Last night a thousand limp handshakes I've had to endure from people over the year years were finally put right, although I may need to type most of this blog post with my left hand only. You see when Big Wave surfer Al Mennie shakes your hand, it stays shook for the foreseeable future.
Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me take a few steps back.
In my previous blog post I touched on the fact that I was using that trip over to the mainland to consider my future in sports photography. For the past 8 years I've been covering football, from grass roots right through to the top level. At the beginning of the year, for a number of reasons, we relocated from Cambridge to Portrush, on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. It's a beautiful place. It's wild. And for my landscape work, it's pretty much perfect. The problem however is that there isn't much of a global market for Irish League football. Given this, the opportunities for football photographers in the area is perhaps a little thin on the ground. I've always maintained though that to get the best images the photographer needs to have at least an interest in the sport they are shooting. Working for an agency this isn't always possible (you do what you need to do), but ask most and they will have their absolute favourite sports to shoot. And it shows in their work. Many of the other big sports in Ireland (Hurling, Gaelic Football) hold little to no interest for me, so again this limits my options.
And this brings me back onto the subject of surfing. Now before I go any further lets get one thing straight. I have pretty much zero interest myself in catching a wave (big or small). I've tried it. Once. I managed to get up for a few seconds, feeling like a king riding triumphantly on his stallion past those struggling in our beginners class, for a moment even considering a life of robbing banks dressed as John Major, before being slammed face, then ass, then face, first into the sea. It wasn't however that experience which stops me. It's more the fact that growing up my mum instilled a raw fear of water that I've carried throughout my adult life. I can swim (like a P+O ferry) and I do get myself into the water, but I know my limits and for now I'll be keeping both feet on solid ground.
So what's the connection then between my love of sports photography and surfing? Well for many years I've been in love with the art and technique of outdoor sports photography, be that ultra running, mountain biking or indeed surfing. Do a quick search on websites such as 500px and you will see some beautiful images. Like all areas of photography most people can take an okay image of pretty much anything, especially these days. A much smaller percentage however can take these images and turn them into something beautiful. To tell stories with their images. This takes time. This takes practice. And it takes passion. Just take a look at some of Chris Burkard's work.
And so it's not just the artistry of surf photography that appeals to me. It's the person behind the image as well. Their story. What drives them. Their passion. I am in absolute awe at people at the top of their game. Could watch them all day. Musicians, Artists, Runners. Crafts folk. Their passion for their chosen genre is what drives them on. I'm especially drawn to those who are passionate about the outdoors. Be it running, climbing or indeed surfing. Some examples of this passion come through in videos and movies such as 180 degrees south, North of the Sun (which I first saw at an Outdoor film festival a few years ago) and of course Of Fells and Hills, which I find myself watching at least a few times per month. I love their stories as much as their passion and skill. A common theme in each of these videos. Stripping away the unnecessary items in life. Simplicity.
Living here in Portrush puts me right bang in the epi-centre of surfing on the North Coast and I want to put together a collection of images over the next 12 months of the surf and water culture on my doorstep. It fascinates me. I watch, quite often open mouthed, as the surfer (or paddle boarder) makes their way out. Battling through mother nature at her wildest. How they sit, sometimes for what seems like an absolute age. Watching. Waiting. And then they are up. Riding the wave. Twisting and Turning. Triumphant.
And this brings me back to 'that' handshake. I'd been watching Al Paddle board for about 30 minutes from our balcony and managed to fire of a couple of images. Sadly the light was fading fast but it was just fantastic to watch him. How he read the waves. Using his paddle as a rudder for control.
Afterwards I took one of the images and printed it on the Fuji Instax printer and gave it to him. Top chap, but next time I'm going to wear my Incredible Hulk fancy dress outfit below my clothes. I hear however he's a big old softie at heart :)
Anyway, just a few images of Al doing what he does best. Thanks for the show. Hope to catch you again sometime.
Back to football again now. Windsor Park on Monday evening and then down to Dublin on Tuesday.