Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Golden Rule Is The Golden Hour

Following on from last week's stunning set of images by Chris Burkard by going back to the An Tor Orth An Mor's default setting of my own photography strikes me as setting myself a pretty tall order. Big shoes to fill huh. So what I'm going to do is try to transition back to standard service by picking up on one of the points that I mentioned last week and running with it.

If you pick up any "how to" photography book you'll be bombarded with hints and tips about composition ratios, f-stops and light temperature. But the one that has always stuck with me is about the "Golden Hour"; that hour or so at the start of the day and again at the end when the sun is rising or setting. The rule goes as follows:

"Get up early. Stay out late."

The light just after dawn and just before dusk, especially in the mid-latitudes, is soft, warm and golden and casts long shadows. It's the best light to take photographs with. It's also the time of day when the most interesting stuff happens like animals feeding, market stalls opening up for the day and people taking a deep breath before or after a busy rotation of planet earth. Make sure you're there to capture it by setting an alarm and going out with your camera, then take the middle of the day to go surf or do whatever it is that you do before getting your camera out again in time for the sun to say so-long and sink into the horizon.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Shine A Light On: A Glimpse Through The Lens Of Chris Burkard

"I think we say a lot about who we are through our work."

This week the pictures do the talking. Even if you haven't picked up one of the many international surf publications that regularly feature his work (he's a staff photographer at Surfer magazine as well as contributing to numerous other magazines), if you've walked into a newsagents and just walked past the rack of surf mags recently then you'll have seen Chris Burkard's work jumping out from a front cover, like it or not.

There's good reason why the young Californian's work is so front and centre these days; simply put, he is all about good light. When you boil down photography it is just painting with light, but lots of people forget that in the rush for high octane images and their photographs don't have the same magic.

Chris was kind enough to send through a selection of images from his portfolio for this post, so scroll down and treat your retinas to some truly beautiful surf photography. Then right at the end, just when you're thinking about reaching for a pen and paper to write your letter of resignation so that you can go chase your dreams, there's a documentary video clip about Chris that'll tip you over the edge. Go ahead and get inspired.

Chris Burkard - Photographer from LONELYLEAP on Vimeo.

All images copyright Chris Burkard

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quiver Me Timbers

Cornish photographer Karl Mackie took this photo of his Australian friend Tim Crabtree when they had a Cornish summer staycation in 2011, when rather than going off on a trip they stayed put at home and shaped a stack of boards each.

A shipment of fresh joistiks upon arrival in Cornwall after the long journey from Australia, about to be divvied out to some excited surfers.

On most of the rare occasions that I end up in an ice cream parlour I get vanilla ice cream. My friends used to call me Mr Plain when I did this, but I disagreed. Vanilla's a flavour after all; plain ice cream would just be milk flavour. It wasn't that I only ever chose vanilla ice cream, it's just that vanilla was my go-to flavour. I'd tried other flavours but preferred vanilla, and every now and then if I felt like something different then I'd have that instead and mix it up a bit. I'd claim that exactly the same thing applies to surfboards.

If you only ever surfed the same surfboard then there's no doubt that in one way or another you'd be restricting your surfing. If your board was ideally suited to your local surf spot then the chances are that if you went to a different spot, either home or abroad, your surfboard wouldn't be the best horse for that course. And what about when the surf is ankle-slappingly small? Or terrifyingly huge? Then what? Your 6'2" x 18 1/2" x 2 1/4" squash tail probably wouldn't be doing you any favours; you'd be grovelling and flapping around in the small stuff and paddling yourself into a too-little too-late air drop straight to oblivion when it got big. Surfing the same surfboard all the time isn't as good as surfing the same surfboard most of the time and surfing other boards every now and then when the conditions call for it.

That's why I think it's worthwhile, over time, collecting a few different surfboards to give you a range of options. You might choose a fully functional but minimal travel quiver with a small wave weapon, a standard shortboard and a semi-gun for when it starts to intimidate (because if you go away for a surf trip with just one surfboard then in reality you're probably kidding yourself and you're going on a holiday but you might sneak a surf in, unless you're travelling really light), or you could set yourself up for every eventuality at home. You might want to try out all of the different feelings that you can get from riding waves by getting your hands on every weird and wonderful wave riding vehicle or fad that you can. It depends on a a variety of factors.

Former ASP world champion (1982 & 1984) Tom Carrol once claimed that he couldn't tell the difference between a squash tail, a square tail and a swallow tail when he was surfing and defied most surfers to be able to notice a difference. So unless you're a tour chasing professional who doesn't have to pay for their sticks and snaps them within the first week, there seems little point in getting a stack of for all intents and purposes identical boards with a 16th of an inch added here or shaved off there. Having a couple of different boards to cater for a variety of circumstances, from tiny summer beachbreak surf or a trip to peak season Indo, would surely be a bit wiser and allow you to surf to the very best of your ability with confidence in what's under your feet, whatever the Ocean throws at you. Horses for courses, even if you do choose vanilla most of the time.

At least, that's the excuse that I use for being so cash poor and surfboard rich.

When I joined my friends from Surfing Dubai for an exploratory trip down the Arabian Peninsula we piled every single surfboard under the sun into the back of Scott's enormous truck (Scott's not particularly pint sized, that Chevrolet is truly massive) - everything from hand planes through shortboards, an alaia, a 70's single fin and a stand-up paddle board - planning for every eventuality and not leaving a whole lot of space for camping gear.

My friend Harry from Surf Simply: 6’0 x 185 lbs, then from left to right:

- 6’1 x 18 3/4 x 2 1/4, 28.5 liters
Round pin, single concave, thruster
- 6’0 x 19 x 2 3/8, 27 liters
Round Diamond, single to double
5 boxes, quad fins set inboard
Standard shortie
- 5’10 x 19 3/4 x 2 3/8, 29 liters
Double wing pin, single to double
5 boxes, quad fins on rail
Small wave ripper
- 5’10 x 21 1/4 x 2 5/8, lots of liters
Big swallow, Flat to Vee
Keel fin twin

When my friend Alex spent the winter of 2010 on the North Shore of Oahu he called in some Hawaii contacts and was put up by a friend of a friend who was a pillar of the North Shore surfing community. How's the ceiling of the guy's living room?

The contents of my stable, Autumn 2011. Cash poor, surfboard rich and totally ok with it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Cold Snap and the Stink Test

Initiative Surf coach Alex Espir, layered up and dry on the search for winter waves.

Drive, walk, watch, wonder, repeat. Sometimes whole days are spent in this cycle looking for waves when winter storms roll through.

It was -8 degrees celsius one morning this week when I got in my car to go to work. Damned cold. We're having a proper cold snap at the moment and it's coincided with a nice little run of good waves, with the cold easterly winds coming from Russia being straight offshore. It's times like this when I'm glad that my friends at Finisterre make fully functional technical clothing that keep me warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot.

Tom Kay started Finisterre making fleeces and hoodies in his attic in Perranporth. When the business grew into a workshop in St Agnes he brought a university friend of mine called Ernie onboard as the marketing manager and Tom Podolinsky as a technical garment designer. The brand has slowly grown and picked up a shelf-full of awards along the way for it's ethical business practices and environmental conscience. Alongside considering every step of their products life cycles, they also brought back a rare breed of fine fibre British sheep from the edge and used a Land Rover that ran on bio-fuel to get them all down to the beach for a surf. All things considered, they're the sort of company who deserve all of the praise and success that they get.

"Take this and just do what you do, be as hard as you can on it, and let us know how it goes" were Ernie's words to me as he handed me a Brisa synthetic base layer the day before I boarded a train for Morocco last Spring. The Brisa was a new addition to their range, and a controversial one being a synthetic performance base layer rather than their normal preferred material of merino wool. Synthetics are well known for their ability to wick sweat and keep you dry when active, but they're also regarded as being a bit stinky. So I stink tested it: I wore it for a week straight all the way to Morocco by train with all of the stresses, all nighters and running for trains involved in hauling surfboards across a continent, then climbed a mountain in it and made it to the coast. The Brisa's construction is like a double skin, with "pores" on the weave of the outside surface, kind of like human skin. When static the pores are "closed" but when the fabric moves (due to movement of the wearer) the pores are stretched open, allowing sweat to be wicked away. Here are a few select extracts from my product testing journal:

My friend Kyle in a Bise insulation layer, waiting for a train somewhere in France.

"Put brisa back on at 5am after a wash, underneath a Coho and Etobicoke and it's smelling ok. Had my camping knife confiscated and binned by security at St Pancreas (I've had it for 20 years, so upsetting) then spilt milk on the brisa. Not a good morning."

"Hauling a boardbag across Paris in the sunshine made me appreciate it's wicking abilities, plus black hides sweat. Note: Parisian cafe baguettes fit perfectly into the pockets of our Etobicoke and Bise insulation layers."

"8 hours on a "regional" train to Madrid, I did some yoga on the floor of the luggage area and then a night in a cafe bar next to the train station. 5 and a half hours so far of coffee, beer and backgammon, still 3 and a half hours until our (potential) train. The Brisa has now done 24 hours straight since it's last hotel handbasin wash and it smells alright. My eyes feel as though they've had fire spat in them though."

Day 6 of the Brisa stink test; drinking from a mountain stream whilst trekking in the High Atlas Mountains.

"Ferry. Bus. Tangiers. The Brisa has done 39 hours straight. Carry my bag and boadbag all around the crowded streets and alleys of the medina until we find a nice old hotel. We get offered hasish eight times and I have sweat my rig off. The Brisa gets a wash in the sink and the evening off."

We trek for miles up to the "roughage" climbers hut. It was damned hard going, hot and at altitude (up above the snow line) but the Brisa worked absolutely perfectly - kept me warm, kept the sun off and wicked sweat well so I didn't get cold in the wind." Back at the gite the armpits smell but the rest seems ok, hung it up to air.

"Could I wear it as a rashie? Alone with boardies or under a wetsuit? Our surf issues meant that I didn't experiment with either - it's not cold enough to need a rashie under my 3/2 and it's too windy for just boardshorts and a surf-shirt. I wonder what SPF rating the Brisa would have?

Lost down the lanes around the River Severn back in the UK looking for a "secret ledge" that turns the incoming tide into a surf-able river wave.

The Finisterre Landy: ever-ready for wind and tide to align ready for the dash downhill to the beach.

Finisterre have an online sale happening right now and are having a workshop sale next weekend, on Saturday 11th February at The Tubestation on Polzeath, with some big reductions on this past seasons range. It'd be worth your while swinging by if you're in North Cornwall.