Surfing is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about New York. The best waves are in the height of winter when the water is unforgivingly cold, the waves are spiky, and riptides are strong. Yet, there are those defiant and passionate enough to endure the long subway rides and NYC weather patterns just to catch a few waves. Andreea Waters has witnessed the brutal art and culture first hand dedicating four years to photographing surfers in the New York region. In her book, Surf NYC, she tells a visual story revealing the community, passion, and peril that are just outside of Manhattan’s walls.
You’re originally from Romania, so what drew you to photograph NYC surfing instead of something more familiar to the public like LA?
When I moved to New York I decided to pursue my photography passion by taking a Documentary Photography course at the International Center For Photography NYC. It was spring 2012 and half way through the course my teacher pulled me aside and said, “Find your passion.” At the time I heard that people surf in New York at 90th Street. I was curious. It was a foggy Friday in May when I first drove to Rockaway Beach. I walked on the boardwalk and saw the surfers through the fog. There was an energy that spoke to me, I was fascinated. Four years later I still find the excitement, joy and curiosity to find the surfers and see the mood of the ocean. Surf LA could be next, I recently went to Venice Beach and felt that connection, I have a thing for urban surf culture and people.
How long did it take to finish the photography book and how has the response been since it’s been released?
I started photographing in 2012 and released the book in February 2016. I worked my ass off to make it happen. The book idea came into play a couple of years into photographing. I think surfing belongs in ink, it has beauty and soul. A book engages people in conversation and every time you flip through the pages, you can discover something new.
The response is awesome. The book has something for everyone, it celebrates a period in time in NY surfing, its unique culture and showcases the ever changing moods of the Atlantic Ocean.
“I walked to the beach and saw the ocean, a monster wanting to swallow and spit you out.”
We know NY surfing is particularly dangerous, especially in the winter, can you recount one of the greater moments you’ve caught on camera?
December 9, 2014 during a heavy Nor’Easter. When I arrived at 90th Street in Rockaway Beach, getting out of the car was wild. I remember the mad offshore winds and freezing rain. I was soaked within minutes. I walked to the beach and saw the ocean, a monster wanting to swallow and spit you out. Only three surfers were in the water and one other person on the beach. I was mesmerized. That day I photographed one of the biggest waves to hit Rockaway Beach. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a surfer commit to the drop and ride it all the way. I knew I got the shot. Months later I met the surfer, Tony Farmer. This is the creative conversation between the surfer and my lens, it is unspoken and beautiful. For me, this photo represents the beauty in the madness of New York surfing. It is also the day I felt an absolute connection with the dark and stormy atmosphere and light.
What inspires you the most about shooting in that atmosphere?
Stormy moments are my favorite sound and flavor, it is my goth surf. You will find me on the beach when you least expect it. Snow, rain, thunderstorms…if you know when and where to show up, these are the magic moments. Winter is my playground, there is nothing like walking on deserted beaches and seeing the ocean fire perfect tubes and liquid mountains. It is my creative juice and everything I don’t want to surf.
Is there a particular feeling you’re trying to capture when shooting surfers?
The art of the New York surfer. The surfer is my art form and the ride is their expression. When surfers enter the water, their mood changes. They are stripped off their city persona, and they become present and one with the ocean. As a photographer I chase the light. The surfers chase the ride. When all the variables line up, we share a perfect, fleeting moment. It is a creative conversation.
You do a lot of street photography as well– is there a change of approach when shooting in cities, rather than on the beach?
Street photography inspires my surf photos and vice versa. In both environments I am always looking for interesting situations. On the beach the streets have no name. Surf photography trains your eye to anticipate moments. The purple wetsuit surfer with the air in the background is a perfect example of a shot that comes from the streets but happens on the beach.
We’re primarily a clothing brand, so we have to ask, do you notice that some surfers’ wetsuits are more fashion forward than others?
Yeah, for sure. I am big into fashion and it is part of my creative point of view. The wetsuit is the little black dress, everyone should have one. Just like fashion, surf photography has the human body element which evokes emotion and style. The surfboards, beach wear, the way a surfer chooses to carry themselves make a statement. Surfing has a natural, raw feeling of a dreamy lifestyle surrounded by ocean beauty, salty hair, sandy toes and good times. People lust over the surfing experience and fashion gives everyone a way to feel closer. The actual surfing life is not for everyone.
To purchase the Surf NYC Photography Book, click here.