Life & Culture

Beautiful Photos of California’s Surf Scene, Taken by an Insider

About to go on show in New York, Anthony Friedkin’s images document California’s celebrated surf scene – free from the blonde, bronzed Hollywood stereotype

At the tender age of eight, Anthony Friedkin discovered what would become the two greatest passions of his life: photography and surfing. Growing up in Los Angeles, Friedkin enjoyed weekends and summers at the family beach house in Malibu, where he developed an unquenchable love for the ocean.

In 1970, at the age of 21, Friedkin began The Surfing Essay, a visual diary of his life as a member of California’s celebrated surf scene – a project that has continued for more than 45 years. After a near-death accident two years ago, Friedkin decided to organise the work into an exhibition and book.

Now, a selection of 50 hand-printed black and white photographs will be on show at Anthony Friedkin: The Surfing Essay, opening November 8 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York. The consummate insider, Friedkin delved beneath the Hollywood stereotype of the blonde, bronzed Adonis to reveal the extremely individualistic athletes who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of the perfect wave. Here, he shares his journey of discovery, celebration, and triumph over circumstance.

“My mom would take me to the Malibu Pier – one of the best surf breaks is right there. I saw surfers riding the waves and knew then that this was something I would do. I started body surfing when I was eight and board surfing when I was 11, and stayed with it.

“As a kid, I connected with the ocean and its changing moods. It can go from the most serene day where the water is absolutely pure, to days where the ocean gets treacherous and the waves come crashing down. At night it gets scary because you can’t see it; you can just hear it. That time near nature was so important to my development as a person.

“My mom had a friend named Doris, an actress who worked with Billy Wilder, who gave me a Kodak Brownie for my eighth birthday. I immediately started to photograph everything important to my life and never looked back. I made a deal with myself: I would either be surfing or taking photographs, and sometimes I would be doing both.

“I started The Surfing Essay to document my love of the ocean and the waves, and what it was like to live the life of a surfer with my friends and girlfriends. The photograph has its own unique truth. I believe you can capture the soul of a person in a photo.

“The reality is very different from the Hollywood image. Surfers are kind of outcast from society in general. Their love of surfing dictates their life. As a young surfer, you have a warrior attitude. You are strong and fearless, and can go into dangerous situations where you can drown – most surfers will tell you they have had some very close calls.

“I almost drowned two years ago. I was at Zuma Beach, and I was bodysurfing that day. I got a horrific vertigo attack and started sinking to the ocean floor. I could tell I was about to blackout when I was saved at the last second by the lifeguards. It was a close to death as I have ever come in my life.

“When I recovered, I realised how important this work is to me. The ocean waves mirror our universe. When I started to explore this, it was like therapy. I was looking into my heart and my spiritual connection to the earth.”

Anthony Friedkin: The Surfing Essay is on show at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York until December 21, 2018