Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Great British Weekend

There aren't many times when I'm happy to sit down and waste a couple of hours in front of the rot-box.  I've spent significant periods of time in the past living without a television and I can thoroughly recommend it, although if you live in the UK then good luck convincing the TV licensing people that you're in the tiny percentage of people who can survive without one.  You'll get more done in your allocated 24 hours, that's for sure.  But not this weekend; without a moving picture machine at your disposal you'd be hard pushed to enjoy the best of Glastonbury Festival, Wimbledon, the British Grand-Prix and the Tour de France without having a helicopter at your disposal.  Perhaps the point that I'm making is that if you're ever going to spend just one weekend in the UK, then you would do very well to choose the last weekend in June.  Because of it being Glastonbury and Wimbledon you can however probably expect it to rain a touch.  I struggle enormously to sit still for even moderate lengths of time though, so have spent a good chunk of this weekend (and the past few weeks in fact) with a paintbrush or spanner in hand preparing for a couple of local weekend excursions which will, all being well, make their way onto this blog in the not too-distant future.  If the weather co-operates, that is.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Signs of Surf

The island of Baleal sits just of the west coast of Portugal, four kilometres north of the town of Peniche and separated the mainland by a sand spit tombola.  It is a popular surfing destination because each of the surrounding beaches works on different swell and wind directions, making the most of whatever the conditions are.  The single track road runs across the tombola and loops around the small island, with just a few small residential streets branching off it.  Because the village on the island is old, dating back hundreds of years to it's beginnings as a whaling port, the streets are narrow, cobbled, and not particularly suitable for tourist traffic.  As a consequence the island is dotted with no-entry signs to direct the flow of traffic, and every single one has had this wonderful stencil spray painted onto it: surf stencilling at it's very best.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Check-List

Sometimes we can all get a bit picky when checking the surf.  I used to employ a rule that if I saw a surfer do three turns on a wave then I'd get straight in there, but if not then I'd stand and scrutinise the waves for ages.

How're the sets hitting the sandbank or reef?  How many waves are there in each set and how long between sets?  What're the wind and tide doing?  How many guys are there on the peak and are they getting good waves?

I hate driving away from good waves, but I also hate paddling out and just wearing close-outs on my head every couple of minutes.  In horse racing they check the "going" of the track, whilst cricket commentators always talk about the state of the wicket; in surfing we stand and observe so many interconnected variables before making the decision to commit our time to a particular spot.  But at the end of the day, plenty of non-surfers find a lot of value in staring out to sea - we get to do it all the time and with a purpose.

I seem to have an inordinate number of images of the back of my friends heads with the sea in the background.  A few years ago I collated a whole load of them into a photo essay called "Watching Waves" which was published on Drift…probably about time I updated that set and framed a load of them.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Beneath The Waves

Brad running a pro-lap back along a remote beach (just a seasonal fishing settlement) littered with debris following a tropical cyclone.  Al-Ashkara, Oman, 2010.

I checked my e-mails on Thursday afternoon and found, to my great delight, that one of my images (shown above) had won the best image award at the Beneath The Waves Film Festival Falmouth event.  I was really made up…I think it's perhaps the second time that I've submitted images to a photography competition so to win and have my work exhibited was a real honour.  The e-mail was to check that I would be attending the event, which was starting in less than four hours...  Luckily Falmouth is just down the road so I made it there in time for the intermission between films and got to enjoy the second half of the evening before making a brief, awkward, appearance on stage next to a wall-size projection of one of my images.  

Better on the other side of the camera. 

The Beneath the Waves Film Festival is an annual event held in Savannah, Georgia, USA, with the aim of encouraging, inspiring and educating scientists, advocates and the general public to produce and promote open-access, engaging marine issue documentaries.  It shows documentary films covering topics such as marine conservation, plastic pollution and ocean ecology whilst providing a platform for scientific discussion.  Each year there are a series of mini festivals held internationally, with the Falmouth festival coinciding with World Oceans Day (yesterday, June 8th).

Looking around the exhibition space at The Poly, Falmouth, I was really astounded that my image had been selected for the top honour; there were some incredible underwater images and marine photography that captured such a wide range of the issues found around the coastline of the UK.  The winning short movie is well worth checking out, and I would really encourage you to click this link through to Sonia Shomalzadeh's website to watch it.  Sonia is an artist based in Falmouth who produces enormous and beautiful images of whales drawn in the sand on local beaches; visible for just a single turn of the tide.  The video captures her working close-up, walking the beach with just a pointed stick, before pulling back to a viewpoint on the cliffs above from where the grand enormity of her efforts can be appreciated. Her work is spectacular, take a look.

The incredible sand art of Sonia Shomalzadeh.

This was the first year that Beneath the Waves has been hosted in the UK and, judging by the packed cinema, it was a resounding success.  Enormous thanks to Lucie, Sarah, and Phil (who is the brother of an old friend of mine and who I haven't seen in perhaps fifteen years, small world huh) who organised the event, and congratulations for putting on such a great show.  If you're around any of the cities listed on the poster below on the dates that the festival is being hosted then please go along and help to support and spread the word of marine conservation.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Straw Draw

My hands are starting to get horribly sweaty. It's not the tropical sun getting to me though, but nerves.
It's a Saturday morning in early November 2007 and I'm stood on the sand of Tavarua Island in the South Pacific with three small lengths of palm frond gripped in my outstretched hand and I'm waiting for an American, an Australian, and chance to decide where I surf today.

Prior to a recent change in Fijian Law which had extended land rights to the coral reefs over which islanders fished (and thus meant that island surf resorts such as Tavarua and Namotu could claim exclusive access to several world-class waves) the only way that you could catch a wave at Cloudbreak if you weren't paying US$350 per night to stay on Tavarua was to turn up on changeover day and surf the short window between one set of guests departing and another set arriving.  I was staying on the mainland, next to the mangrove swamp and boat ramp that was the jumping off point for these luxury surf resorts, and had asked the lady at the place that I was staying to call ahead and book me a space on the boat out to Cloudbreak for changeover day.  Somewhere along the line there had been a mix-up and Tavarua resort were only expecting two of us, rather than the three who jumped out of our skiff into the warm, ankle deep, waters off their beach.  Their boat was already almost full of surfers who had boated in from other islands and the mainland, so there was no way around this:  we were going to have to draw straws and one of us would be heading back to the soft right-hand reef pass that none of us had travelled to Fiji to surf.  I didn't want to put the pressure on myself to draw a straw, let alone go first, so I picked a fallen palm frond out of the undergrowth and tore two long lengths and one short one from it and arranged them in my fist.  The others could decide my fate.  I offered out my hand, equidistant between the young American surfer who I'd been surfing with all week and the Australian banker who'd unapologetically dropped in on me several times the day before.  They both reached out and simultaneously drew a piece of green.

Deep breaths.

I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry.

It felt as though I was being punched in the chest but from the inside, my heart was beating so hard.

On the count of three we all opened our fists to see who would be taking the two remaining seats on the Tavarua skiff.  I exhaled loudly, tried to stifle my smile, and made ready to spend the next few precious hours grabbing my outside rail and hoping that I'd make it to the end of each wave.

This piece was also published online this week by the folks over at Approaching Lines, timed to coincide with the start of the Volcom Fiji Pro 2013.  Please head over to Approaching Lines to check out some of the ace content that they're publishing.