The moon is rising and Nick is pulling on his wetsuit. It’s past midnight and he’s heading for a surf. This far north the sun never really sets and the world has little colour yet, although the Atlantic silvers with each passing minute.
‘It was a bit of an impromptu event I think.’
A week later surf photographer Nick Pumphrey and I are in his van on a rainy Cornish summer morning. Tourists are making the best of it in ponchos and Gore-Tex. Nick’s digesting Spanish eggs and coffee while we chat about his recent smash and grab surf mission to the Outer Hebrides with the Rhythm crew.
‘I was watching the Chris Burkard documentary about the Arctic Circle with my Dad. The TED talk. I said –“I wanna go and do that!” He arranges everything and he goes somewhere quiet, off the beaten track a bit and then comes out with these banging photos.
So I sent an email to Mark [Llewllyn] at Rhythm, cos I work with them quite a lot. I said we should do a trip to the Hebrides, you know shoot the winter range or something with the team riders. And I just left it and went to France. Next thing Mark says it’s on, its happening! I said what do you mean? He was like “no we have to do this!” I thought Oh …ok.’
Nick worked out the budget clearly and precisely and, as it turned out, very inaccurately. Along with Mike [Lay], Matt [Travis], filmmaker Jack Wickfield and Portuguese rider Diogo Appleton he bundled into Mike’s campervan and, with just enough seatbelts to satisfy Her Majesty’s police force, headed North.
The basic idea was to shoot the forty pieces documentary style. ‘I just put the clothes on them and shot them as we went along. As real as it could be, nothing staged. Simply making the fire, hanging out checking the waves. Each in a new product. And on the flip side we hoped we get waves.‘
When they arrived it was above 27 degrees. Wild thunderstorms whipped up by the heat postured and bullied the islands. ‘It was like southern European weather but with a Norwegian landscape. Not what any of us expected’.
Yet the waves were flat and the forecast promised nothing in the near future. Still there was a shoot to get done in the meantime. ‘We went exploring to find a wave called Dalmore. It was knee high and high tide. But these little offshore wedges were peaking in this magnificent landscape’. Lines and lines rolled through the bay unctuously as eels ‘we thought maybe, maybe, let’s wait for the tide to drop a little. It got waist high and a then a little bit bigger’
And these were longboarders. The secret wedges were more than they hoped for and certainly more then they were promised. Mike Lay, a goofy footer was frothing so nick loaded the camera and headed in.
‘I waded out with my wetsuit on and I was shooting into the pit with the 200mm. He was just sliding towards me with these awesome cliffs behind. Mike was ripping. The angle was great. They were doing hang tens all over the shop. And we started getting some magic.’
Then they headed up to Eoropie on the tip of Lewis. Exposing the pure anger of the north Atlantic, it was bigger and offshore again, and, of course, no one in.
‘So we totally score cos the chart was still reading nothing! Imagine going there on a swell? There soooo many spots. All those mountains and sheer cliffs, it’s a bit like Norway. Just crazy beautiful and so much potential and it doesn’t get dark. I went surfing at midnight.’
The evening has weathered silver like aging cedar shingles and the smoked pearl moon is rising even if the sun refuses to leave. It’s so often the case that the photographers don’t get to surf but this far north there’s no such thing as too dark.
‘The boys are like “Are you going in?” Leashing up Nick paddles out through the mercurial waters. The Atlantic lifts and peaks, monochrome and benign, he scratches in and slides across the moon shadow back to the Viking shore.