Mike Lay discusses life on and off the board following the release of New Wave Old Dance by Sam Bleakley.
Sam Bleakley’s latest short film ‘New Wave Old Dance’ perfectly illustrates the enduring and infectious appeal of longboard surfing. Edited to an entrancing soundtrack by The Knife, the film stars Mike Lay and captures the harmonious relationship with the board and wave beneath him.
Mike Lay is a name that is popping up everywhere in the surfing world at the minute and quite rightly so. Mike’s laid-back, effortless style has pushed him to the forefront of longboarding and ushered in a renewed interest in the sport. With a busy year that has seen long boarding take him to all corners of the world, Mike sat down to take a breather and reflect on the journey he has been on and that which lies ahead.
Where did you grow up? Where do you call home now?
I grew up in the far south west of Cornwall in the UK, a small town named St Just. I still call St Just and Cornwall home and feel a strong connection to the place, with all its wonderful imperfections and natural obstacles to surfing.
How did you become a surfer? What made you ride a log rather than a standard shortboard?
Though not from a surfing family, I grew up in a beach environment, so surf school as a 12 year old was natural. After my first wave in the white water I was intrigued and after my first green wave I was captured, and have been completely under surfing’s spell ever since.
I ride a log because, as far as I see it, you’d be mad not to, especially living in Cornwall. The waves here are often slack, especially in the summer, and a log transforms all those weeks and months from frustrating struggles to joyous, high performance surfs.
Who has influenced you as you have grown up in the water? And who outside of surf has inspired you?
My home beach of Sennen has a long history of excellent longboarders and surfers who think outside the box, this tradition as a whole has inspired me.
Individually, Sam Bleakley has been a huge inspiration, as a surfer, writer, thinker and traveller and James Parry, Matt Travis and my brother Dom, as peers and shredders.
Outside the surf a writer named W.S.Graham is someone I admire, his writing is imbued with a deep rooted sense of place (he lived the second half of his life in Cornwall) but also his dedication to his art through times of poverty and hardship, his refusal to give up on the thing he loved.
Who makes your boards? Are you someone that likes to experiment with your equipment?
I’m currently riding MS Surfboards made by Sunshine Coast shaper and surfer Mitch Surman who, though we didn’t grow up together, has been a huge influence over the last two years.
Mitch, as well as being one of the best longboarders in the world, is an incredibly talented and ambitious craftsman. His boards are progressive minded, alternative shapes driven by a wildly talented crew of groms testing them on Australia’s east coast point breaks.
My experimentation at the moment is driven by Mitch and his team’s creativity and it’s a pleasure to be taken along for the ride. I’m also involved with bringing MS Surfboards to the UK and Europe over the next few months and can’t wait to blow some people’s minds with these boards.
Have you thought about getting into shaping your own?
I have often thought and often decided against attempting to shape my own boards, mainly because the myriad complexities of the process terrify me but also because I see myself as more of an intuitive surfer rather than a technical one and have never been completely comfortable with the diagnostics of a board, preferring instead the overall feel of a board, or indeed what colour it is.
You got the call up this year to the top table, how stoked were you to be involved in the Duct Tape in Huntington?
Surfing in the Duct Tape was a huge privilege for me and, though I hope to compete in it again one day, a once in a lifetime occasion. From surfing with and against longboarders whom I have looked up to for many years, to performing in front of such a massive crowd, the entire experience was a sensory explosion. I managed to enjoy the whole thing and, in answer to your question, I was highly stoked.
Have you ever been involved in the more traditional comp scene in Europe?
As a teenager I competed in the BLU events in the UK, they are were a wonderful way of linking up with longboarders all over the country, and also went on a tour of Europe at the age of 17 along with my good friend Matt Travis and titan of European longboarding Ben Skinner.
To be travelling with Ben at that stage of my career was so valuable, it was the year he won either his 6th or 7th European title and it was sick to be apart of.
We travelled from contests in France to Morocco in his van and had a blast, but since that trip i’ve kind of taken a step back form competing all that often, whilst I enjoy contests I don’t have that burning ambition to be any sort of champion.
What have you been up to lately, where have your travels taken you?
I’ve been really busy with travel this year, I’ve been to Australia, California, Portugal, France, Spain, all around the UK, and have just got back from my second trip to Ireland.
Travelling to different countries, other than being generally fun, forms a big part of my creative life and fuels my writing. I’ve especially enjoyed exploring the British Isles over the last few months, seeing the cultural differences that occur in a relatively small area.
What keeps you busy when you are out of the water?
I read, I write, I try to grow vegetables, I browse facebook (too much). Writing helps me make sense of the world, I don’t keep a diary but document what I do and see through poetry, mainly as a personal thing but I publish a few through zines with a couple of friends who are into photography. I think about surfing a lot too.
You have recently been spending a lot of time with International Reef crew down at the Reef Europe House, how’s that been?
It’s been rad hanging with the international guys and girls. There are such a wide variety of backgrounds and motivations to surf that make up an international surf team and it’s amazing to bring that all together and realise that everyone basically loves to ride waves, there is that primal excitement in every member of the team when they are about to go surf, from Kai Otton to Paige Madison.
I think that’s so rad. It also helps to foster a family atmosphere, every morning in the Reef Europe House we would prepare and eat breakfast together, check the waves together, surf together, there is space to do your own thing but you’ve also got this tight group of friends you’re living with. That’s a special thing to have when you’re travelling a lot, especially for the guys doing the QS and CT.
I’ve seen a little sneak peek on the recent trip you did with Reef to Portugal to shoot the upcoming Fall 16 campaign, how did that come about, and how was it?
I dropped into the offices in California this summer and met the team who were organising the campaign. I basically stood by the coffee machine and talked about surfboards and how much I love Cardiff reef to anybody who was trying to get a cappuccino, maybe I annoyed them into inviting me along?
However I got there, I had an amazing time. It was that family vibe again, even though it was a work trip and a lot of the guys were working from 7am to midnight everyone was psyched to be there. From the athletes to the designers and photographers and social media guys we all hung out together and enjoyed our work, the smiles on our faces are totally authentic. I’m not sure how other major shoots work but I can’t imagine many are as real and fun as that one.
I’ve been lucky to spend time with you and your equally talented girlfriend Frankie Davies, who recently released her EP ‘Dancing All Night’, and it seems to be such an extremely creative relationship, do you find you push each other to be better and have you been tempted into the studio yet?
Frank is amazing, other than having a beautiful voice she is a dedicated and talented songwriter, she definitely pushes me to be creative and to write. I don’t know if I push her though, she is so focused I don’t think I have to. The music industry is so intense, so competitive, I try to understand the meetings and stuff that Frankie has in London but I just don’t, I end up getting excited about record deals whilst Frank is keeping her feet on the ground.
I’m a dedicated and talented car singer but am still waiting for my solo career to blossom… I have actually recorded some group backing vocals for Frankie’s next album, I was hanging out in the studio and they needed a male voice and I was the only one. I did it and Frankie and her band laughed at me and said I was cute, I reckon I was kinda badass though.
What’s next for you ?
I’m heading back to Australia for spring to work on some boards with Mitch, go to Noosa for the Festival of Surfing and maybe retrace the steps of some icons of surfing by doing a little east coast pilgrimage/road trip. At some point I want to get back to Ireland, to noseride the lefthand points and to try get a tube or two at some of the slabs they have over there. And to keep exploring, surfing different boards and writing, keeping the #justpassingthrough exchange going.
To see more from Sam Bleakley visit his Vimeo profile