A few months back we stumbled upon the work of photographer Andy Bowlin. Great empty line up shots being one of Andy’s prime areas of focus, no pun intended. If you have been lucky enough to visit the region, and/or surf there, you know of the potential. But, you also know how much work it is to actually score. Wind, fog, sharks, and that’s the easy part! The local crew has many of the spots pretty locked up so proceed with humility and a mellow vibe – alone isn’t a bad choice either – and you just may score a corner or two of some solid Pacific Ocean juice.
Andy was kind enough to send over a few snaps and answer a few questions as well.
What Youth: Your photos appear primarily focused around the central coast of California. Where you born and raised there?
Andy Bowlin: Yes, I was born and raised on the Central Coast of California, in San Luis Obispo County. I grew up in Atascadero, which is about 30 minutes inland from the beach, but I have lived in the small beach town of Cayucos for the past 16 years. Yes, most of my photos are not too far from home, it’s my favorite place to be, and the scenery ain’t half bad either.
WY: How did you get into photography?
AB: I started taking pictures as a hobby in High School, just documenting friends surfing, skating, camping, and just messing around really. I kept at it and went on to Minor in photography at Cal Poly SLO, and haven’t stopped learning new techniques ever since.
WY: How/when did that translate into surf photography?
AB: As kid, I never enjoyed team sports so I went the solo sport route with skateboarding and surfing. I started surfing at 14 and got into photography a couple of years later to document our adventures, so photography for me actually started as “surf photography”. Learning lighting and compositions all started at the beach for me. I have always loved all kinds of photography, from portraits to landscapes, and I’ve tried to learn it all. I don’t surf as much as I used to but I still get in the water from time to time.
WY: There is obviously some great surf up there, but not a lot of surfers. Is it hard to find people to shoot and who are some of your favorite surfers to work with?
AB: Like most places, we have our moments. To be honest, all the elements have to line up perfectly for it to be any good here. But in my opinion, when the conditions do line up, the waves combined with the scenery of this area can’t be beat. As for surfers, there are a ton of people who surf in this area (too many if you ask some people) we just don’t get the same publicity as Southern California or even Santa Cruz. The locals have been secretly ripping in this area for years and I think they like it that way. But to answer your question, yes, it’s hard to link up with surfers when the time is right. But as you can probably tell in my photos, I prefer an empty lineup to anything else. I like the freedom of not relying on anyone but yourself and the elements.
WY: Way back in the 80s there were guys like Dave Parmenter, and a few others, who kinda put the area on the map surf-wise. Who’s the up and coming talent we should watch out for these days?
AB: Like said before, this area just doesn’t get the publicity like other areas in California. But there are still some secret legends living in here for sure. Hands down the biggest name to ever come out of this area is Nate Tyler. Nate’s been ripping and winning all the local contests here since he was a kid. We also have a handful of older surfers, that competed with all the big names in their youth, that still live and surf in this area as well. As for up and comers, there are a few kids from the South County /Pismo Beach area that are definitely worth watching: Jonah Pierce, Austin Neumann, and Braden Jones are all worth a check. Those kids have been doing man turns since they were groms.
WY: The central coast has long been guarded with a very protective local crew. Do you get any vibes when you are shooting?
AB: There are a few areas that are definitely taboo to bust out a camera and start shooting. Some of the locals prefer that this area doesn’t get publicity and they work hard to keep it that way. I’ve even heard stories of Kelly Slater showing up with no camera crew and no stickers on his boards and still getting hassled by some of the locals in these ‘taboo’ areas. So, yes, in a few select areas its always best to keep your hood on and your head down. I’ve definitely had my share of bad vibes sent my way while shooting and when photos are published. But I do my own thing and have tried to fly under the radar for the most part.
WY: Have you traveled much to shoot photos?
AB: Most of the traveling I’ve done was to shoot surf. I’ve rarely just traveled without at least some camera gear. I’ve done most of my traveling with friend and surfer Clay Johnson. We’ve chased hurricane swells up and down the East coast to Mexico and to the Caribbean.
WY: Any favorite locations or specific trips that stand out?
AB: I’d say my favorite surf trip was my very first. When I was 19 years old a group of buddies and I packed a Ford Expedition to the brim and drove all the way down Baja to Scorpion Bay. We camped in a tent for three weeks in the desert scoring perfect right-hand point breaks with not a care in the world. We waited two weeks before a real-sized swell showed up and when it did, it was like something out of a dream. Coming from a land of closeouts, I never imagined waves could peel for that long.
WY: Epic, Scorpion Bay! Let’s shift gears here a bit. Digi or film?
AB: I started out shooting film but I definitely prefer digital. In the digital world you have to constantly keep up with the times and equipment for sure but you can shoot for days on the same memory card instead of a max of 36 on film. That being said, the image quality you get on Velvia 50 is still almost unbeatable.
WY: Any specific surf photogs that have inspired your work?
AB: I’m a sucker for empty wave line ups and water wave art so the work of Matt Clark, Mike Vericker, and Chris Hilton has always inspired me. Their use of light and hollow waves is always worth a look. Others that have inspired me are Chris Burkard, Nate Smith, and of course the original surf photographer, Ron Stoner. One of my favorite coffee table books is still “Photos/Stoner.” In the past few years, I’ve branched out into a lot more portrait work as well and the mix of portraits and surfing from Russell Hoover has always spoken to me as well.
WY: Last words:
AB: Just want to thank you guys for letting me share some photos of my favorite places with you. I hope you liked a little peek into the area I call home.
Andy was nice enough to add some in depth captions to a few of his images.