Mickey Smith

 

A Silent Workhorse of the Surfing World

Interview: Keane, Photos: Smith

Those that partake in the sport of surfing understand the experience.  “Only a surfer knows the feeling” as the saying goes.  For the addicted surfer longing to relive the experience, or for those that do not partake in the sport, water photographs and videography are perhaps the best ways to share the experience.   The profession of surf photography however is dangerous.   It requires fortitude, endurance and strength.  It demands the physical fitness and knowledge of the ocean and perhaps the most trying quality about surf photography – it is elusive.  Often the artists go unknown.

In traditional sport photography you can wear your comfy shoes, when you’re thirsty, you get a drink, when you’re tired of standing, you may sit or kneel.  All you need to do is show up, after all, you know when the game is going to start.

Surf photography is a different beast.  A water photographer must have a deep understanding of the ocean, the wave they’re shooting and the weather.  Being at the wrong place at the wrong time can be deadly.  Shallow reefs, rocks and lurking sharks all play into the game.  Knowing the tidal changes, locations of rip currents, weather changes and keeping an eye on the outside looming set are a constant threat.  Surf photographers have to swim and endure whitewash, current undertow, swimming against on-coming waves, treading water for hours and being focused and aware at all times.  The only time a water photographer can rest is by leaving the water.  Leaving the water may mean missing the better sets, the better surfers, the better light or the better conditions.  They must endure.  Take all of the above and strap a camera the size of a six pack on your wrist – carrying that six pack means one less arm to efficiently swim with.

The majority of the battle of finding successful surf depends on the timing.  Technology today in marine forecasting has put swell patterns, ocean currents and wind forecasts at the fingertips of everybody via the internet.  Storm swells can be tracked out by weeks at a time.  All of this technology doesn’t mean it will always occur.  That forecasted swell doesn’t always produce, nor does it always hit reefs or sandbars at the right direction.  The wrong direction and the wave may not break properly.  Wave chasing is a persistent game and requires patience diligence and the willingness to travel at a moment’s notice.

Take all of these elements required for successful surf photography and go to the far reaches of the North Atlantic.   Frigid waters coupled with rugged coastlines and angry seas.  Put yourself on the coast of Ireland and spend hours, weeks, years watching, scouting, and learning about the waves and then one day, surfing them with your core group of friends.  After you surf them, you then document waves that nobody else in the surfing world new existed.

Smith and crew tapped the Keg of beauty on the Irish coastline.

That’s what Mickey Smith did.  Raised in Newlyn in West Cornwall, UK, Smith and friends made a playground out of the sheer power and magnitude of the Irish coastline.  Watching, tracking, and waiting.  Setting alarm clocks, coastline walks in frigid winter to see if the playground was open.  A playground riddled with risk but saturated with beauty.  Smith and his crew pursued their passion of the place while dancing with the blizzard of ocean force that erupts on Ireland’s coast relentlessly.

Surf photography is vital to the surfing industry.  That fragile moment documenting the person behind the curtain, making the drop or that clean water shot with the sunset backdrop is essential for capturing the moment.  Capturing that moment helps people understand the magnitude of the sport and inspires others by showing them the human potential.  Without the countless devoted hours in the water pursuing these moments, the beauty we see in surfing could not be possible without this work.

Prolific posted Smith’s, Dark Side of the Lens film short, when we first started our website.  We had such a great response from his work that we decided to try to catch the lad and see if he could share some of his thoughts with us.

 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up around Newlyn in West Cornwall near Lands End.

Do you remember the first time you saw the water?

West Cornwall is a peninsula surrounded by sea and Newlyn is a fishing village so it’s always been there for me since I first opened my eyes, lucky lad that I am.

Did you study photography?  Did you always know this is what you wanted to do or did it evolve this way?

Everything is still evolving for me, always has been.  There were no grand plans for a career at any point really, it’s so strange how things unfold.  I still feel an innocence every time I pick up a camera, it’s always been a very instinctual process that I never want to stop learning about, studying and refining.

You had the opportunity to travel and be on your own when you were young – how did that make who you are today?

I did a lot of travelling whilst playing in different bands from a very young age, a lot of hours on the road in vans. You start to lose yourself in your own head and imagination a lot and become comfy with your own company, especially when most everyone around you is an adult and your just a kid. Then from the minute I started travelling further and further for waves everything about that experience just felt natural for me. I’ve always been ready for time on the road.

Did traveling change your perspectives on the world and people, cultures?  If so how?

Of course man, the world is a magical place of darkness and light and getting out there amongst it inevitably affects your perception infinitely.  I feel so blessed to be here at this point in time in this lifetime on this strange journey.

Tell me about a defining moment in your life?

My sister died in 2010 and I have never ever been hit so hard by anything in my life.  She was my best friend and with our Mum the three of us were such a tight unit, no matter where I was I was tuned into them two, so to lose Cherry was like nothing I’d ever imagined.  It put things in perspective for me, she has always inspired me in so many ways, I have learned a lot about myself and the world that I’d never have know before through her.

Enduring hours in bone dampening frosty water for shots like this.

What excites you about waves?  Or put differently, what is it about waves that draw people to them?

I don’t know exactly.  I think as humans many of us have this incredible natural infatuation with the ocean.  All the elements combining in a surreal gravity defying environment of liquid energy, it’s so bizarre and such a gift.

Your movies and effort put into them inspire people, you inspire us –  Who inspires you?

All day every day things inspire me, simple things, people going about their lives, little acts of kindness, the world surrounding those lives, everyone and everything has got a tale to tell.

Tell us about your lifestyle – what’s a typical day for Mickey?

There is not really a typical day it depends where we are or what’s  goin on, but at the minute it’s wake up, look after my little girl Eiva, get her mama a cup of tea, and from there on in it’s anyone’s guess.

What scares you?  Why?

The pain of losing loved ones is like nothing else.

What accomplishment in your career or life to date are you most proud of?

Not being broken by that pain.

What have been the biggest failures and frustrations in your career?

Career wise I have been through a lot, like anyone has, I guess. The surfing industry is, on the whole, very disrespectful to the people that document the wave riding.  It sells its image and makes its money on the back of, and I find that difficult at times.

 Have you ever seen Karma at work in your life?

Yes.

 If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

Turn on some kind of collective consciousness switch so we can all start tuning in and giving a shit about each other and our world.

If you had to give up being in the water for something, what would it be?  Or is there something more valuable to you than being in the water?  Why? 

I don’t know.  Love and family are more valuable than anything else.

 Any last thoughts?

Can’t wait to watch the City–United game today.

 

See Mick’s The Dark Side Of the Lens here.

 


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