I recently had my first encounter with a surfboard tree. What’s a surfboard tree, you ask? Well, for those of you who don’t know, which I can only imagine is most of you, it’s a part-wood, part-polyurethane, fiberglass and epoxy plant with a few leaves on top that grows about 20-30 feet in height and is exclusively found in the Capistrano Beach backyard of legendary surfer and board shaper Mickey Muñoz. I came across this arboreal aberration while photographing Mickey for my ongoing project on senior surfers. He was one of several new people I have had the great fortune to include in my project since my last posting and one of the most avid all-around watermen I’ve ever met. I first met him and Jericho Poppler, pictured above, at the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club Contest in early August. It turned out that the two were surfing partners and agreed to meet me at Doheny State Beach a few weeks later to shoot some portraits and action. Both are extremely accomplished surfers. Nicknamed “The Mongoose,” Mickey, 77, excelled in big- and small-wave competitions in the 1960s and was also known for creating inventive moves such as the “Quasimoto.” He later went on to be known as a board shaper and sailor and recently chronicled his life on the water in his 2011 book “No Bad Waves.” Jericho, 62, made her name as one of the first full-time female professional big-wave surfers in the ’60s and ’70s, winning numerous championships including the title of IPS World Champion in 1976, and later won the first women’s World Longboard Championship. All while being the proud mother of five. While photographing the pair at Doheny, I also noticed Mickey’s truck, a pickup with a camper installed on the bed. He told me that he and his wife regularly slept in the back on surf outings, including regular trips to second home in Baja, Mexico. I knew I had to photograph him against it in order to show his lifestyle. We were having too much fun in the water, though, and after several hours, I had to get back for an appointment. Fortunately he was kind enough to allow me to meet him at his home at a later date, where I encountered the surfboard tree. Mickey’s home is organized chaos, an incredible museum of memorabilia and cluttered work areas indicative of a life of nonstop board shaping and tinkering on sailboat parts. I probably could have photographed him in any space there and made an interesting picture, but couldn’t help but be drawn to the tree, a combination resting and storage place for numerous boards. It was great getting to know both of them, and I’m thankful they were so generous with their time.
On to Surf City! I also found some connections in Santa Cruz with the help of the Santa Cruz Longboard Union and found some time in August to head up for a few days. There I met up with local surf legend Howard “Boots” McGhee and John Doty. Boots, 66, has been a lifelong fixture of the northern California surfing scene, learning to surf in Berkeley in 1963 before moving to Santa Cruz. He is a founding member of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum and an environmental advocate who helped establish the Santa Cruz chapter of the Surfrider Association in 1990. Similar to John Moore from my previous post, he too continues to surf after undergoing a full knee replacement 13 years ago. We met at Pleasure Point, one of many breaks in the area and a fantastic spot for longboards. We had a great time talking on the shore while taking some portraits and then jumped into the frigid Northern California water to shoot some action. The waves were small that day, but Boots caught a few and the afternoon light was nice, so I emerged shivering, but happy with what I had shot. Finally there is John Doty, a lifelong surfer with the nickname of “Turtle,” who has recently been sidelined due to a stroke he suffered around three years ago. My original intent for this project was, and remains, to show active surfers who are still paddling out on a regular basis. I wasn’t aware that Doty wasn’t doing so until the day before I was to meet him, when I learned of his setback. I wasn’t sure how photographing a nonactive surfer would fit into this project, but decided to go ahead and pay him a visit anyway. I’m glad I did. In a group of super friendly subjects that I’ve met through this project, Doty could well be the friendliest. We spent about three hours talking at his house, about his and his family’s long history in the sport. In fact, I personally delivered a family heirloom trophy from 1916 that his uncle won when he defeated the legendary Duke Kahanamoku — the man largely credited for bringing surfing to the continental U.S. from Hawaii — to Boots McGhee for inclusion in the surfing museum. While we talked I took several portraits of him, most of which show his bubbly character. But a couple moments also indicated his sadness for not being able to take part in something he has done since the age of 5. Although he’s been out of the water for three years now, I have hope that he’ll soon return. His obstacle at the moment is his balance and the negative effects not riding for three years has had on his confidence. This I can relate to. I begin to doubt my abilities after I’m out of the water for a week. But his mind is sharp and he’s regularly out there riding bicycles, so I’m sure he’ll find himself popping up on a board sometime soon.
That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll find some new subjects this year before the water temperature drops. Otherwise, I’ll be sure to continue working on this in the spring.