an ode to surfing

zach_montauk_1A particularly popular and trendy activity these days, it feels a little trite to wax on about surfing, but as a now observer of the sport, I’m enjoying a new perspective. Once a barely mediocre surfer, at best, I would take the LA city bus from my apartment in Marina del Rey to Manhattan Beach early in the morning to pick up a board and practice my skills. I was there for only a summer and while I was fiercely addicted, it ended with a crash that left me fractured – collarbone and confidence. Every summer since I’ve tried to get back out there to overcome the fear, but usually I just end up standing on the shore, zipped into a wetsuit, feeling foolish. To alleviate some of the pressure, I decided to change my role and took to photographing those who can do. Luckily I know some pretty handsome (and skilled) subjects.

I would normally relish in the summer Saturday/Sunday sleep-in, but with a boyfriend whose day revolves around the surf forecast, it was more likely I would be up with the sun – and sometimes even before it. I wouldn’t call myself a morning person, but there is something about those early hours on the beach that make it hard to stay in bed snoozing. The younger house guests asleep where they’d landed on couches the night before, we’d quietly make coffee before slipping out for the morning surf check. Sometimes a barefoot stroll to Ditch Plains and sometimes a pick-up truck drive to scope the surrounding spots. Sometimes cocooned by foggy surroundings, sometimes warmed by the blazing, rising sun. To a surfer, as long as there are waves – sometimes big, sometimes small – there’s never a bad time to be out there.

And so the inquiries would continue throughout the day. No sooner would we return, boards pulled from the truck, wetsuits hung to dry, outdoor showers complete, and the itch to get back out there would start creeping in. The flag in the crow’s nest flapped signals like an air traffic controller relaying the wind forecast that hinted at current surf conditions. I can recognize clean sets and favorable conditions, but for these surf scientists I spent my days with, there was so much more to consider. There were the individual breaks that they knew by heart, the tides, the wind direction and the proper board selection. Days dictated by surf, this was my first summer that I wasn’t committed to being a die-hard beach bum, and happily so. I delighted in their knowledge, excitement, and love of the sport. I loved capturing moments in rapid succession for them to replay later, congratulating or critiquing themselves on form and wave.

kelly_zach_ditch plains

photo by jeff friedlander

Zach and Jeff MontaukSometimes I really miss being in the water, feeling so completely in the (oft rough) hands of Mother Nature. Maybe one of these days I’ll get back out there, but for now, taking early-morning photos from a spot like this is a ritual I’m on board with.

What it Feels Like

beach happy

When shooting surf subjects I tend to focus on the surfer’s form as a silhouette which can feel rather anonymous. While I think those images do elicit emotion, it’s nothing like this. As I was focusing on my surf subject, these girls ran into frame. I was shooting rapidly so it wasn’t until I started editing that I saw how great this juxtaposition was.

To me, the joy of being a kid on the beach is incomparable in many ways; The seemingly endless days, running tirelessly in and out of the water, shrieking at and jumping over incoming waves, fabricating sand forts and castles and moats. When the last whistle blows and the sun starts to dip, oversized sweatshirts are donned and dares to jump off the abandoned lifeguard tower are thrown. When you’re packed into the car, feet dusted with fine sand, the feeling of total exhaustion is one of the best you’ll know.  As an adult, the activities may vary slightly, but the excitement remains the same. While the surfer appears as a placid silhouette, on the inside he’s still a kid on the beach.