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Postcards from the Surf Riot

Ilana Diamond | November 1, 2013 | Story Galleries and Performance

While the pro surfers have gathered in Half Moon Bay and are awaiting the big waves for the Mavericks Competition, you can go check out a different surf scene. One that took place in 1986 in Huntington Beach.

Currently open at the Little Big Man Gallery is the exhibition ‘Surf Riot’—which displays Nick Waplington’s photos shot moments after two airplanes crashed into each mid-flight over Cerritas on Labor Day, 1986. The planes collided just near the OP Pro Championships where hundreds of surfers and fans had gathered to check out the pros in action. What erupted was a scene not typical of the surfer crowd—a huge riot. Nick Waplington, armed with his camera and a single roll of 24 exposure film captured the surreal scene of tan, Jams wearing dudes and bikini clad dudettes setting fire to cars, throwing surfboards, and making general mayhem set against a sky of billowing smoke.

Nick Waplington, NY based British photographer, a pro in his own right, is known for documenting unusual insider scenes—from his 1991 book Living Room, for which he shot working-class families in Nottingham, England; to Alexander McQueen and the late designer’s process of designing and showing his last collection.

Over email, Waplington took the time to tell us about his own process, working in Silicon Valley, and his vision for photographing real lovers as a counterpoint to porn.

San Francisco: You cover a wide variety of subjects--from families in your series 'Living Room' to Alexander McQueen and of course this surfer scene in 1986. What would you say your subjects have in common? Do you have a similar approach to them all?
Nick Waplington: The only thing my different projects have in common is my sensibility that I bring to everything I encounter. My approach to art is governed by an ever shifting set of perimeters which ebb and flow with life. I'm always looking for new directions, ideas and ways of working. And with that come the difficulties I enjoy creating for myself.

As a photographer, what does it mean to be in the right time at the right place?
Firstly, I make many types of work not just photos and all my production is governed to a certain extent by the circumstance I find myself in physically along with all the other factors that can determine my output. I like to keep myself open to new situations all the time. The studio as place for production can be limiting as can the notion of the 'real world'. Everything is confined by where you are mentally as an artist.

Looking at your series ‘Surf Riot’ and thinking back to the time you shot it, have you ever known the surfer crowd to harness such violence?
Well at the time I found it really exciting. I was only a kid. Now I can look at the photos with a more analytical eye and try to find reasons why. Also it is now possible to place the pictures in an historical context of the 1980's.

Do you have a dream assignment? Or is there a particular San Francisco scene you’d like to cover?
I don't do assignments generally but they can take me into the realm of the new and I find that challenging. I would like to make a book based around one of the tech labs here in Silicon Valley, to spend a year working with people on the cutting edge of technology and then produce an old fashioned book of the work. I guess there would have to be an embargo period if there was sensitive work going on, but to do this at Google or Apple would be really worthwhile.

Are you working on any upcoming projects?
My book 'Settlement' dealing with Jewish Settlers in the West Bank which comes out in the spring with Mack books. This work took four years and has been a real labour of work and is my most important work to date. I hope to spend the coming months painting and working on a series of photographs of lovers as a counterpoint to the porn that seems to be invading the internet right now. So I'm looking for people in love to work with. I hope you are out there, lovers!

Surf Riot is on display starting through November at Little Big Man Gallery. 234 Ritch St.

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