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North Sea Surf, by Duncan Elliott

1 April 2016

I'm always looking to do projects on people with interesting stories, and I was intrigued when I discovered that there is a good surf scene up in the North East near Middlesbrough, even throughout the winter. After a bit of research I found out about local legend, Gary Rogers, who has lived in the area for over 30 years and co-owns Saltburn-on-Sea Surf Shop. He agreed to meet up with myself and a good friend and colleague, Andy Silcock who produces films (Three Degrees West). 

Andy and I decided to collaborate on doing the project together and drove up to Saltburn in early January to meet Gary, discuss the project and maybe get some images and footage of the surfing. When we arrived, Gary was nonplussed about the waves limply crashing upon the shoreline. We got to know each other for an hour or so whilst watching some people fruitlessly jump about on some of the choppy waves. We were about to slink off and wonder if we'd wasted our trip, when Gary read a text he'd just received from his son, Evan and got really excited. Whilst shutting up the surf shop Gary explained that apparently there were some rare breaks happening at a nearby beach. He told us, between pulling down shutters and running to his van, that when the conditions were good there, they were some of the best in the world.

We raced up the coast whilst the sun was quickly setting to get to the location that Gary was so keen on surfing. When we got there we couldn't believe the setting - we had driven past the moth-balled Redcar steelworks onto a man-made spit. To our right was a wind farm, so close to the shore that the turbines looked like giants, and to our left were a dozen or so surfers who had somehow broached the eight foot waves crashing onto the beach's boulders. The surfers were black dots and silhouettes on a slate grey sea. Looking past them, the burning chimneys of the chemical works lit up the horizon. 

Gary surfed well into the the early night before he came out of the sea, and there was no possibility of doing portraits of him in that light, so we agreed to meet at 6.30 the following morning. In Gary and Evan's excitement they made little time getting out of the van and running to get into the sea. I got some good images of them making their way out but I didn't have time to compose an image that could sum up the stirring mood I was hoping to capture.

Just after they had made their way into the sea, another surfer, Sam Davis, was walking out to join them. His route was different to theirs, taking him to an outcrop of rocks which then descended to the beach with the industrial works in the background. I ditched the tripod and ran a few meters to get photographs of Sam walking over the rocks. I think it creates a poignant and captivating image. When you think of surfing you think of white sandy beaches, palm trees and clean seas. It just goes to show how committed these guys are.

More pictures from North Sea Surf can be seen here.

Although Duncan Elliott has been taking photos since the age of 12, he always thought that when he grew up he'd be in a rock band. After several years he realised he was better at taking photos of the bands he knew than playing in them. Some advice to get work experience in the photography industry soon put him on course to learning the trade through assisting a number of talented photographers. He now shots editorial, documentary and advertising throughout the UK.

See more work by Duncan Elliott

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