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I met Chris Grant back in 2007, right before I was leaving on a 9-month trip to the Seychelles and Uganda. He contacted me to see if I could help him shoot the Roxy Jam in Cardiff while he manned the Jettygirl booth during the event. Over the course of that event, I decided I really liked him. His easy-going, kind demeanor was enjoyable to be around, and I could tell he genuinely cared about me and my story, even though we had just met. He even offered to publish stories and photos from my upcoming trip on his site.
Since then, I’ve known Chris to dedicate hours of his time, and quite a few of his own dollars too, to support female surfers through Jettygirl, his online magazine. He’s always done a fantastic job profiling the lives and talent of others and giving female surfers the dignity and respect they deserve.
That’s why I decided it was time to highlight and celebrate his work: both his tireless promotion and support of the world of women’s surfing and his phenomenal photography. Here’s a few things he had to say.
*All photos by Chris Grant. SLS= me, CG= Chris Grant
_ _ _
SLS: When I first learned about Jettgirl and your passion for the women’s surf industry, I assumed you had a daughter, but then I learned that wasn’t the case. How did you end up becoming such a proponent of women’s surfing?
CG: When I first started surfing, photos cut from Surfer and Surfing Magazine adorned my walls from floor to ceiling. I had walls dedicated to Cheyne Horan, Tom Curren, and Martin Potter. The fourth wall in my room, however, belonged to Kim Mearig. True, I had a grom crush on Kim, but the photos thumbtacked to my wall weren’t cheesy lifestyle images, but instead were photos of her flawless frontside snaps.
Since that time I’ve followed women’s surfing with the same interest I’ve shown men’s surfing. I remember sitting at many OP Pro’s back in the day. My friends would want to bail when the women paddled out, but I wouldn’t leave my seat. Whether it was Tom Carroll or Jodie Cooper surfing a heat, good surfing was good surfing, and I wanted to take in as much of it as I could.
Fast forward to today and I still feel the same. I get just as amped watching Courtney Conlogue throw fins as I do watching Slater or Taj throwing theirs. For me it’s not as much about gender as it is about performance surfing …male or female, long or short boarding. If someone’s ripping or surfing with amazing style, I want to see it.
SLS: Is that what fueled your desire to start Jettygirl?
CG: In late 2005 the two US-based female surf magazines, SG and Surf Life for Women, closed their doors for good and it left a big void. During the course of that same year I had become friends with a good crew of female surfers who suddenly had no media outlets for stories, photos and videos. I thought the girls deserved more coverage, not less, so Jettygirl was born.
SLS: Any critical moments in Jettygirl’s history?
CG: There have been a bunch, but the Heather Clark story is one that comes immediately to mind.
The year was 2005, and I decided to take a trip up to Malibu to shoot a bit of the Rip Curl Pro. After an early heat, South African surfer, Heather Clark, was way down the beach being interviewed by the ASP camera crew. I was pretty far away but was watching it through my 400 mm lens. In the midst of the interview Heather looked away from the interviewer and stared directly at me. It was such a soul-piercing glance that I embarrassingly stepped back from my camera while mentally apologizing for invading her space. A moment later, she had left the beach, and I resumed shooting photos of the surfers in the contest.
On October 22, 2009 while driving home from a friend’s house in South Africa, Heather Clark was hit by a drunk driver with such force that her car broke into two pieces.
Maybe I read too much into things sometimes, but I immediately thought back to that moment on the beach in Malibu four years earlier. I didn’t personally know Heather, but I knew we had to do something to help out with her formidable medical bills. I asked our readers if they would consider donating $1 for a Heather Clark Benefit. Our stated goal on the site was $1,000, but I truly didn’t have any idea if we could raise that much. The first few dollars came in from the usual suspects, my mom, sister, a few friends, but as word spread, donations began to arrive from thirteen countries around the world via pro surfers and well-wishers alike. When the benefit ended, Jettygirl readers had donated over $3,500, which multiplied considerably when converted from US Dollars to South African Rand. The best news about this story though is the ending. Heather is now healed up and surfing better than ever.
One other quick moment that I’ll always remember is the first time I saw Silvana Lima free surfing. I’ve never actually seen people get out of the water to watch another person surf but they did so when Silvana was in the lineup. So progressive was her approach that both guys and girls left the water for a front row seat of the show. She may or may not ever put together a world championship campaign but when the contest jersey is off, Silvana Lima is THE BEST (yes, all caps) female surfer on the planet.
SLS: When did you start surfing? What drew you to it? Did you ever compete?
CG: As a kid I was an avid skater and devoted reader of SkateBoarder Magazine. In July 1980 the magazine (and it’s follow-up title, Action Now) went out of business. I remember riding up to my mailbox one afternoon to discover the worst postcard I had ever received. With the skate magazine going under, they were informing me that the balance of my subscription would be fulfilled with issues of Surfer. I was crushed, temporarily. Within a month I had a brand new Herbie Fletcher twin and was totally hooked on surfing. I haven’t been on wheels since.
I surfed in some comps during a few year period in the mid-80’s. I didn’t exactly set the surf world on fire, but I managed a decent result here and there, surfed a few WSA finals, and made the semi’s in NSSA Nationals one year.
SLS: What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry during that time?
CG: In the past six years of running Jettygirl, the biggest change I’ve seen is the elevation of lifestyle imagery to the point where it’s become as important, if not more, than actual surfing performance. In the never-ending quest to stay in the public eye, a number of sponsored surfers are trying anything these days to justify a paycheck. Bending over provocatively or stripping down for a surf magazine may seem harmless enough to the surfers involved, but I sometimes wonder how much thought they’ve given to the effects their actions have on young surfer girls who look (or looked) up to them as role models.
SLS: What hasn’t changed that you would like to see change?
CG: If I had to change one thing, it would be this. In 2012 it’s still possible for an average looking (or even ugly) male to rip, get sponsored, and eventually make his way onto the tour. That same dream doesn’t apply for many women. I’ve sat with world tour caliber female surfers, who, with tears in their eyes, shared stories of playing by the rules and shredding through amateur contests, Basically doing the same exact things that their male counterparts were doing, but ultimately not being able to move forward due to a lack of sponsorship based on looks and bikini size alone. Giving those girls sponsorships to follow their lifelong dreams would be the first thing I’d change.
SLS: Any funny/scary/crazy stories from shoots?
CG: I think the most recent funny story was last summer. A well-known California surfer asked me to come shoot with her at a localized secret spot. To minimize running into other surfers, we met up for a midday session. We parked a fair distance from each other before meeting for a quick peek to see if the session was a go. While she was getting ready to surf, I did a quick survey of the area to see what might be our best chance at pulling off a shoot undetected. Spotting a fair amount of tourists milling about, I decided to play the role of the clueless out-of-towner. I had some insurance clothes (for my “real” job) in the car so I did a little mixing-and-matching. Donning shorts, a collared shirt, tall socks, dress shoes and a huge straw hat, I stuck a tabletop tripod in my pocket and hung a camera around my neck before heading for the beach.
Once on the beach I wedged between a couple of rocks to both conceal myself and provide added support for my mini-tripod. It was absolutely beautiful and uneventful for the first 15 minutes or so, until the locals showed up. Through a mix of posturing, cursing and outright threats, our photo session ended pretty quickly. However, in retrospect I’d still label it a semi-successful venture. We weren’t out to sell any photos or out anyone’s spot, we just wanted to see if a photo shoot could be done there.
SLS: Any favorite places to shoot?
CG: I definitely have a few favorite spots to shoot at, but out of respect for the locals, I’d rather not name the locations. Of the far-from-secret spots I shoot at, Lowers and Oceanside Harbor are two breaks I find myself at most often. Lowers is an obvious choice, not only for the quality of the wave itself, but because during certain times of the year, the surfing talent in the water rivals anywhere in the world.
Oceanside Harbor would be my other choice for two reasons 1) it’s my local spot and 2) it’s a strangely challenging break to shoot at. It seems straightforward enough, a couple of jetties with reliable waves year-round, but it often breaks a bit too far out to look good through a telephoto and swimming out there can be an exercise in frustration. When you get a good harbor photo, you’ve earned it.
SLS: What’s your biggest struggle as a surf photographer?
CG: My biggest struggle as a surf photographer is to watch surfers go out and take a “3-to-the-beach” contest approach to a photo shoot. A lifestyle model that just stands there and smiles isn’t going to be happy with their photos, similarly, a series of conservative cutbacks isn’t going to score a cover shot. Given the choice, I’d pick surfing over shooting 100% of the time. However, if I’m there with a surfer who’s pushing their performance boundaries on wave after wave, I don’t care in the least that I’m not catching waves myself.
SLS: Tell me about your frustrations with photo re-use without permission? Specifically a recent incident with one of your images on Facebook.
CG: The image in question [above], a late afternoon shot of the brilliant Erin Ashley, really irked me. The perpetrator took my image, removed the caption and copyright markings, then took about three seconds to Instagram “their” photo to the world. While not quite as egregious an offense as outright theft, I have similar feelings when I see people cut, crop and alter an image that I have shared with them on Facebook. When I share a carefully edited image with someone, it usually serves a dual purpose, stoking him or her out and hopefully driving some traffic to Jettygirl. Surf photography pays very little anyway; removing a photographer’s photo credit simply adds insult to injury.
SLS: Have you ever had any issues with getting sick from surfing?
CG: Oh, no…not the sick question. This one always brings me back to the 1990’s and to the phrase that nobody should ever say on live TV.
One day I was walking down the beach getting ready to paddle out for some glassy peaks at Cardiff Reef, when I suddenly had a distinct impression that I shouldn’t paddle out that day. The thought was absurd on such a pretty day, I shrugged it off and kept walking toward the paddle-out spot. The little voice came back stronger than the time before, “Don’t go out.” After feeling it so strongly the second time, I stopped and contemplated not surfing, but the thought of peeling off a dry wetsuit still seemed ridiculous.
I didn’t listen. I went surfing.
After a fun lunch hour surf, I returned to work thinking my pre-surf thoughts were just random occurrences. Two days later I was in the worse agony of my life, and it was just the beginning of a three-week bout with a severe bacterial infection that included stretches of pain that I hadn’t thought imaginable beforehand. Curiously, the story of my illness eventually made it’s way to someone at the Surfrider Foundation who asked if I wouldn’t mind talking about my experience on the TV news.
When the reporter spoke with me on camera, we discussed pollution in the ocean and a variety of other topics. She then asked about my symptoms. Naively, I answered honestly. To my chagrin, as the pre-YouTube (thank God) newscast went out over the airwaves that night, with an overlay of “Chris Grant, Surfer” spread across the TV screen, I uttered something to the effect of, “…and I had gnarly diarrhea!” As they cut back to the in-studio newscasters I’m pretty sure I could hear laughter coming from the camera operators, as well as from the general population of San Diego County.
SLS: Why surf? Why is it important?
CG: That’s a tough question. I’m sure everybody has a different answer. For me personally, almost every significant thing that has happened in my life is in one way or another connected with surfing or the beach. My parents got divorced when I was young, and although we were fairly poor, I felt like the wealthiest person around every time we went to the beach. When my mom re-married, beach camping became our summer tradition and on one such trip to Carpinteria, I stood up and rode my first wave.
As my life wore on, surfing directly influenced my life path. When I was in my early twenties, my surfboard shaper at the time, Gene Levesque, began leading a surfer Bible study, in Anaheim of all places. After I ran out of excuses why I couldn’t go, I finally made the trek inland to check it out. To my surprise, not only was my faith in Jesus Christ rekindled, but I also met the girl of my dreams, an amazing woman that I’ve been married to for twenty years now. While not dedicated to it yet, our son has also talked more about surfing lately…fingers crossed.
Now that I’m getting older I can look back and recognize that the experience of actually riding waves has really been of secondary importance in my life. The biggest blessings I’ve received from surfing are the many friendships that have been forged out in the lineup.
SLS: If you could have one big surf trip paid for by the surf fairy, where would you want to go?
CG: I would trade my paid surf trip for some time travel, and would revisit a special day at Lowers in 1987 with my old friend, Troy Montamble, who passed away in 2001. Inspired by the half-dozen viewings of Billabong’s Surf Into Summer video the night before, we had the best session of our lives that day. The Lowers lineup was practically empty, and we cheered each other into impossible turns that day, trying to one-up the other on right after right, until we had expended so much energy that we literally had to crawl part of the way up the trail.
If Troy was alive today, I have no doubts that you would all know his name. In his young life as an artist, his work was already being used regularly by Quiksilver, Billabong, OP, Waterman’s Guild and non-endemic brands like the Disney Company and Lucky Brand jeans. Artistic talent aside, it was his quiet nature, bright smile, warm laughter and sly sense of humor that I miss the most. Troy would have dug Jettygirl. I would gladly trade all the best surf trips in the world for just one session at Lowers with him again.
SLS: How would you like people to remember you?
CG: I hope that at the end of the day, I will have given more than I have received. A listening ear, a kind heart, a shoulder to lean on, those are things I value and strive to bring to the world. I hope that I’ll be remembered for my love of people, a persistent spirit, and for being a blessing to those around me. To sum up, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “…to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”
SLS: Anything else you’d like to add?
CG: Thank you Shannon for giving me the opportunity to share a bit of the Jettygirl story and thank you to the readers around the world who have supported our mission over the past six years. We value and appreciate each one of you.
If I may close with one final thought: Please support your local shaper. If it wasn’t for the man or woman whose hands have carefully crafted your surfboard, you wouldn’t be as happy as you are today. Thank them, listen to their wisdom, and pay them a fair price for building a surfboard that brings so much joy to your life. I’ll start…Thank you Raz for shaping me so many magic rides!!!
SLS: I’ll add: Thank you Sean Reilly for doing the same!