Solstice: Surfing More Sustainably Through the Summer Equinox20 . 06 . 19
At a low enough latitude, which for surfers here in the UK means the north of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides, on the summer equinox when the sun barely sets it can be just possible to surf right through the night. Surf photographer and film maker Lewis Arnold took a crew far north this time last year to try and do that, but he wanted to do more than just surf through the small hours; he wanted to explore how surfers can still surf and travel for waves with the lowest possible impact or footprint upon the environment. The result is his film Solstice, released today a year to the day on the Summer Equinox.
Lewis, along with surfers Sandy Kerr, Easkey Britton and Chris Noble, took two of our wooden surfboards on their trip; a 5’10” Fetch Fish and a 9’1” Wicket longboard. Ahead of the film’s release on the 2019 summer solstice, we got on the line with Lewis to find out more about the project.
How did the Solstice project develop from the initial concept of surfing through the night on the Summer Equinox?
For North East surfers, Northern Scotland is the closest world class surfzone. I've been going up there for a long time and sometime in the 90's, I'd gone up to surf the Summer Solstice as a kind of hippy, surfer thing. It's so far North that it doesn't really ever get dark so you could surf all night if you want. On that trip it was flat but the peachy, otherworldly light at night was magical and I always wanted to go back and try again. In recent years most of my trips up there have been on an epic forecast scoring amazing waves, nailing clips and shots etc. Its' unreal in winter, the daylight hours are so short you can get that heavy and dark aesthetic I love but on a strike mission, maybe I haven't been appreciating the place as much as I should. So, this project came together in my mind, as an experiment about slower, more mellow and sustainable ways to do surf travel but also using the liminal time between night and day during the Solstice to create an interesting aesthetic in which to frame it.
Easkey Britton and Sandy Kerr were keen and we went up for the Solstice, camping, using an electric vehicle and were so lucky to score what was like a small winter swell. Chris Noble, who is I think 5x Scottish champ and one of the very best at Thurso East and Brims met us and we all steeped outside our comfort zones to see what surfing these more sustainable boards was like and just take whatever waves we came our way."
What were Sandy, Easkey and Chris's responses to exclusively riding wooden surfboards?
We got some beautiful wooden boards from you guys at Otter, a fetch twin fin and a Wicket mal, and we also had a chambered balsa shortboard and a cork assymetrical - all very different from the crew's usual rides. For Sandy and Chris, it was their first time on wooden boards. Sandy is a bit of a surfing polymath these days; airs on small beachies, heavy slabs and big wave surfing and he just got it straight away on the twinnie at a peeling, quite fast left, just tapping into that glide. He'd never ridden a Mal but he was just stroking into them way out the back loving it.
These days I'd say Chris is more selective in the waves that he surfs, and what he rides. If its clean 4-6 ft Thurso or Brims he's pretty much the best there is so that twinnie was a real departure. It took a while for him to not just take off late and pull in and he got nailed a few times, but after a couple he was styling and it was so cool to see...although I don't think he liked the extra weight and width for carrying it up across the reef!
Everyone was stoked on trying boards that are more "sustainable" and I think that knowledge adds something to the connection with the ocean you get from surfing, it certainly did for me when I surfed on them.
As well as the choice of equipment for the trip, in what other ways did you think Earth-first when planning and executing the project?
Travel is one of the real issues as far as sustainable surfing goes. It’s amazing for your surfing but bad for the planet. I've moved away from dirty diesels and VW's and now use electric vehicles which are expensive to buy but use way less fossil fuel - as a photographer I do a lot of miles so that is important to me. Chris' story was of real interest to me. He left Fraserburgh in his early twenties for the surf in Thurso so he wasn't doing a big round trip every couple of days. He wasn't thinking of the planet, just the surf, but in reality his move was a very environmentally friendly act and maybe that's how sustainability will be embraced more and more? Through solutions that have practical, cost and lifestyle benefits to people.
Can you tell us about the surf sessions that you had over the course of the longest day of last year; how did you plan your time and energy to keep surfing and shooting over such a prolonged period?
It was a tight schedule to shoot everything I wanted on the Solstice so unfortunately it was "artificial' in a sense and more directed than a normal cruisey summer surf trip. At this time of year though, the days are so long so you get way more potential surf time so there's a chance for rest time too. The air and sea temperature is is warmer than you might expect so energy levels don't dip as quickly as in winter. One thing that seems constant up there is the ever-changing weather, fronts come and go so quickly so we had to be on it for windows of offshore and light but it was so cool to see the plants in bloom, the ferns and cotton that in winter you wouldn't even know were there. In summer it looks and feels like a completely different place.
The Solstice project is a fairly extreme example of a lower impact surf trip. From your experience, what can other surfers do to reduce the impact of their surf trips?
My surfing life began when it was still a "counterculture' activity, but surfing is a broad church these days and young surfers don't have that background "baggage". Surfing is a professional sport to them and the contest, more corporate, side of surfing is their norm. So I don't want to get preachy, I think both sides, and everything in between is valid. It's about making lower impact choices, I've mentioned board design and travel already, I think wetsuit manufacture might have to change soon but wetsuits are really easy to get wrong so I think that will, like a lot of things in the surf industry, take a while.What I do believe is all surfers, surf brands and the surf industry should remember that regardless of whether it is being viewed as an Olympic sport, an art-form, a commune with nature, a big business opportunity, a meaningless waste of time or whatever, is that surfing depends on the oceans and as surfers we should be doing what is best for our environment, not our bank balances.