Most of our readers will already know about Approaching Lines, the community dedicated to championing creativity, celebrating artists and filmmakers and spreading the stoke around the UK surf scene. We caught up with Chris Nelson, the man behind the Approaching Lines ethos for a chat about his inspirations and projects.
You guys seem like big advocates of creative collaboration. How does working alongside other creative people fit into the Approaching Lines ethos?
There is a rich and diverse creative community here in the UK. The idea behind Approaching Lines was to help promote what UK creatives are doing and also help bring people together, inspiring collaborations. We have so many talented writers, photographers, artists and artisan makers, and we wanted to help shine a spotlight on the pool of talent we have on these shores.
Also, many makers and doers were aware of what others were doing, but had never had the opportunity to meet. Our events have become a great melting pot for people to come together and cross-pollinate ideas and get new projects rolling.
Looking at your website, one thing that’s obvious is that you guys have an eye for a good photograph. What is it about surf photography that captures your imagination?
Still photography is one of the most inspiring formats when it comes to capturing waveriding. A good line-up, an empty wave, they have the power to draw you in, to mind surf the place, to imagine paddling out alone for a dawnie.
Surf photography is much harder than people think. Technology has democratized the ability to take hi-resolution images, but you still need to have an eye for a line-up, or an ability to capture those moments that others miss. I think the UK has a strong tradition in producing great surf photographers, and there is a whole new generation coming through.
Every year Approaching Lines holds a competition event called the Slyder Cup, which you describe as ‘celebrating the art of waveriding from a ‘‘finless’’ perspective’ – could you tell us a bit more about the event and your inspiration behind the idea?
The Slyder Cup came about because we love waveriding, but we’re not precious about what we ride – it’s all about maximizing the fun. We ride single fins, fish, quads or we bellyboard or body surf. The Slyder Cup came about because there’s a growing community who feel the same. We ran our first event in 2013 for body surfers, paipo riders, mat surfers, bellyboarders and alaia riders as a one-day event that celebrates finless surfcraft.
Giving a platform to the diversity that exists in the wavesliding culture, the competition is open to both experienced and emerging talents – it’s all about good vibes, good rides and good times. The event attracts everyone from UK Pro Champ Alan Stokes, freeriding supremo’s like Jimbo Bennet and John Eldridge, to those who have been riding finless boards for over fifty years such as Gwynedd Haslock, as well as surfers who have never entered a contest before in their lives. I think many people find the old ASP style contest format is a little stale now. Our aim is to put on events that have a real enjoyable competitive ethos.
Film is clearly one of the creative drives behind Approaching Lines and you showcase the work of many filmmakers on your site. In your opinion, what makes for a good surf film?
Nothing fires the stoke more than a good surf film – and they’ve been a central pillar of surf culture since the 1950’s. The amount of moving images we are exposed to has increased exponentially since the digital revolution. Every day our Facebook feeds are full of moving images. For me, there are many aspects that go into making a good film – but the central; most important element has to be a good story. Ultimately it still comes down to talking story. Then there’s the cinematography, editing etc. But one of the most overlooked aspects is the soundtrack. Music binds a film together and can make the whole thing gel.
You also run Approaching Lines Festival – can you tell us a bit more about this?
The idea behind the Approaching Lines Festival was to help raise the profile of UK filmmakers on a global stage, and also to bring the world’s best films to the bring screen for UK audiences to enjoy. Seeing a movie on the big screen with a crew of like-minded folk is how surf movies should be enjoyed. To be able to share these experiences is pretty special.
We run the festival over 3 nights in Cornwall, so you can surf all day and then watch rad films at night. Last year we were stoked to host Basque explorer Kepa Acero, who brought his new film and talked about his solo adventures across the globe. The surf pumped and Kepa got to sample some of our great breaks too.
As well as running the Approaching Lines Festival, you’re also the Event Director of the London Surf Film Festival. What can we expect from this year’s festival and do you ever get time to sleep?!
This will be our fourth LS/FF and this year we’re taking the festival east to a great new venue – the Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road, East London. It’s an independent and has amazing spaces for us to utilize. We’ve been privileged to be able to share some incredible World and European Premieres with the UK audience and for 2014 we’ll again have four days of film premieres, talks, art and culture, with some very special people bring us their work. We’re really excited about this year and what it will bring.
On top of all these pursuits Chris, you’re also a freelance writer and the author of seven books no less! Your most recent book Cold Water Souls: In Search of Surfing’s Cold Water Pioneers is the result of 3 years of travelling to some of the most inhospitable places in the world to write about the pioneers of cold water surfing. What was it that inspired you to write this book?
Mid to late 2015 we hope to be pushing waves and look forward to you guys coming and giving it a try, it'll be a game changer, no doubt.
I was in Canada about ten years ago writing a piece about surfing in British Columbia and I met Wayne Vliet who’d been riding waves on Vancouver Island since the mid sixties. Wayne had shaped his own board, taught himself to surf, with only a leaky old dive suit. Surfing there wasn’t easy – they had so many obstacles to overcome – the cold, the lack of equipment, the bears… The story really resonated with me. I’d grown up surfing the cold waves of the northeast where winter water temperatures can be as low as 4 degrees. I knew there were hardy soles who’d helped pioneer waveriding in our planets most frigid outposts, so I set out to find those who’d forged surf communities in regions such as Nova Scotia, East Coast USA, Northern California, Iceland, Norway, Scotland and Hokkaido – I even managed to track down the pioneers of surfing in Alaska. Their stories were inspiring – channeling the frontier spirit of exploration and discovery.
I also wanted this to be about the locals and their lives. Too often people parachute into places with professional surfers in tow, and tell the story of the pro’s and their trip – completely bypassing the actual story of what it is like to live and be a surfer in those places. I went by myself with a photographer and worked with the locals and their communities, capturing some amazing images and telling their tales – about just what it means to be a true cold water surfer.
Did the experience of researching the book alter the way in which you view surfing?
When I started the book cold water surfing was completely off the radar. I’d tell people I was off to Nova Scotia to meet local surfers and they wouldn’t believe there were surfers there. I met so many amazing people who are just the most stoked surfers you could ever be lucky enough to encounter; you can’t help but be inspired by them. I mean, imagine jumping off of a big chunk of pack ice onto a wave or clambering over ice sheened boulders just to reach the waves.
The pioneers of surfing in Hokkaido – when they went in the water the police would come and call them out and book them. They considered it too dangerous – they get two or three metres of snow over there. It puts things into perspective. It taught me not to grumble about surfing at home in Cornwall in the winter.
How can readers get their hands on your books?
I’d say either ask for it in your local bookshop – which I’m always keen to support against the online giant – or if you’d like to order online I have some special limited edition, signed, neoprene covered copies available on the Approaching Lines shop: