50 years of Independence - Maldives

So I oftentimes don’t know how I’ve come to be so fortunate, but I once again appreciate the experience afforded to me by being onboard the boat Myna in the Republic of Maldives. Actually, boat is an understatement. In the past, I have worn the broadest smile wedged in the leaking wooden hull of a small fishing boat, but Myna carries the title of being a yacht, and the joy of a hot shower after being in the ocean was a luxury I am not used to and did not take for granted.

Contrary to the title of this post, 2019 does not represent 50 years of Maldivian independence from the British Empire. Painted signs from 2015 commemorating the 1965 moment still covered much of Himmafushi island. The more I travel to surf and photograph, the more I am struck by the extent of Empire. The obvious necessity of ocean to perform surfing shares the same strength in the importance of ocean in the growth of Empire. Naval fleets like none the world had ever seen characterise the distance and breadth of the tentacles of European colonisation upon the globe and the capacity to extract goods (including slaves) for trade which funded events which are often represented as glorious achievements characterised independently of colonisation such as The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, were built on the back of repressed and subjugated people whose sovereignty was viciously stolen, oftentimes under the guise of salvation.

This of course is not new knowledge. My own experience of ‘post-colonialism’ (and the difficulty of the term coinciding with my existence as an Australian who respects the original custodians of the land on which I live, respecting the elders past, present and emerging, and that sovereignty was never ceded ) is how the extent of Empire would continue to impact the subjectivities of local people in the context of surf exploration as I have observed in my travels, forming a shared experience between groups of humans from opposite sides of the globe.

A unique moment in my Maldivian journey though revolved around the ‘learning to surf’ and gift of a surfboard to a small group of local Maldivian girls. Upon seeing some local boys learning to surf, I approached them to learn more about them, and asked them if the girls in the area surf too. They responded ‘no’ and that the ‘girls wouldn’t want to surf.’ At the time, a group of local girls were swimming in the shorebreak, and it seemed easy enough to ask them directly how they felt about surfing. Upon asking ‘do you like surfing?’, five young Maldivian girls unanimously responded, ‘yes!’, which was matched in vigour only by their response to the question of if they would like to try. Of course, this in itself is not a unique moment. What struck me profoundly was that modern surf culture has the capacity to create subjectivities in young girls (and boys) that transcend the reach of Empire, offering access to opportunity without necessitating outcome and creating expanded viewpoints on what is possible without requisite or reciprocated obligation. To document this I felt was extremely profound. Surfing, born in the Polynesian islands before European contact, was returning to local people in a different Ocean and in a manner where the act of surfing could be performed without European subjectivity. However, the reach of surf tourism (like that engaged in by myself) leads me to raise the question whether modern surf culture is expanding across the globe reflecting a sort of surfing imperialism. Or perhaps more pertinently, are people who perform surf tourism carrying their own subjectivities into the lands in which they travel, imparting imperialistic viewpoints which exist independently to the act of surfing itself?

You can see my photos from the Maldives here

New York, New York

I am currently in New York and despite a horrid common cold, I am enjoying immensely my time here. I have so far had the opportunity to visit the Whitney (selfie below), APEX art, Leslie Lohman Museum, Grey’s Gallery, Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Mathematics. Lot’s of ideas flowing. Let’s see where this goes…

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Ongoing in Timor

I visited West Timor for the first time in 2018, and was thrilled to return in 2019 to continue with further photographs, research and exploration. I collected a number of artifacts from my travels which I will be using alongside a visual and auditory experience of this journey. I will have my head down building this small collection of art over the next months.

Big swells in Indonesia

Forecast 15ft. On the day, 15-20ft.

Matt Aldridge, Terry Yang and their fellow big wave surfers at Uluwatu June 11 and 12.

I teamed up again with Matty, and I can say it's an honour to have such an incredible surfer put his trust in me to capture these epic days, and likewise, I know that linking up with Matty will be worth my time, everytime. I spent both days perched high above the action in the brutal Indonesian sun, perhaps the only time when I could say it was a preferable place to be than in the surf!

First day of school - Boost Mobile Women's Pro

The WSL Women’s World Surfing Tour was back in action for the first day of the 2019 season at Duranbah Beach this morning for the Boost Mobile Gold Coast Pro.

I could say that the women are surfing better than ever and it is worth watching every minute of their contest, but to me, that is a tired cliche that died the moment I saw Carissa Moore do an air…when she was 12. The women’s world tour in 2019 follows on years of building momentum, where absolute professional and elite level skills are being displayed, fostered by a tireless behind-the-scenes (small) army of women at the World Surf League who believe in the value of showcasing these talents as much as the surfers themselves believe in chasing world title glory.

So what is new in 2019? Well some obvious and not so obvious observations. Firstly, Isabella Nichols is making a statement. Currently number 1 on the WQS after a blistering Australian Summer, Isabella won the entry trials to the main event two days ago, and went out today to beat seven time world champion Stephanie Gilmore. Isabella has always shown prodigious talent, and it looks like her work with Surfing Australia’s physical trainer Joanna Parsonage is paying off as her surfing technique fuses effortlessly into her developing athletic physique.

The names Keely Andrew and Sage Erickson wouldn’t look out of place in the draw of any CT event. For 2019 though, these world-class surfers are not part of the main fixture of the world tour, but are injury replacements for Silvana Lima and Tyler Wright at this first event. Firstly, I have no doubts that these two exceptional ladies will find their way back again. Sage has already proven her metal by re-qualifying in the past, and Keely is one of the most industrious athletes in all of women’s sport. However, it is the underlying story here that I feel deserves attention. The current level of women’s surfing is worthy of a bigger tour. The qualifying tour is long, expensive and brutal, and I could easily name a dozen women who are world tour worthy (Alessa Quizon, Dimity Stoyle, Holly Wawn, Bianca Buitendag…just to name a few), but are relegated to spending tens of thousands of dollars chasing qualification, in a commercial and sponsorship landscape that crucifies the incomes of female non-tour competitors. So what does this mean in lay-mans terms? Simply, a professional male surfer who is not on the world tour still earns enough from sponsorship to support his career, whereas the overwhelming majority of females surfers who are not on tour do not. The WSL in awarding equal prize money to both men and women are setting the standards.

So this leads me to what I feel will be the biggest story of the Women’s World Tour in 2019. This year will have barrels, airs and world titles, but that will pale into insignificance compared to the overt and overwhelming momentum in the movement for equality that women in surfing are crusading for. 2019 will not be about a single surf story. It will be about the culmination of everyone’s stories, as small and great battles are fought from every corner of the surfing world.

So where does this leave us? It’s simple. Dads and Mums, put your daughters into surfing. Uncles and aunties, take your niece out into the ocean. Brothers, join your sister when she drags you out for a wave. Whether you are a professional athlete, a physio, an athlete manager, a creative agency director, a photographer, a surfboard shaper, a designer, a magazine editor or any other number of professions, know that as a female, you have a future in surfing doing these things, one that has been forged by many great women of the past and is continuing to be forged by countless everyday women whose regular lives belie the torrent of internal passion that is the rising swell of equality in the future.

#Fightforthebight - Protest against Big Oil drilling in South Australia

One of the last, untouched, pristine environments on the planet is found in the south of Australia, the Great Australian Bight.

Majority state owned Norwegian oil giant Equinor has lodged an application to start drilling there, which is being described by activists as a totally unacceptable risk to the environment, the tourism sector and fisheries sector of South Australia.

I didn’t know much about the situation until recently. For example, I didn’t know that there are species of animals in the Bight found nowhere else on Earth. I also learned that other oil giants such as BP and Chevron had given up the idea of drilling here in 2016 and 2017, citing that is was not commercially viable. The project is supposed to bring 1500 jobs, but it risks many thousands more. What I found most confronting is that Equinor, the oil company in the spotlight, states openly and prominently on their website about their concerns and action on climate change and renewable energy, and actively working to ‘benefit societies around the world.’ When several tens of thousands of humans in the society they are attempting to extract from protest that their proposed actions are detrimental, to what justification can they believe in what they say they promote.

Over the weekend in Burleigh Heads, approximately four thousand people gathered to protest. I joined journalist Eleanor Knight in documenting the event, and we are looking forward to bringing a larger, independent perspective look at the human impact story of the issue in the near future.

Photos to come…

(Full disclosure: I had a commercial arrangement with Patagonia Australia to take photographs of the event)

Home days - Rainbow Bay Session 13/03/19

It can sometimes be difficult to explain why a large number of us choose to live and surf in one of the busiest surf locations on the planet. Rainbow Bay has an almost secret but distinct community of surfers that call this part of the world home. A meeting place at all hours of the day, but in particular the late afternoon session, where the worries of the working day are washed away.

A chronological sequence of 130+ photos from late afternoon till after sun set.

Photographed with a Canon 1dxii, fixed focal length of approximately 62mm, exposure times ranging from 1/500 second to 1 second.

Stay Sharp.

I am a big believer in staying sharp. Take your camera everywhere. Shoot what comes to mind. Stay sharp. But don’t oblige yourself to shoot sharp.

Gotham continues.

Tropical Cyclone Oma

Photos from Tropical Cyclone Oma

The news is telling me that natural disasters’ are becoming more frequent and common. I don’t actually have the facts to verify that information, but I’m sure they are available on the world wide web. Natural disasters are a regular experience for humankind, and those experienced in the Pacific are numerous and diverse including tropical cyclones, flood, volcanoes, earthquake, tsunami and fire.

In SE Queensland, we were warned that Tropical Cyclone Oma may make landfall in our region. I am connected to mains electricity, but not mains water. As part of preparations for Oma, we purchased extra canned food, stored larger amounts of drinking water and had buckets ready for the toilet if required. Flooding from Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017 had cut us off from town and we lost electricity for days. We also had to empty one of our water tanks which was at risk of landsliding. Fortunately, Oma turned back from henceforth she came. We lost power for only one day from the associated winds with powerlines going down, which did involve bucket flushing the toilet, something I have become accustomed to doing in many parts of Asia, and I thought, lucky we even have a toilet to flush!

Current work...

The research for my current major body of work has lead me to some fascinating documents and photos. The history of the interactions between westerners and indigenous people is both intriguing and disturbing…

I am looking forward to bringing to life my experiences of 2018 from Papua New Guinea, West Timor and the Spice Islands.

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Papua New Guinea on the PNG Explorer

The Pacific Islands are my neighbours, and it is perhaps this proximity that had lead to my own complacency in my exploration and understanding of this diverse group of islands.

I have been filled with wonder, amazement and intrigue after my recent ventures across the Pacific. I am looking forward to showcasing a photo series that reflects this. Below is an image of the boat we used to traverse Papua New Guinea, the PNG Explorer. Let the adventure begin…

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AgUnity and the World Bank Group forum Vanuatu

It was a great honour to see AgUnity as keynote speaker to the audience of honourable ministers, development partners and guests for the Understanding Risk Finance forum this week in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Climate change is an existential threat to many islands of the Pacific, and the ability for communities and nations to work cooperatively is paramount in reducing that threat. The rich and diverse culture, land and heritage of the people of the Pacific Islands must be protected.

AgUnity CEO David Davies spoke to a very receptive audience, and I had the great pleasure of engaging with everyone after the speech whilst David raced off to Rome FAO headquarters for another talk.

After the forum, I boarded a de Havilland Canada Otter plane (nicknamed the flying coffin) to visit the outer islands of Vanuatu. More to come…

Thankyou to the Government of Vanuatu and the World Bank Group for having us at the event.

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18_10_17 Talking AgUnity with Samuel Munzele Maimbo _ Head - Finance for Development Unit & Senior Adviser - Office of the Managing Director & World Bank Group Chief Finance URF WBG IMG_3948.jpg

Joining AgUnity to help the world's poorest farmers

It is with great excitement that I have joined the team at AgUnity in bringing trust to the world’s poorest farmers and helping them lift themselves out of poverty.

What began as a dinner conversation on solving the ocean plastic crisis lead me down a path that I always envisioned I would undertake. Using photography to tell the stories of those who can not. Small holder farmers have long been a marginalised group in society, disproportionately making up the world’s poor despite producing 70% of the world’s food.

AgUnity, using modern block chain technology, has found a way to solve the previously unaddressed problem of trust in small holder farming which has stunted the ability of farmers to empower themselves through their livelihoods. Operating globally and supported by major NGO’s such as UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Food Programme amongst others, the goal is to simple; improve the lives of a billion of the world’s poorest farmers.

I am proud to be working with like minded humans making meaningful change to the world around us, with hopes for a sustainable and equitable future for humankind.

Learn more about AgUnity here

The following photos were taken in East Nusa Tenggara and showcase subsistence living (seaweed farming) which also involves the extensive use of child labour. More on this to come.

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Struggle for equality for women in surfing reaches new milestone

Today the World Surf League announced it would be awarding equal pay to women and men for every WSL event from 2019 and beyond. Firstly, this is a great moment for women in surfing and should be applauded. Actions speak louder than words and today, the World Surf League is taking a stand on equality. 

As a resident of the hotbed of surfing talent, Snapper Rocks, I have witnessed the frontline of female surfing development up close and in person over a number of years. For me personally, the fight for equality isn’t just a story on the internet. It’s real people that are part of our community, and the physical, emotional and mental toll of this ongoing struggle has left more bodies on the highway of dreams than the success stories we see.

I have talked to an angry father when his daughter was declined from the local sporting excellence programme in a Government  funded school, which at the time had allocated 4 spots out of 32 to females for surfing. I have seen the distress on a mother’s face as she told me about the debt she is going into in order to buy a flight for her daughter to the next WQS event because her sponsorship money was inadequate, despite her being ranked inside the top five in the QS World Rankings and appearing well supported by a big-name sponsor. I have seen two former female world surfing champions working in Coles and Bunnings (that’s Aussie for Walmart) to support themselves during and after their surfing careers. I have watched a former WCT competitor break down in the arms of her friend and fellow competitor in the athlete’s toilet block after a late season loss which meant she wouldn’t be able to qualify back onto the world tour and her entire year of training and money spent suddenly disappeared into redundancy. Hell, I consoled my friend after she missed out on the world tour by a single spot, her hand cut up and bloodied from punching her surfboard into pieces after the loss that cemented that fate. And these aren’t ‘no-name’ surfers. Four share 600k followers on Instagram between them and this is only touching the surface of experiences I have witnessed and shared as a female in the surf community.

The sacrifice, dedication and commitment shown by women in surfing is real. It was real when Rell Sunn raced down the face of a giant bomb at Makaha. It was real when Pauline Menczer traded Levi jeans for money to fund her world tour ambitions. It was real when Silvana Lima made a comeback onto the world stage after a decade and how many knee surgeries. And it is real every single day I witness an army of females young and old, board under arm, paddling out at the rock, some with world tour aspirations, others, just trying to get that one wave.

To recognise and respect the struggle that has passed, and to celebrate a hopeful future, please enjoy this small selection of images of some powerful, strong young women I have had the honour of photographing. This is only a small group of the thousands of young women who are making a difference every day. Many from Asia, Africa and Europe are fighting every day and are not adequately represented here, but whose struggles are not forgotten or diminished.   

Prize money will now be equal. The elephant in the room is endorsement money. But for today, we celebrate a milestone representing the progression to a future of equality.