Around the World and Back
Interview by David Bonaventura Photographs by Dustin Humphrey
How did you get started shooting photos?
It was pure happenstance. I was studying Marine Science and wanted to document the marine life I was studying in and around the California coast. I got my hands on an old SLR but knowing nothing about it, took a night class to unwrap its mysteries. I just fell in love with it. Next semester I dropped all my classes and took all photography classes. So once the learning curve was done, I just got on the road and never looked back.
What year did you first head over to Indo?
It was in June, 1997.
How did you end up moving to Bali full time?
After awhile, I was just spending so much more time in Indonesia than I was in California. It was a real chore to pack up and go home only to know that in a week or two I’d be coming back out. You could say I got tired of going home. So I stopped doing it.
You’ve nurtured and assisted some young local kids throughout Indo. Helping them break into the global surfing world, as well as young photographers. Did you set out to do this or is it something that just came naturally?
I never really set out to be a mentor, nor do I really see myself as one. Perhaps it’s the reason why mentoring comes easy to me and I do like to share in knowledge. I am not one to hold secrets. For me it’s passion. It’s an art. It’s fun to talk about things I’m passionate about. I never saw photography as a competition. In regards to the surfers, I was happy to teach them about the business side of surfing outside of the water in order to enhance their chances of success.
Who were your favorite surfers to shoot?
Dane, Rasta, and Ozzy.
How did you and Taylor Steel end up collaborating on “Sipping Jet Streams”?
Seems like such a long time ago now… Taylor, his wife Sybil and I were already good friends. Taylor and I had done a few trips together. At the time we shared a lot of the same interests so obviously the conversations turned to the things we were both passionate about. The process allowed us to peel back the layers and really get a fresh take on surf travel especially for that time period. There is no doubt that Taylor and
I complemented each other; the perfect basis for a team.
Do you feel that “Sipping Jet Streams” changed your career?
Immensely. I look back at that time with a whole lot of pride and very fond memories of the work Taylor and I did together, along with Todd Heater and Alex Berger. What is great and perhaps a true testimony to “Sipping” is that we have all gone on to be quite successful in each of our chosen paths.
For me personally, having an award-winning book helped me gain more acclaim from a larger audience outside of surf. That led to work outside the surf industry.
Back to your original question, I think “change” was already in the air in regards to documenting surf. It was towards the end of “Sipping” that the digital era was really starting to go mainstream. Digital SLRs replaced 35mm film; Red technology replaced 16mm film.
There wasn’t a surf magazine on the planet that didn’t have a DHUMP photo or several photos. Was this a time in your life that DHUMP photography transcended into a full-blown business operation?
Of course, funnily enough it came just before I retired from surf photography. It had become a very streamlined business. And not the fun photo side of the business either.
This was not entirely due to who I was, it also had a whole lot to do with the nature of the game. Or the nature of the game as it had become. Digital photography and global connectivity sped the entire process up tenfold. Swell charts were consulted and 3-day strike missions planned. Tickets and accommodation needed to be booked. You had to figure out how to get the Jet Ski there and where we had to have the truck or van to pick us up. Piled on to that now, the photos needed to be edited before you returned home and uploaded the same night. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.
It was a bit of fun and a welcome challenge at first. Then, we got to the tipping point and it was more about the logistics and production and less about travel and photography. I must say, the knowledge I gained from those experiences has served me well. I’ve been able to apply a lot of those skills and a similar approach with my creative team now, which has been a tremendous advantage for us as a company.
However, that is not why I got into photography. For me it was about going to a place and immersing one’s self in it. My photographic heroes were people like Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols and Steve McCurry. Photographers who spend months, even years, on a single assignment. When I started coming to Indo it was for months at a time. When I started traveling and shooting outside of Indo, I would go somewhere and stay for no less than a month. The first time I was sent to Europe, I was meant to stay for two weeks at one location. I stretched that out and ended up staying for three months and shooting five different countries.
Do you find that photography is more of a creative outlet at this point in your career since Deus has become your prominent business?
I haven’t shot surf photography in four years. I haven’t taken a fashion, travel or commercial job in two. There was a time in my life where travel and photography consumed me. It was my passion, my love, my life. I sacrificed all for it. That same passion drives me now in other creative pursuits.
What are those creative pursuits now?
Everybody tries to plonk me in this neat little pigeonhole. They seem to think that we can only be just one thing. The one they reserved for me was labeled photographer. Like, I can’t be more than just a photographer or filmmaker?
The reality is I can be anything I want. Whatever I am passionate about. I do love photography and am still incredibly passionate about it. Six years ago I became a father and Kelana, my son is definitely one of my greatest passions. I also get a huge amount of joy coming up with an idea for a custom motorbike build, or designing a range of clothing, curating an art show, building out a cool retail shop. And I can be passionate about being a good businessman all at the same time. I can be all kinds of things and don’t feel I need to be restricted or to limit myself to one creative pursuit. Damn, I love the diversity!
How did you and Dare Jennings connect on DEUS?
Dare (Founder of Deus ex Machina) and I were already friends. We had already worked on a couple of projects together. He only had Deus ex Machina in Sydney at the time and I was already building custom bikes for my friends as a hobby in Bali. I have to say at this point that a major influence was my young son. I just didn’t want to be on the road so much anymore. I wanted
to be with him as he grew up. I still wanted to travel and still do. But I wanted to surf more. Ride more. Do more. That happenstance again. Dare and I talked and soon we uncovered that we shared all these common interests. Added to that, I knew that he was a person I felt I could work with and learn from. So one day we started talking about a Deus in Bali. And boom, here it is!
What is your role in the Deus business on a global basis?
I wear a lot of different hats. Most of us do. Deus is really still a little company even though it’s growing at an exponential rate. But if you looked at my business cards, I have two. It has the official titles: Director, Deus ex Machina, Indonesia and Deus ex Machina, International Director of Surf.
What influences you today?
Passion. I know I am beginning to sound repetitious but it really is what drives me. That and the art of doing!
Tell us a bit about Temple of Enthusiasm, and the core idea behind it.
We wanted to build a place that combined all of our passions, things that we were enthusiastic about: custom bikes, customs surfboards, art, design, filmmaking, photography, music, etc. It’s a place where people from different lands and backgrounds can come together and share ideas and often times take those ideas and turn them into actions and onto things; a catalyst. So it’s no surprise that it has a strong vibe of adventure about it. We do a few trips each year and they all begin and end at Deus whether it’s surf trips, motorcycle trips or a combo of moto-surf trips. The walls are lined with photographs documenting our adventures.
You’ve started to help out kids by sponsoring them. How do you see the Deus group of surfers evolving outside of the constructs of the traditional team rider mentality that most brands have?
It’s a passion project for me. Of course it all ties back into our core business, “the rag trade.” But for me, coming out of years in the surf industry, I hadn’t planned on reentering it. I think for the most part, I still haven’t. My background put me in a unique position to start the Deus surf program and I could do it on my own terms, and while it’s been a huge amount of work, it’s also been incredible fun. Together with the help of some amazing shapers, artists, and surfers I feel we have built something that is really unique and we can definitely be proud of.
As far as team riders, I prefer to say they ride with us rather than for us. There is nobody associated with Deus that is merely just paid to surf. We all work, create and play together to add to the melt.
What are your future plans with Deus?
It’s hard to say. We never had a business plan. It’s probably the hardest part about running this show. There is no playbook; there isn’t anything to go off of. We make it up as we go along. That’s part of what makes it special for me. We pretty much just do what we’re enthusiastic, and definitely passionate, about and we do it to the best of our abilities while at the same time, without taking ourselves too seriously!