luc performed poorly because he couldn’t stop daydreaming. “The school told me: ‘You don’t have the capacity to stay in regular classes’. My parents and I went to visit a ‘manual activities’ school where they taught vocational skills. My parents choose ceramics for me because it had potential to lead to a job. I was super happy - it was just the best three years!” After his vocational training, Luc was accepted to study at a prestigious art school in Paris, returning home each summer to build surfboards for his friends. 
 
Since then Luc has forged a living from his sculpture, painting, ceramics and, increasingly in later life, from his shaping. In his studio, relentlessly assailed by his cat Mimi, Luc showed us some of his work. 

Unlike most shapers, Luc doesn’t use templates, and he prefers not to use an electric planer when he works. He leafed through a sketchbook, showing the earliest formulations of his ideas. Some pages feature a single curved line, fuzzy with a few strokes. On the next page will be something radically different, yet clearly an extension of the same thought.
 

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“There is no accident, it is all conscious decisions,” Luc said. “There is a similar language throughout the boards. Some people call it retro but I like to say it is actually very modern. It is really hard to go back into the past. I have no interest in it.”
 
In his large cuboid studio, extraordinary, space-ship-like prototypes perch on racks. “This one is inspired by a cuttlefish,” Luc explained. Nearby are racks stuffed with longboards, mid-lengths and fun-shapes, a pick-n-mix of perfection. Many feature robust ¾” stringers and most are either white or black, understated, elegant and glassed with astonishing precision, perhaps finished off with a translucent, pearlescent fin. 


If he doesn’t look to the history of surfboard design for the language of his craft, where is he finding it? “It’s like asking me, ‘why am I me?’ I have no idea how it comes to me. It is metaphysical! Creation is auto satisfaction - you get into a process of research to feel better. I am not looking at what others do, but we are always influenced by what’s been done. I learned through that, but now I want to go towards myself, towards my own ideas. ”

Though the space overflows with surfboards, we were surrounded by a thousand other experiments: functional ceramics, experimental sculptural forms, scratchings, paintings, etchings, sketches, strange surfboard fins, all of it physical and direct. There is a black and white through-line but this is interrupted by bursts of neon color and glittering metallics, almost in an act of self-resistance. 

“My mom was a drawing teacher, so there is this positive and negative, an inside and an outside. The line creates a vibration between the two spaces. Because I’m an artist, I have an idea and then I have a strong desire to materialize it. I believe in the idea of the perfect board and the perfect wave so when I work it’s more about a feeling or a sensation than a material.”
 
Luc calls his boards “rêve de surf de rêve”, or “dreams of dream surfing”, and dreamlike they may seem, until they find their way out of the studio and into the ocean where, for the lucky owner, those dreams start to get very lucid indeed. 

See more of Luc's work here.

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

portrait

Zak Noyle

Even if you don’t know who Zak Noyle is, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of his photographs. They’ve been published by ESPN, Transworld Sport, National Geographic and the BBC, not to mention in surf publications including The Surfer’s Journal and Surfer

At just 31 years old, Zak’s career has already included a meteoric ascension to one of the most hallowed positions in surf photography: Zak is now the Senior Staff Photographer at Surfer and he regularly takes on assignments to travel and shoot with some of the best surfers in the world.

We caught up with Zak to learn more about his work and what drives him. He talks very fast - almost breathlessly, sounding like the CEO of the hot new startup that is basically his life, excited to share his story and his plans.

Zak's journey into photography was catalyzed from a young age by his father who was a commercial photographer and who passed on some of his wisdom and a few tools of the trade. Zak began shooting photos in his single digit years and by high school he had had his water photography published in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Transworld Sport, where he took a full time job after graduating. At the age of 25 he started working at Surfer and now combines his day job with running his own photography business and a seemingly endless string of brand collaborations with the likes of water housing company SPL, surf company RVCA and swim fin company DaFin. 

“I grew up on Oahu and I came out of a swimming and water polo background. I had a natural swimming ability, but I hated it. I hated swimming laps and I used to hide in the shower. It’s come full circle now - swimming and learning that discipline has been important.”

Becoming one of the world’s top water photographers means becoming one of the world’s top swimmers by pre-requisite. The playing field  for taking groundbreaking surf photographs is most likely in the path of a 20 foot breaking wave, half a mile off shore and bobbing a few feet above a sharp, potholed reef.

“You want to be prepared,” Zak told us. “I swim 3-4 times a week. I swim a lot of laps, half of them with swim fins on to train to have my feet comfortable in fins. I view myself as an athlete now, so I need to be in optimal shape. A bunch of my friends are doing underwater breath holding training and I want to get into that too. In the end it’s the ocean and you need to respect it!”

Although the list of his achievements is frighteningly long already, Zak pulled off something of a career highlight at last winter’s Eddie Aikau Invitational in O’ahu. Pummelled by 30 ft waves closing out Waimea bay, Zak swam and shot the historic contest for 8 hours straight, capturing through his actions and photographs a truly memorable moment in surf history. 

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The Eddie Aikau ran on February 25th, 2016 in waves that were so big the safety of the contest itself was called into question. That’s pretty rare from the organizers: ‘The Eddie’ demands a minimum of 20ft waves before it will even run, honoring the fearless lifeguard and surfer in whose memory it is named. 

“I had never swum into 30 ft waves but I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I could handle it,” Zak explained. “A lot of the times with waves, it’s strength and training and the experience that keep me calm. I knew physically I could do it, but mentally you have to be calm.”

Aside from the endurance required for this feat, Zak also truly understands the media demands of the modern surf audience. When The Eddie runs, O’ahu basically shuts down for the day with crowds of thousands gathering on the beach to watch. For those who can’t be there, internet livestreams, social media and TV broadcasts let people tune in from around the world. 

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Zak shot the Eddie on his DSLR in a water housing, but he used his iPhone from the water to wirelessly send the images he was capturing to the Quiksilver social media team. From there, they could combine them with the TV broadcasts or upload them to be shared on social media. “In between the sets, they need something else they can use to keep the excitement going,” Zak explained, “so I could send that to them from the water with my phone.”

We asked Zak how he had prepared for the day. “I had water and snacks packed and ready to go on the jet ski, but I actually didn’t eat or drink anything on the day. I hydrated heavily the day before with electrolytes and water. I packed extra batteries and a bought an extra phone so I could transfer the sim card if my iPhone died,” Zak told us.

With literally no food during the 8 hours he spent in the water, we wanted to know how Zak managed to keep shooting. “I was just fueled by adrenaline on the day. If the surf is good you have to shoot conservatively. You don’t want to have to go in and change your memory card because you might miss the shot!” Zak continued, “I was so mentally spent for days afterwards I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even look at the images for 3 or 4 days - I just gave the photos to my agent.”

We asked if Zak took any major beatings out in the water that day. “I was nauseous with adrenaline and I did get completely worked. I got worked to the point where I had my hand on my rip-cord, but I didn’t want to inflate it, get dragged in and miss a wave. I’d waited seven years since the last Eddie Aikau Contest ran and I wasn’t going to miss a single moment out there. I wanted to be in the water, and just enjoy it. I have a photo of when all the skis came charging in on that closeout set and I just dived as deep as I could under the rolling whitewater. I had to dive 25 feet to get under that. It was pitch black and I couldn’t tell which way was up. That was a 2 wave set. If it had been a 5 or 6 wave set, I would be washed in on the rocks. For sure,” Zak laughed. 

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We were thrilled to meet Zak and see him participating in the RVCA artists program at the Unsound Pro event in Long Beach. His level of stoke, energy and enthusiasm seem boundless and he talks as if he’s only just getting started. Watch this space!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

shaper, portrait, feature

Tony Caramanico - Barn Storming Part I

A while ago, Tony Caramanico made the grave mistake of inviting myself and Julien to check out his barn full of surfboards in Montauk. Tony has lost count of the number of boards inside, but the place is bursting at the seams. The last census tallied close to a hundred.

Needless to say, we emptied the barn across Tony's lawn and proceeded to photograph a stack of them in painstaking detail, peppering him with questions about the history of each one, and occasionally trying to stuff one into our car when he wasn't looking. At the end of the day he pretty much had to ask us to leave, but thankfully before that happened, we managed to extract some of the stories behind the highlights!

HOOK GUN

"Montauk board builder Jim Goldberg made this beauty for Eric "bull" Olsen, for bigger waves. It's a real piece of Montauk surf history.  I acquired it from Eric and it is the only one like it. It was made in the late nineties, but it really represents board design from the late sixties and early seventies."

 

RASMUSSEN TWIN FIN

"This is the last board Ricky made for me before he died.  It holds lasting memories for me and I rode it in an Andy Warhol video filmed here in Montauk around 1982. In 2015 it was exhibited in the "Surf Craft" show curated by surf historian Richard Kevin here on Long Island, NY."

Props to Tony for hanging out and sharing all these great stories - we were truly stoked to browse through such an incredible collection. Stay tuned - we'll be sharing lots more in the coming weeks!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

portrait

Mark Cunningham

Mark Cunningham - Julien Roubinet MF.jpg

Twice recently lifeguards in Long Beach and Rockaway asked one of the best swimmers on earth to get out of the ocean in case he drowned. 

Mark Cunningham has spent the last 20 years working as a lifeguard in Hawaii and is recognized as a world champion bodysurfer. He’s literally in the business of not drowning and his precise expertise lies in un-drowning other people. 

Mark was in New York partly on vacation and partly for two screenings of the movie Dirty Old Wedge, a new homage to the simple art of body surfing (surfing without any kind of craft, using only the body and swim fins). 

The film is focused on the crew of body surfers that first surfed a Southern California wave called The Wedge, known for its almost comically un-make-able close-out waves. When it’s maxing, The Wedge delivers a vertical wall of waveface often over 40 feet high right onto the beach. It breaks more bones and even spines than anyone cares to count and while Pipeline is often cited as the world’s most deadly wave, statistically speaking, you are much more likely to get hurt at The Wedge. Especially if you’re attached to a surfboard. Nonetheless, it’s a body-surfer’s dream - steep, hollow, powerful and about as visually dramatic as things get, pulling huge crowds to the beach every time it goes off. 

 

We caught up with Mark while he was sharing some body-surfing tips on a late summer day on Long Beach and later on over the phone. “While I was in New York I got kicked out of the water twice,” Mark laughed. “Once was at 6pm when the lifeguards got off duty. Apparently it’s ok for surfers but not body surfers. The very next day on Long Beach they kicked me out of the water again - they think it’s too dangerous.” In Hawaii the rules are little more geared towards use of the ocean: “You swim at your own risk,” Mark explained. “Maybe a little more education is needed. Anyway, I enjoyed it!”

Mark loves visiting New York, although he told us he’s not a city person, sometimes overwhelmed by the pace. Nonetheless, he told us that he’s envious New Yorkers get the best of both worlds - the endless diversity of the city and the powerful Atlantic close by. 

Body surfing as a discipline doesn’t have a global competitive structure like surfing, but it does have a core following and, like anything, ‘who does it best’ is fun to try and figure out. “The term ‘bodysurfing contest’ is an oxymoron,” Mark said. “It should be free and fun and non-judgemental, but a contest is an opportunity for everyone to get together. There is a big annual contest in Oceanside, California,” Mark told us. “They call it the World Bodysurfing Championships which is a bit of a stretch. It’s a great gathering of the tribe, mostly California surfers. I don’t really ‘compete’ but I do participate.” We asked him what he likes about the event, and Mark explained: “They clear the lineup and it’s just you and 3 others, so that can be a bit of a treat.”

Mark has established a reputation as one of the best body surfers in the world; but without a formal competitive structure to recognize and publicize it, this achievement is even more unique. We asked Mark what kept him focused on bodysurfing above other surfing disciplines. “I’m a really shitty board surfer,” he laughed. “Most of us like to participate in what we’re good at. I’m lucky here in Hawaii - we don’t have to wrestle into a wetsuit. There are great beaches for bodysurfing never more than 45 minutes away and it worked hand in hand with my lifeguarding career: using the waves and currents is essential in my work.” He continued, “I think people expect me to be there with my fins - if they saw me being a kook they would be vastly disappointed. Let’s not blow the myth!”

Mark has dedicated many years to body surfing Pipeline, the North Shore’s crown jewel. We asked him what makes a good body surfing wave. “I like longer rides. For top-to-bottom close-out whomping, there's The Wedge or the Waimea shorebreak. That’s fun and a discipline unto itself, but there’s also bodysurfing where you’re riding top to bottom, stalling and getting a longer ride before it closes out. I like those longer peeling point waves. At 61 years old I don’t want to surf waves that might hurt me - my heroes are the guys older than me still paddling out!”

Having only body-surfed intermittently, we wanted to understand what it’s actually like at Pipeline. “It’s like body surfing at Rockaway,” Mark explained, “but twenty times the size. It’s a much bigger playing field. There are no jetties or boundaries, so it’s this wide open space. It’s the most famous wave in the world, so at times it’s the most crowded wave in the world. You have to be present to get it good. The magazines always show it 6-10 ft with perfect winds, but there are a lot of options. There’s a lot of water moving out there, so I’m very particular about what I want to catch to give me a good ride and not annihilate me. It’s a good challenge and I still enjoy it!”

Mark has dedicated most of his career to being in and around the ocean, so environmental activism has been a natural extension of his work. He’s involved with the 5 Gyres organization and the Plastic Pollution Coalition among others. “To anyone who reads this, every surfer or anyone who enjoys the beach or the ocean,” Mark said, “you must be a dues-paying member of an environmental organization, whether it’s Surf Rider or Greenpeace, or one of so many other groups working against this stuff entering our water. The ocean is our breadbasket and we have to be aware of what we put into it.” 

Mark comes across as a man at peace with himself: wise, happy, humble, and open minded. It felt fitting to ask him what advice he’s been given over the years that’s stuck with him. “I wish I could give you a great quote: Lord knows, at my age I’ve been given enough advice,” he laughed again. “I think I’ve heard this attributed to Woody Allen, but 95% of success is showing up. I lifeguarded at Pipeline and I showed up 40 hours a week and I’ve lived in a beach house and I think I’ve led a rich and rewarding life. I feel very fortunate. I knew I was taking on a vow of poverty when I signed up to be a lifeguard, but the pleasure and satisfaction and friendships and experiences I’ve had are unfathomable. So I showed up. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity.” 

Mark paused, thinking for a moment before going on: “The other thing is balance. We’re all trying to find a balance in our lives: trying to pay the bills, trying to make our souls happy, to make our heart happy, our body happy, our partner happy. All these options we have in modern life but you have to pick and choose. What do you have to completely ignore because you don’t have time? I guess the analogy is like surfing. Find the balance that floats your board and keeps all those dependent on you above water too. You’re constantly balancing, trying to find the perfect trim. Trying not to get clobbered and not pearl dive. There are times when you want to share it with a friend and times when you need solitude, to be by yourself.”

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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.

shaper, portrait

Son Of Cobra

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

The factory that produces ...Lost surfboards in San Clemente, California is not what you might imagine. Three unassuming, blockish buildings house an operation that churns out thousands upon thousands of precision-made surfboards each year. 

Behind one building there is a small backyard, mostly taken up by an inflatable pool, swirling with liquid residue from paint experiments. The rest of the yard is full of junk, broken timber and an old Oakley sunglasses cabinet. Even rodents steer clear. A squirrel is once rumoured to have fallen into a bucket of acetone, never to be seen again.

At the end of one building there is a two-rack shaping room where Paul Lefevre, or Son of Cobra as he’s known, works on ...Lost’s special orders. 

Paul came to glassing through a combination of luck, mistake and sheer audacity - depends who you ask. He grew up in France and took a stab at shaping his first board aged 14. He went on to university in France to study graphic design. At weekends, he would visit shaper Axel Lorentz in Bidart to help out with board decoration. After he graduated, Paul took a year to travel across Australia.  

After some time traveling, Paul found himself in need of cash and approached Sean Wilde (Wilde Shapes) in New South Wales. As a wind-surfer, surfer and occasional shaper, Paul had only knocked together a total of less than 20 boards in his life. “Christmas time there is super busy for shapers,” Paul explained, ”so they were looking for extra help. I told them I was a shaper and glasser. They asked how many I could do a day and I replied two, maybe three. They said 8 was the minimum... But I got the job.”

Over the years that followed, Paul worked for Dale Chapman and Peter White (Classic Malibu) and in France’s Basque country at the Pukas Surf Factory, one of the biggest in Europe and the license holder for Matt Biolos’ ...Lost brand. Eventually Matt saw some of Paul’s work and invited him to come to California. Five years later, after a stint at UWL Surfboards, he accepted the offer. 

When we talked to him, it sounded like glassing, now his area of deep expertise, came to him rather than the other way around. “Yes, and I’ve started to regret it,” Paul said. “I see all these random guys putting out boards and no one is paying attention to quality. You can see there is nothing behind it besides a cool photo.” He continued, ”I’ve been shaping as long as I’ve been glassing but never advertised it. I find it sort of lame. Glassing is more underground but it’s incredibly important.” A good glasser can make the reputation of a shaper, Paul explained. “A number of shaper made their name thanks of the quality of the glassing.”

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul’s passion for craftsmanship runs deep. He has mastered his art and, in an industry stale with recycled ideas, his innovation and creativity shines. Yet, in a spirit of artistic dejection, he argues that he cannot achieve fulfillment through board building anymore. “It is frustrating to see how the handmade, craftsmanship movement has become another marketing tool for large companies, overshadowing people who’ve dedicated their lives to it,” he explained.

Browsing Paul’s work, Julien came across this Malcom Campbell Bonzer and couldn’t resist. Paul’s ties to the Campbell brothers go back to his days at UWL. “I find it hard to believe people spend that much on a Hayden Shape when you can afford a board from shapers like Malcolm Campbell. He’s the most humble guy and super discreet. This board has a more pronounced double concave, closer to the ones he made in the 70’s. The fins are set at an 18º inclination, and there is a beak in the diamond tail. For the glassing, I used white tinted resin with dried flakes of black resin mixed in.” 

As you can imagine, the flakes create a lot of extra sanding work when the resin finally cures. But just look at the thing!

Word is though, while living in France he claimed he was happier in Australia… such is the permanent dissatisfaction of a Frenchman. And a true master. 

portrait, feature

Matt Clark - Four Frames - Part II

Following on from Part I earlier this week, here's the second installment of four photos from Long Island Photographer Matt Clark. 

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Jesse Joeckel - Greenbush, Indonesia

Matt was shooting at a shallow, left-breaking reef in Indonesia when, by chance, he turned to look back at the beach, risking a closeout on the head. Jesse kicked out of a wave at the same moment. “I shot the sequence,” Matt explained, “and when I dumped the memory cards to my hard drive on the boat, I saw one that just captured this weightlessness, balance and tranquility that seemed special.”

When Matt returned home to New York and edited the images, he found the image more powerful when it was rotated through 180 degrees. “Finding this being, suspended in time looked beautiful to me,” Matt told us. “Often I won't find the most beautiful moment until months and months later when revisiting my work. I spend a lot of time looking for these moments and editing them over and over again until I feel satisfied.”

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

1998 - Long Beach, NY - Tom Zaffuto paddling out

Aged 14, Matt took this photo of his friend Tom paddling out to bodyboard Long Beach. The photo was taken with a disposable waterproof camera. He submitted the photo to Bodyboarding Magazine and they ran it in the reader photos section. “I felt a duty to represent the place I was born and raised and felt as if I needed to prove to the world that you can be a surfer/photographer from New York,” Matt told us. “Nearly 20 years later and I'm still here doing it.”

To see more of Matt's work, check out his website

To keep up with our latest news and stories, hit us up on Instagram

feature, portrait

Matt Clark - Four Frames - Part I

This week we're excited to share four photographs by Long Island photographer Matt Clark, and the story behind each one. Through Matt's tireless dedication he has gradually carved out a niche for himself on the water's edge. When we interviewed him for the book, we sat in his lounge and scrolled through his library of photos, entranced by a colorful, hypnotic display of the beauty, power and variety of the ocean. We love his work and we hope you will too. 

After Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach, NY - Rob Bielawski

After Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach, NY - Rob Bielawski

“This is an image of a friend named Rob Bielawski after Hurricane Sandy,” Matt explained. “The cold, harsh concrete, the debris in the sand, the lack of sky - it's very urban. I love capturing images where the surfer is unidentifiable. When I used to look at surf imagery growing up, my favorite images were the ones I could imagine myself in, and I can't imagine myself if I can see someone's face.”

6 months after the storm hit New York, the shattered boardwalk had been completely dismantled, leaving only a concrete skeleton. Matt was on the beach shooting another swell when someone walked between the pillars, briefly creating this dramatic framing. Matt took note and took an opportunity the very next morning to re-frame the shot with a friend. “It’s an unidentifiable urban environment,” Matt said, “but you know the surfer is going to escape the weight of the world by going for a surf.”

October 23rd, 2006 - Long Beach, NY - Nor-Easter swell from the roof of the Jackson Hotel

October 23rd, 2006 - Long Beach, NY - Nor-Easter swell from the roof of the Jackson Hotel

Matt planned this image months in advance and his diligence was rewarded. This photo scored a double page spread in Surfing Magazine, hailed as iconic by the magazine’s photo editor, Steve Sherman. “This was a defining moment in my photography career,” Matt told us. “It was the first image that ran as a featured photograph in a magazine as large as Surfing.”

Matt had envisioned the image in sketches made months before he took it, so finally creating it and having the photo published showed that real dedication pays off. “I had illegally scaled the fire escape of this building with a backpack full of camera gear to scout out the position,” Matt explained. “Pulling myself up the final ladder, my nerves were on edge. This was 5 years after 9/11 and I imagined the police and FBI being called about a sniper on the roof.”

The day Matt scouted the shot, there were no waves to speak of, but he took note of the angle, framing and the lens he’d need when the moment came. 

Sure enough, that day came. A Nor-Easter rolled into New York with howling NE winds, building swell and ominous grey skies. “I spent some time photographing from the beach and thought to myself: ‘I may as well go shoot from the roof of this hotel.’”

Rather than climbing the decrepit, rusting ladder in the rain, Matt convinced a janitor in the hotel lobby to take him to the roof. He lied to the janitor, pretending he’d left a lens cap on the roof the day before.

“He said ‘no problem,’ but he’d have to accompany me up. I did my best to tell him I would be fine, worried he would  watch me the entire time and only give me a minute to shoot, but he insisted.” Matt managed to bluff his fictional search for the lens cap for a full ten minutes, shooting photos of the waves from the roof as he went. He snagged this shot of a wave breaking across the gap between two buildings just as the janitor lost his patience. “In my illustration months before I drew a perfect A-frame, but this seems even better. I love lefts.”

Stay tuned for Part II later this week. 

Check out a few more of Matt's photos we'll be featuring on Instagram this week. 

portrait, shaper

Dave Parmenter

Dave Parmenter signed off his response to my last email as follows: "...please feel free to write with any questions or queries on the true history of surfing and surfboards." In a way, that sums him up perfectly.

There is a saying.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool - shun him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child - teach him. He who knows and knows that he knows is wise - follow him.

Say what you want, Dave Parmenter is one of the wise ones. He understands both surfing and shaping in immense depth, having enjoyed successful careers at both. He's a straight talker and, even as he sets to work on a blank in front of us, he's frank about the failure of the surf industry to define the parameters of its central engineering challenge in quantitative, scientific terms.

One of his first obsessions as a child was planes, in particular the British-built Spitfire that won the critical battle for the skies of Europe during World War II. "It's just the most beautiful thing," Parmenter told us. "That and the Winchester 1895 rifle." 

He compares the innovations in surfboard design to the challenges faced by the earliest attempts at flight. The movement of the vessel through water or air is similar. But where aircraft engineering has adopted a sober, technical and precise language to express the intricacies of physics that dictate its limits, surfboard engineering has taken the low road. This, Parmenter acknowledges, is because people's lives generally don't depend on the calculations involved. 

In fact, Parmenter tells us, shapers have often adopted technical terms from aircraft engineering without their appropriate usage. "People were using deliberately obscure terms like drag co-efficients and laminar flow," Parmenter explained. "Even before I was a commercial shaper, I was an aviation nut and I knew it was all bullshit and pseudo-science. When I came of age and started to become a figure in the surf community, I tried to make shaping like we would in aviation: accessible and understandable to the average person."

This has been something of a life mission for Parmenter. His website welcomes enquiries from people all over the world, from those about to build their first board to shapers with a hundred plus under their belts. "Any 300-hour pilot will get in a plane and they can talk about it later and say: 'Yeah, it flies like this,'" Parmenter continued. "With surfboards you can't get anyone to agree on anything."

In spite of his yearning to formalize the science of surfboard shaping, Parmenter advocates for a more ground-up revision of the industrial manufacturing hierarchy - one which would likely have the opposite effect. "We need a protestant reformation in surfing," he said, pulling out a saw and beginning to trim an outline from the blank. 

"In the way that Martin Luther said 'fuck the Pope and the Vatican: everyone has the right to interpret their own religion for themselves.' We don't need Rusty and Al Merrick, as great as those guys are, we don't need these monolithic companies and all their marketing. All our surfboards really came from the backyard revolution which was basically flipping off the surf establishment of the 60s."

Lowering his voice slightly to the level at which conspiracy can be discussed in confidence, Parmenter went on: "That was actually pretty hairy. When boards started getting short,  it was not in the interest of the big manufacturers like Greg Noll. They had rows of 10'2" noseriders and overnight they couldn't sell them - they became obsolete. People were stripping them down and re-shaping them. They ran huge smear campaigns, even in Surfer magazine, against backyard builders saying: 'don't fly by night, go to a reputable shaper'. The big companies put Grubby Clark at Clark Foam under a lot of pressure not to sell blanks in low volume to the small guys. And he just said 'fuck you.'"

Having read with interest the precise and charged language in Parmenter's writing, and especially now hearing it in person, I was interested to talk with him about how language is used to express the surf experience. I particularly loved the following sentence on his website, describing one of his shapes, a 12'6" cross-country paddle board "...tailored for Central California cloudbreaks with displacement hull and chine rails to outrun patrolling white pointers." The words 'outrun' and 'patrolling' infuse the description with a sort of Vietnam-era paranoia that powerfully evokes being hunted by the "white pointers" cruising by some distant wave, far from the shore. Language seems to be a topic that interests him considerably.

"In surfing it's a huge thing and nobody knows about it," Parmenter explained. "If you're familiar with Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language, he talks about euphemism and the dumbing down of language. Like when we say 'the village has been pacified.' Orwell railed against language being reduced down until you can't even think or express anything. Surfers, especially in California and Hawaii, all speak in about twenty-five prefabricated sentences. It obliterates thought because nobody takes the time to choose words. '-How was it? -It was gnarly, dude, pretty fun out there...' People don't pick for words that have that carriage of meaning or even humor. After a while, like big Joe Stalin, the lie becomes big enough that you start to believe it..."

It was a huge pleasure to meet and interview Dave. We want to thank both Dave and Phil Browne from Glide Surf Co for letting us visit Heavensap to badger Dave while he was supposed to be cranking through a not-insignificant stack of local orders. 

Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet










portrait, feature

John Witzig

Julien and I recently each acquired a copy of A Golden Age: Surfing's Revolutionary 1960s and 1970s. This book documents the dramatic change that swept through surf culture in the 1960s and 1970s, generally known as the shortboard revolution. Growing up, photographing and surfing with a group of young Australian surfers including Bob McTavish, George Greenough and Nat Young, John Witzig was exposed to some of the finest surfing of his era, by people who were front runners in developing the styles and techniques the came to be used in shortboard riding.

We both have fallen in love with the book, so we wanted to catch up with John and learn more about how it came to be. 

John Witzig - Cactus - 1977

John Witzig - Cactus - 1977

What led you to photography?

While I’d tried out the hand-me-down Box Brownie when I was about 10-years-old, and had a brief flirtation with my mother’s 35 mm camera, I really came to taking pictures through surfing, not the other way around. I was a photograph and magazine-obsessive from my teenage years. The pictures that caught my eye were mostly B&W, and from magazines like Twen (from Germany), and Life (from the US)... and they were mostly social documentary images. Life was running extraordinary pictures from the Vietnam War, and Twen seemed so radical to a polite well-bought-up boy from Sydney.

How did you start using Nikonos cameras?

I think I realized quite quickly that standing on the beach with a camera stuck on the end of a long lens was going to get pretty boring. I’d begun to take surfing pictures semi-seriously by 1963, but it took me a while to get my first second-hand Nikonos... maybe 1967? I’m no longer sure. It was the only waterproof camera on the market at the time, and while my success rate with it was really low, a handful of those pictures still strike me as being good.

Mark Richards - Haleiwa – 1976

Mark Richards - Haleiwa – 1976

You captured some of the most stylish surfers and innovators of the era. Were you aware of the scope of what was going on at the time? Did you have any inkling they would become legends and icons?

By mid-1966 I have no doubt that we – being primarily Bob McTavish, Nat Young, George Greenough and me – were sure that something significant was happening. It wasn’t clear what it was... and certainly not that it was the start of what would become the shortboard revolution, but we knew that things were moving. I edited an issue of Surfing World magazine in July/August of that year and trumpeted the ‘New Era’. That did annoy some people at the time, but history seems mostly to have been generous.

By publishing photos and texts, founding Tracks and getting a wider audience, did you feel like you were instigating part of the change in the culture?

I’m not sure that we were getting a wider audience; surfing in Australia in 1970 was a tiny world. Tracks certainly appealed to the vulgar, juvenile, environmentally-conscious side of that audience (if that’s not a contradiction in terms). Our influences mostly came from the US – Rolling Stone, Earth Times and Whole Earth Catalogue – but I think it’s fair to say that we gave the magazine a uniquely Australian flavour.

Georges Greenough - 1970

Georges Greenough - 1970

On the technical side, could you explain your choice of sepia tones over black and white?

When I did my first set of four prints to try and sell in 2002, it seemed a no-brainer to use sepia because it comes fully-equipped with nostalgia. Three of those first pictures were B&W anyway, and I’d always liked selenium-toned prints. I’d never actually toned the prints I did myself, but I remember one print of Nat at Honolulu Bay in 1967 had acquired those tones... probably because I hadn’t washed it well enough I suppose. I used that as my model.

Rod Dahlberg - Spooky - 1975

Rod Dahlberg - Spooky - 1975

George Greenough -&nbsp;Honolua Bay – 1967

George Greenough - Honolua Bay – 1967

Overall there seem to be fewer color photos - how come?

Purely a personal preference... I still generally prefer B&W pictures.

Tell us the story of how the Golden Age book came to be. When and why did you have the idea and how did it all come about from there?

Drew Kampion has been a friend of mine since he was editor of Surfer magazine in the mid-1960s. He put Richard Olsen in contact with me... Richard was doing a book on hand-made houses and Drew knew that it was an area that I was interested in. I did a bit of research for Richard on possible Australian examples, and in the process learned that he’d worked for Rizzoli. Richard is a surfer, and knows my pictures. He asked if I’d be interested in him proposing a book. Of course I said ‘yes’... but the idea was never mine. The whole thing was such a long-shot, such a fluke, that it’s astonishing that it happened... but it did! ‘Thrilled’ doesn’t quite describe my feeling when I finally saw the book... and overall it was a great collaborative experience between Richard, Kathleen Jayes at Rizzoli, and Jim Newitt (another surfer) who did the design.

Michael Peterson " radiating suspicion" &nbsp;- North Narrabeen - Mid 1970's

Michael Peterson "radiating suspicion" - North Narrabeen - Mid 1970's

How has your level of interest in surfing changed since taking these photos and making the book?

I stopped surfing in my mid-40s when my body started to collapse... I have chronic osteoarthritis, and having my knees and hips go downhill together was unfortunate. I’d also long- since decided that I was never going to be a nuisance out in the water. And my time of taking surfing photographs had come to an end by the very late 1970s when I had to actually earn a living. Surfing friends from the 1960s are still my friends though, so I keep an eye on what’s happening... even though I have nothing at all to do with it.

What is your your opinion of what surf culture has become today? Where are we heading?

I am not someone who bemoans what surfing has become... but I am astonished at pictures of the crowds that I sometimes see. I think ‘why would you bother?’ But I also understand that, in Australia anyway, you can still find relatively uncrowded waves without any real difficulty. That’s a great thing...

What projects are you working on now?

I have a business partner and we have published a series of books of Australian photography since the late 1980s. We’ve started work on the magnum opus of Max Dupain who was arguably the finest photographer of his generation. Working on a book like this is a true privilege. 

Thank you, John! 

All images courtersy of John Witzig

Bob McTavish -   Headless – 1966

Bob McTavish - Headless – 1966

Nat Young - Honolua Bay - 1967

Nat Young - Honolua Bay - 1967

portrait

Hotdogger - Rendez vous au New York Surf Club

We are delighted to announce that a preview of our project is now available in Hotdogger, an awesome french surf magazine based out of Biarritz, France.

It features Chelsea Burcz, Mikey DetempleJoseph Falcone, Chris GentileMichael Halsband and Tom Petriken.

You can pick up your copy in France in places like Colette, Vans, Helder Supply and more!

Scene 2 - 5.jpg

shaper, portrait

Mick Mackie

A couple weeks ago we drove down to Bay Head in New Jersey to interview Clay Pollioni (stay tuned for an interview preview!) On the way back, we stopped by Phil Browne's shaping studio in Asbury Park, The Heaven Sap. We wanted to meet with his latest guest shaper, Mick Mackie, an incredible innovator who has carved a living from foam and resin for the last 30 years in New South Wales, Australia. 

Mick is quiet, unassuming and seemed somewhat surprised that we'd come out to see him at work. It shouldn't have been a surprise though - we were very excited to see him in action.

Mick makes some pretty unusual looking surfboards, drawing inspiration for several of his outlines from snow-surfing, a proto version of snowboarding. Snow-surfing uses a fish-tailed board, with familiar surfboard nose shape, but includes an in-swept, concave tail outline, making it look even more fish-like.

Cracking open a beer, Mick explained to us that the convex shape in his "Sidecut Fish" design lets the rail dig deeper and engage more sharply against the water surface during a turn, which gives the turn a smaller radius and more bite. 

And concave tail outlines are only the half of it. Mick is also delving deep into the possibilities of flex tail builds. When he'd finished his beer, he set back to work helping Phil prepare a carbon fiber and resin layup for an extraordinary looking board which was almost half flex-tail. 

Anyone who knows the economics of surfboard shaping (unfavorable) knows what a risk it is to try and forge a new path in the field of board design. Materials are expensive, labor arduous and the margins razor thin, even on the most popular designs.

Mick has thrown caution to the wind and is currently using carbon fiber, kevlar and fiberglass combined with flexible rubber compounds to build flex-tail boards that literally throw you out of a turn after compression, giving the release even more power and snap. 

When he's not blending snowspots and wave-riding to push the limits of surfboard design, Mick also makes damn fine single-fin pin tails and classic fish. To see some of his work, swing by Glide Surf Co in Asbury Park, New Jersey. But hustle up - they won't be there long. 

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Kassia Meador - the Fountain of Youth

This weekend we were lucky enough to run into goofy-foot nose riding legend, Kassia Meador, who was heading to Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Amagansett to introduce her awesome collection of psychedelic women's wetsuits.

After a fun surf at Ditch Plains in the morning fog, we stole a few minutes with Kassia before the event to get her take on surfing on the East Coast. We also managed to get a photo of her riding a Rabbit's Foot, which she rocked!

ICH - What's so special to you about surfing?
K - Surfing is the fountain of youth! People that are surfing are just happier people. They are more inspired. You come into the world, you're navigating things in a more direct, easy going way. I think there is something so beautiful about that. For women there is an empowerment you get from going out in the water. For men too. I think it gives you a sense that you can accomplish anything. When you go out into the water it's an active meditation - one of the best things for your mind, body and soul!

Whatever you're dealing with, whether it's family or work, or whatever you're doing, you just come in with the attitude: "I can handle this - I just handled the ocean". The strongest element in nature; if you can deal with that you can deal with anything life throws at you. 

When I was younger I used to paddle out and often not see a woman, or sometimes see a few. I've had the experience in the last 3 years when I've paddled out and there are more women than men. Girls and women - the full spectrum from little girls to grandmothers and everything in between!

People are getting into it in their 50s and 60s now! It's ageless and timeless and it's awesome that everything is being opened up more.

photograph by Ed Thompson

photograph by Ed Thompson

ICH - What do you like about surfing on the East Coast?
K - Since I've been coming out to the East Coast (12 years), I've seen the level of surfing grow so much - the people in the water. But also it's opened up a lot more, where before you'd see people our age surfing and kids, but you wouldn't see older people. 

On the East Coast it's far more seasonal, but the cool thing is that people put their whole summer into surfing. Here people will rent a house out in the Rockaways or Montauk and surf all summer. East Coasters are more die-hard in a different way.

I've surfed here when it's cold - with snow on the ground!  We got it easy [in California] - the water doesn't get as warm as it gets here in the summer, but it definitely doesn't get as cold in the winter! And it's more accessible all the time.  

Here people are committed. If it's crappy and flat or it's big and perfect or whatever in between, people are going no matter what. It's the weekend, they have time and they are going. At home we don't have that as much. It's definitely a different culture that way. 

Montauk is a very special place. It always has been. It's the yang to the city's ying. It's the exact polarity. I think it's really important for people to have that.

Today I met a whole family, two little girls, a seven year old, nine year old and mum and dad and they are all surfing together. I still surf with my dad the whole time and that's something that really bonds us. It always has. 

To do something like surfing and share that with your whole family is really special. And it's a lifestyle you're bringing in and it's about waking up early, eating good food, doing good things for you. Surfing really bonds family units together. Before you didn't see that, but in the last 3-5 years I really feel like it's opened up to a lot more people. 

The opening up of different kinds of equipment is really helping. Before, all people saw was high performance short boarding. Now it's eggs, retro single fins, so it's so accessible. More and more people are shaping those - you don't have to be the best surfer to have fun with them.

Thanks to Kassia for her time and smile!

Words by Ed Thompson
All images - © Julien Roubinet (except mentioned otherwise)

 

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Nolan Hall - A Brief Interview

One of the blessings of living and surfing in NYC is that interesting folks from all over the world tend to stop by the city for events, parties or simply to catch up with old friends. With that in mind, when we found out that manager of the Vans surf team, Nolan Hall, was in town, we set out to snag a brief interview. 

Nolan dropped in to the Pilgrim Surf + Supply screening of Bali High in Brooklyn, so we pinned him down and asked him some searching questions about his life, plans and happiness.  

Although his day job is somewhat behind the scenes, as an architect of the vans surf team's global adventures, you may know about him though his photography. Nolan was given his first camera by his dad aged 14, right in the middle of growing up and surfing with the likes of Robin Kegel, Alex Knost and Tyler Warren, now some of the most recognizable free surfers, artists and shapers in modern surfing. 

ICH - Tell us about your photography and your work at Vans.
N - I'm just generally in love with photography. I love waiting to get film back from the lab to see how shots turned out. I love the feeling of snapping the shutter and knowing you recorded a special moment. It's a nice pairing for the job I have. Getting to document super creative and talented people all over the place. Sometimes on trips I feel like I’m more excited than our team, maybe because they’ve been to these places so many times, but I’m always excited to be out on the road with the team. There is also much more that I do besides traveling with the guys, there is plenty of planning and logistical stuff; booking flights, hotels, events, product, ads and video projects; we have a lot on our plate, but it can be really rewarding. 

ICH - Beside the Duct Tape Invitational in Montauk, have you had much opportunity to experience the East coast as a surf destination?
N- Yes, the surf scene here is really cool and unique. It has a family vibe to it, a tight community, super friendly from what I’ve experienced. As far as New York, I’ve only really been around the Montauk area, I surfed Rockaway or any other spots. We went through Jersey with Japanese Motors for a music tour but didn’t get to really experience good waves! I met Chris Gentile briefly back when he was doing Mollusk. When he started Pilgrim we did a few events together like the Dane Reynolds photo show at the store, and some stuff with Mitch Abshere for Beached Days Magazine and Captain Fin. We also had Chris DJ at House of Vans when we premiered John John’s film, Done, and a couple other things too.

ICH - So, tell us what we can expect from Vans in the coming months!
N - We're working on a new movie which probably won't be part of the Get’N Classic series. We’ve done one trip so far to Australia for the film. Near the end of that trip, Wade Goodall broke his leg. This is his third time breaking his leg in the last three years. Super bummer! He’s been on Vans for footwear since 2011, and just got added to the Vans apparel team a year ago. 
We also have events like the Duct Tape Invitational at the US Open. There was a bunch of great surfers at our event this year in Noosa, Australia: Robin, Ryan Burch… Ryan is crazy, he surfs so good. He’s a really talented surfer, especially to surf the boards he shapes… And I don’t think he really rides longboards very much throughout the year, kinda just when the waves are perfect for loggin'. So for him to hop on a longboard and ride as well as he does is mind blowing!

ICH - How is the life on the road?
It’s great, I enjoy traveling, discovering new places. Being a photographer, wanting to discover, experience and document new places, it’s perfect. If I stay too long in the office, I start to get bored and can’t wait to leave for the next trip! It's also nice traveling to breaks that aren’t as crowded as Southern California. That’s probably one of the greatest perks.

ICH - Do you have time to work on personal projects?
N - I would love to have more free time for projects that aren’t work related. The music scene in Southern California right now is amazing - Art shows, parties… I've thought about if I were to try to transition into doing photography full time. But right now my situation is really nice, having the freedom to shoot whatever I want, without having the pressure to shoot projects or jobs I have no interest in.

ICH - You must have a huge archive of photos?
N - Yes I have and I am way behind in sorting and archiving them! It’s kind of a nightmare... I am always so tired after work as there's always an art show or gig to go to. I don’t necessarily find the time to print/work on my stuff. I’d love to eventually do a book with all that, but all of this is one big process of growing and progressing. I still have a lot of work to do!

 

Words by Ed Thompson

All images - © Julien Roubinet