Capturing the Tofino Surfing Community in Light and Shadow

I squint. Sunscreen is finding its way in by way of the outside corners of my eyes as the water runs off my wetsuit hood and onto my face. To rub or not to rub? I duck dive again and open my eyes underwater to rinse out the sting. In that split second, I see another world of colour, and shape, and shadow. Reflections and refractions creating really vivid, deep and intense light, golden, shining through bright green water. I take a picture with my mind, and surface.

Summer surf in the Tofino/Ucluelet area is a beautiful love/hate relationship: sunny and warm/small waves and crowds. Finding windows of time that coincide with favourable wind, tide, a lack of people in the water (maybe the wind switched; maybe it’s dinner hour; maybe the kids got tired) is a dance with the elements. You really fall into its rhythm.

There’s a comfortable anonymity to surfing. Wearing a wetsuit and hood, silhouetted against the sun, eyes half blind from the salt and sunset light, you are with others but also alone. I see a board I recognize a few peaks over—I wonder if it’s Dre’s, but it disappears in the trough between waves. A set wave comes to me and takes me down the beach, a lovely ride. I look back, and the backlit scene makes surfers indistinguishable, just silhouettes conveying style, or lack of it. Back to floating. The majority of time spent surfing is not actually riding a wave. Perhaps as much as 99 per cent of it is just being in the water, an active presence with time for thought.

This work caters to those who know the feeling. Most of my art photography explores colours, shapes, and patterns, and dark shadows giving way to light. I like making the viewer’s eye work a little bit, and force them to discover the less obvious in the scene—the hidden, quiet qualities.

The waves are the stars. The unridden ones are the most beautiful. Floating in the water beside your surfboard, feeling the waves lift and lower you. The patterns of water glimmering on fresh beads of wax. The last wave after (after, after) the “okay, last one.” Sky and water merging into one with the loss of daylight. The late-night paddle-in. The walk back to the car with numb toes. Looking back at the waves. Shivering, changing, shivering. Looking back at the waves. Seeing a dark figure streaking across a wave and disappearing with the darkness. Wet pile of wetsuit in the bin. The waves are the stars.

Read more from our Summer 2024 issue.

Post Date:

June 11, 2024