AROUND THE WORLD
Intro by Devon Howard Photographs by Morgan Maassen
Morgan Maassen’s Santa Barbara roots could lead one to assume that his meteoric rise as a photographer is the byproduct of a well-heeled, Brooks Institute education. However, his path to becoming one of today’s most talked-about surf documentarians was all self-made.
With a blue-collar upbringing by a father who dove commercially for urchins, Morgan was exposed to life and play along the sea from a very early age. The ensuing development of his strong passion for riding waves was quite natural.
Through surfing, he befriended a small crew of talented surfers and photographers who inspired him to pick up a camera and start shooting their local wave-hunting adventures. “I would spend any free moment I could surfing, which only strengthened my fascination with the ocean, and eventually the desire to document it,” explained Morgan. “Surf photography pairs well with travel—which excites me as much as the subject matter.”
The results of his photography were stunning. Morgan, it turns out, had a unique eye, one that produced a level of work magazine editors often describe as fine art.
“The most shocking thing to me about Morgan Maassen was his age,” recalled Scott Hulet, editor of The Surfers Journal, thinking of when he reviewed Morgan’s first-ever photo submission about five years ago. “For a 20-year-old, he showed a very accomplished level of visual literacy right out of the gates—nuanced lighting, fresh angles, unexpected moments, and a soulful saturation of colors that could appeal to a broad set of viewers.”
When asked to explain how he developed his artistic approach without any formal training, Morgan said, “My parents worked tirelessly to make sure I got a great foundation in life. Our family holidays were steeped in adventure, culture, and the arts—and those experiences continuously inspire my work to this day. Plus, you can learn just about anything you want to from Google searches these days.”
Once Morgan’s avocation had become his vocation, he’d accomplished in record time what most of us dream to achieve by our 40s. However, he acknowledges that his career path doesn’t come without sacrifices and challenges at times. There are dangers like sharks, strong currents, live coral heads, and bone-breaking waves that can drill you into said live coral heads. But the biggest adjustment for him has been leaving his surfboard back on the beach. “As a lifelong surfer, shooting it can be painful because I’m not out there doing it, too,” explained Morgan. “But when I’m able to get in the surf and swim around with my camera, that’s when it all makes sense how fortunate I am to be able to combine my two greatest passions.”
At just 25 years young, Morgan is booked year-round by the surfing industry’s largest brands to capture imagery of their elite athletes. As a result, he travels a significant chunk of the year on their dime to far-flung lands, documenting incredible surfers doing unthinkable, acrobatic maneuvers amid breathtaking backdrops. That act of surfing itself on those adventures is only a part of the experience for Morgan. The places, people, and things he sees along the way are constant sources of inspiration and subjects for his lens.