Tom Curren, Backdoor Pipeline, 1991. Riding a reverse vee by Maurice Cole. Photograph by Tom Servais.
This is my all time favourite photograph of my all time favourite surfer. This image was captured nearly twenty years ago but I think it still stands as an example of world class, state-of-the-art waveriding. It is a wonderful testament, not just to Curren's ability, but to the reality that this kind of clean, classical rail orientated surfing is timeless.
I was very impressed by this photo. Not long after I saw it I made my own reverse vee board that served me well, & this poster has hung in my shaping bay ever since. I can't possibly say how much many times I have pondered this photograph & all that it holds in terms of Curren's style: the economy of movement, the length of rail engaged, the subtle body torque, the masterful positioning, the gently splayed fingers & the graceful positioning of the hands. And photographically, too, there is much to consider. I think it is a triumph in terms of composition, light, contrast, line, shape & texture. The sun-struck trail created by Curren's turn leads the eye through the picture & gives the image vitality & movement, & the gorgeous parabolic curve of the track itself describes the beautiful purity of his line.
In retrospect I think it is photographs like these, & also my experience of watching surf films as I grew up, that inspired me to desire to somehow contribute to the ways in which surfing is documented. Whether in writing, or art, or still & moving pictures, I hoped & still do hope to share in some small way the grand joy & deep beauty & vast meaning surfing gives our lives. But for me there is a tension in all this. Servais' photograph is a beautifully captured moment, but at the end of the day I recognise that is all it is: a moment long ago passed. I am reminded that surfing's joy & beauty, like all things in life, are fleeting. Perhaps, too, that's why I hope to capture such things in photos & films, if only to just to hold & savour them a little longer.
A poet who had an important impact upon me growing up was John Keats. Keats' work is infused with these kinds of themes of transience & impermanence. Tragically, he ended up dying from tuberculosis in his mid-twenties. At his request, the epitaph on his grave bears this poignant script: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."
I think it is a fine epitaph for any surfer. It somehow suits all of us who, like Curren above, etch short-lived lines upon bands of ephemeral energy that are born & live & die in our beloved & ever-changing sea.
Posted by Nathan Oldfield