Sunday, December 29, 2013

Set Sail For Adventure

"A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for."

William G.T. Shedd

It's that time of year when resolutions are made and plans for the year ahead start bubbling away.  Whether your plans are set close to home or further afield, just make sure that you get out there and enjoy yourself.  The world is best enjoyed first hand rather than through a screen after all.  Wishing you all a very happy, fulfilling, productive and adventurous 2014, I hope to see you out there.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monochromatic Mountains

In Winter the colours of nature are often desaturated.  The light can be flat and dull, as though your whole world has been placed inside a giant tupperware box.  To me, mountains are a wintery landscape with a colour palette limited to the white of snow and ice over the black of rock.  If the sky is not bright blue but neutral grey instead, then the whole scene appears to our eyes in black and white.  There aren't many occasions as a photographer when you get to compose an image on monochromatic film seeing it  through the viewfinder more or less as you will see it once the film is developed.  Sometimes it's nice to look at the natural world devoid of the distractions of colour and to simply absorb the beauty of tone and texture that become so obvious when we look at things in black, white and shades of grey.

Images from top to bottom:
  • Towards Mount Adam
  • Avalanche Valley, where I spent a week stranded waiting for the road to be declared safe to pass.
  • The Tree Line
  • The Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Wooden Wave

10x European Longboard Champion Ben Skinner racing on a hollow wooden surfboard built for the National Trust using timber from a storm damaged tree felled on one of their Cornish properties.

I've amassed quite a collection of images over the past year or two that I've been working with Otter Wooden Surfboards, but because they sit in a different folder on my computer and are technically "work" it has only just occurred to me to share them on here.  Technically speaking I'm James' "content manager" (pictures and words guy), shooting all of the brand's imagery and writing the Otter Surfboards blogs, newsletters and press releases.  It's a job that has seen me swimming around in the shorebreak with my camera, hoisted up the mast of a wooden pilot cutter in the bosun's chair, bivvying on the beach in the summer and trying to keep my fingers warm enough to click the shutter button before the sun's come up in the depths of winter. It's been great.  One of the best parts of my role at Otter is spending a bit of time in the workshop when there are "Build-Your-Own" courses running, meeting the customers who arrive to a stack of raw timber on a Monday morning and documenting their progress throughout the week before they emerge on Friday afternoon as firm friends with a beautiful wooden surfboard that they've built and shaped themselves.  Check out the recently released film below, shot by Tiny Dog Films at our first "AGM" (BBQ) this past October, and our appearance on BBC1's Countryfile that aired last night.  In the meantime, here below is a selection of my favourite images from a great 2013 spent shooting lovely wooden surfboards, workshops and waves for Otter:

"Man Overboard" shot from the bosun's chair hoisted up the mast of the Pilot Cutter Hesper.

James and his dog Buddy, on the search for surf and a spot to sleep on the beach.

Kingley's "Desert Island" surfboard, a 7'4" Island Hopper that he built during a workshop week earlier this year.

A 9'8" big wave gun nearing completion, built for Surfers Against Sewage for Ben Skinner to surf a wave of significant height on to raise the profile of more sustainable surfboard materials.

In the summer the trestles can be moved outside.  James guiding Eddie in shaping the rails of his surfboard.

Our Christmas bodysurfing image:  Surfboard offcuts get turned into handplanes, kind of the bodysurfing equivalent of snow shoes.

Tim joined us for a week in August to build and shape his own 9'4".

Dawn sessions in December. 

Jimmy test riding a 5'6" mini-simmons inspired planing hull, made entirely of Western Red Cedar.

I also make the tea.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


"The passage of time does not diminish the mind's astonishment at how one place can be both so overwhelmingly beautiful and so completely terrifying, all at the same time."

Gerry Lopez, "Surf Is Where You Find It"

It is the most famous, most revered and most photographed wave in the world.
It is also pound for pound the deadliest.  Every year in early December the World Championship Tour comes to a dramatic conclusion over this small but perfectly formed patch of reef in the middle of the North Shore of Oahu's seven mile miracle, and it's about the only time that you'll see just two people at a time sharing the peak at Pipeline.   I mean, there are surf contests, and then there is the Pipe Masters contest.  This year, as is often the case, the title race has come down to the wire:  If the current tour ratings leader (and former 2x world champion) Mick Fanning comes in lower than third place then eleven times former world champion Kelly Slater can snatch the world title away from under his nose with a win in this contest.  Kelly hasn't secured a world title in the final contest of the year since the 1990's (before his retirement and subsequent return to competition) so the stage is set for a dramatic conclusion to the year.  The Pipe Masters is on right now (Sunday evening GMT) and you can watch the action live here.  Even though Joe Turpell somehow still has a job commentating on surf contests it'll definitely worth tuning into over the next couple of days.

Images, top to bottom:
  • Splitting the peak; one surfer goes right at Backdoor whilst another takes on the left of Pipeline.
  • Winter in Hawaii:  Bring a bigger board and make sure that it has a pointy tail.
  • 2000 ASP Men's World Champion Sunny Garcia making the most of a blip of swell one windy afternoon in October 2007.
  • The price of Pipe.  Right before you step onto the sand from the Ehukai Beach parking lot, on the left hand side nearest Pipeline, the wire fence hosts a memorial to surfers who have paid the ultimate price surfing Pipe.  Many of them were professional surfers and it stands as a stark reminder of just how dangerous this wave is - just in case you thought you might paddle out and have a crack.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Have Creek, Will Paddle

All set and ready to shove off.

The old canoe had almost as many cracks and patches on its inside as it had on its outside.  Luckily none of them matched up so we took a punt on it, packed our bags into the space between the seats, and pushed off.  No water came in.  Phew.

Green through the green, shot from the shore by Kate.

We set off from Durgan, a tiny hamlet with a pebble beach just inside the mouth of the Helford River on the south coast of Cornwall.  An hour’s paddle up the river sits Tremayne Quay and that was where we were aiming for.  Tremayne Quay was built in 1847 by local landowner Sir Richard Vyvyan in anticipation of a visit from Queen Victoria however in the end she never came and the quay has remained a quiet, hidden away, little secret.  It's quite difficult to get to by road, but comparatively easy by water.  The quay and the woodlands surrounding it were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1978 and these days it is one of the few public moorings on the upper reaches of the Helford River.

We paddled the open Canadian canoe in between the yachts moored on the river at Helford Passage and were soon on an open stretch of the river.  The unspoilt woodlands on either side overhang the water making the riverbanks look like giant clumps of moss.  Away in the distance up stream the quay is just about visible but we’re paddling with the pushing tide so it doesn’t take us long to get there.  As we near the old grass topped stone structure a small flash of iridescent blue streaks away into the creek to our left…a kingfisher?

Straight out of the seventies.

Once the canoe has been beached on the gravel at the far end of the quay, Kate and I climb out and unpack our camping duffel bag.  We pitch my tiny two-man a-frame tent (which alongside the 1970’s style canoe makes our set-up look like a step back in time) and sit down to absorb the calm surroundings.  It is so, so, quiet. 
As the evening draws in I wave my fly fishing rod around a bit and remember why this whole business is called fishing and not catching before going to look for the bag of groceries that we bought with us. 
Dinner was cooked in the glow of a paraffin lantern and eaten with our wellingtoned feet hanging over the edge of the stone dock, before Kate beat me at backgammon and we turned in for the night.

Fishing not catching, shot by Kate.

Being beaten at backgammon.

In the morning we woke up with mist pushing up the river from the sea, making it seem like we were sitting inside what felt like a giant Tupperware box.  Every so often the long, low, blast of a fog-horn from one of the big ships floating out in the bay was audible from way off in the distance. 
After breakfast and a walk along the riverbank to the old boathouse Kate and I pushed off and floated back down river with the dropping tide.  We heard the Helford gig before we saw it, emerging out of the mist in front of the shadow of a ship like some sort of pirate movie.  It just added to the feeling of having gone back in time, if only for one night.

A "spit stop" to brew tea on the return journey.