On Surfing

Morgan Maassen

Illustration by Matt Titone

A name that has come to leave its imprint on all things surf, Morgan Maassen split the difference between photo and film, commercial and editorial, but most importantly between land and sea.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

I started surfing when I was 7-years-old. I started making little films about it when I was 13, and photographing it when I was eighteen. So, for the better part of my life, if I wasn’t on a surfboard, I was documenting it. Now at 29, I can still say I’ve spent more time surfing than doing any other activity––except maybe reading––yet I’m still a terrible surfer. I can paddle into huge waves, longboard little waves, am comfortable amongst sharks of any color and riptides of any strength, yet I can’t get past the talent level I’m stuck at. I’d love to thread a long front-hand barrel or land an air reverse, but alas, I can not and have not. This, to me, is the purest proof that Malcolm Gladwell is full of crap.

What remains to be challenging for you?

As a photographer and filmmaker whose lifeblood is surfing, it’s incredibly hard to do justice to the sensations and emotions that I cherish. On one hand, it’s this proverbial carrot that gets me out of bed every morning, on the other hand, it harks back to Hobbes telling Calvin that if people could put rainbows in zoos, they would.

What has become challenging for you that maybe wasn’t before?

In my teenage years, I spent each night studying every aspect of computers and the internet. I milked it for all its worth, and I owe websites and blogging for the vast majority of my career’s trajectory. Now, a decade in, trying to find the time to engage the internet and afford it energy and creativity is one of the sharpest thorns in my side.

What’s one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad session. I’ve been injured, scared, nearly-drowned, rained-out, screamed at, but I’ve never been bored or uninspired. In tennis, the only dynamic element is the cloud cover. In surfing, everything from the parking spot to water clarity is exciting.

Has surfing afforded you anything in life? If so, what?

Surfing has given me everything. As a kid, I was an outcast, surfer rat, but it gave me passion. As I found cameras, it became my muse. Since then, my career, family, and creativity has circulated around it.

How long can you go without surfing?

I can go months without surfing. I miss it, yes, but I am a big guy and need decent sized waves to have an invigorating session. So growing up in Santa Barbara trained me well for long periods of inactivity. Not seeing the ocean, however, I can only go for about two days. Not being in the ocean, maybe three. I go crazy any longer than that.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I was seven-years-old when my dad pushed me into my first wave. I stood up immediately and remember looking down and seeing the rocks and kelp underneath me. It was sensational, euphoric. A visceral moment that put all other moments of my life to shame.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

I always catch seven waves. No matter how big or small the waves are, this is what I do. Even if I got chased in by a Great White, I’d belly ride the remainder of waves in knee deep water and jump to my feet, just to hit the quota. It makes every session count, and it helps balance my superstition with stubbornness.

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Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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