New York offers perhaps the most unique surf scene in the country, offering the culture and diversity of the big city at your door step and the serene and more isolated areas of Long Island. What does it mean for you to be a New York surfer?
It means working that much harder to get any recognition in anything you do in the surf industry. People love New York because of what the 5 boroughs are; New York City, the hardness of a vertical city, concrete everywhere, but for the most part, that's not New York surfing. It's more about finding you're own personal peak and being alone for a couple of hours in a place where every single move you make is seen by someone somewhere.
What can you tell us about the New York surf culture as compared to some other areas in the US?
The surf culture has really exploded in the last couple of years. Check out the guys at Mollusk surf shop in Brooklyn for one, they have something really special in there. They cater to the soul of NY, while Unsound seems to be more for the high performance new school young rippers. The further east you go on Long Island the more history you'll find, while the history you'll be reading about in twenty five years from now is taking place in New York City. It's a melting pot of personalities and people influencing each other, New York's surf population is probably still in it's infancy and will continue to grow until surfing isn't cool anymore, then it will all restart as it always does.
There are lots of guys that take their camera out to shoot good surf days, but it is easy to tell the difference between the amateurs and the ones who really have an eye for that great photo. No doubt about it, you've got it! What was it that got you hooked on shooting surf?
My own surf photography more than likely stemmed from the lack of surf photography taking place in NY while I was growing up. Ten years ago there were a handful of photographers shooting surf in NY, and ten years before that even less. I started bodyboarding in 1997 when I was 13 with my best friend and that fall I was already out there shooting with disposable cameras for fun, just trying to get a barrel shot. After about a year I finally got some OK photos from a hurricane swell shooting with the disposables and sent in a photo to bodyboarding magazine and they used it with one of my letters I wrote them, so that was my first published shot. I thought I was the man (boy). I ended up buying a Film SLR (a Kodak 2.0 mexapixel camera was about $16,550 back then) and went to the north shore where I spent about a quarter of the time shooting waves. I think it was around then I caught the bug and from there it's become a passion of mine.
Many of the East Coast beach towns offer a much different crowd in the summer as compared to winter. This has to be a pretty dramatic shift for you guys being so close to NYC. Do you have a favorite surf season in NY?
There's a huge difference between the people at the beach in the summer versus the people at the beach come February. It's the same type of people you find on the Jersey shore in July, same macho hot shots throwing a football and playing "two hand touch" on the beach leaving litter everywhere. More of the strange NYC'ers can be found further west in Rockaway. Rockaway during the summer is actually a really cool place from a photographer's point of view. Further east in the Hamptons you'll find the novel writing rich folk who like quiet time at the beach or the out of control Long Islanders making fools of themselves, spending thousands of dollars partying before 5pm. It's a mish mosh of cultures during the summer. Fall is amazing in the Northeast, the changing of the leaves really is unbelievable. The water's still warm, the winds start to finally come out of the north, and it just becomes very consistent with a lot of fun waves to be had.
It can be really challenging being your own boss and trying make a name for yourself. Can you tell us a little about where you got that motivation to make it as a professional photographer?
It was hard when I started, to get noticed, to learn photoshop, then create photographs that are different than anything else out there. Making a name for yourself is just a matter of working hard towards a goal. If you have a goal and stay true in working towards it you will get there one day. My dad once told me it takes 5 years to become good at anything. If you're surfing or bodyboarding consistently for 5 years and truly want to improve, you'll be good in 5 years. If you've been surfing for 5 years and haven't gotten barreled, or bodyboarding for 5 years and you still hold you're rails wrong, then you aren't trying to improve your riding. Those people have fun and don't see a need to improve upon what they already have which is great too, but you won't see them doing layback hacks or reverse airs anytime soon.
I made a name for myself by using the internet as a tool to promote myself and share my images with whoever wants to look at them. It's only been in the last year that I've created a business for myself and created a personal website.
There are many thousands of surfers that check Swellinfo every day. What are you looking forward to sharing with the Swellinfo community?
Ideally, it would be sharing a bit of my own art/ideas, interviews with artists/photographers, and introducing influential elements that could help sculpt up and coming photographers/videographers/artists. Helping to create a source for people who seek critiques as well.
Well Matt, thanks for the interview and we can't wait to view your blog entries!
For more info about Matthew Clark and his photography, please visit his website - clarkography.com.
We wanted to end the interview, with some video work that Matt has done. This is a 2008 year in review.