Surf City—our newest themed Pop-In Shop curated by Nordstrom’s Olivia Kim—launches today, packed with limited-edition beach gear such as bikinis made from recycled bottles, authentic Hawaiian flip-flops and Guatemalan beer koozies.
We can think of no better way to celebrate than to feature the stellar work of one of our favorite photographers: Brooklyn’s Will Warasila. Carrying the torch in a hallowed history of surf photographers like LeRoy Grannis and Jeff Devine, Warasila—a frequent collaborator with New York board shop Salt Surf—offers those of us who are currently office-bound and surfing the Internet the next best thing to surfing in real life.
Keep reading for a portfolio of photos hand-picked by Warasila and an exclusive Q&A with the artist himself.
THE THREAD: Where are you from, and what was it like growing up there? What kinds of things were you into?
WILL WARASILA: “I’m from Chapel Hill, a small college town in central North Carolina. I grew up skating a lot, but I was always the worst skater out of all my friends. Growing up in my town was all about spending as much time outdoors as possible. There is also a decent music scene, so we got to see a lot of great bands before they made it big.”
THE THREAD: What did your parents do, and do you think their professions informed your path in life?
WILL WARASILA: “My parents are both creatives: My mom is a writer, my dad is an architect… and I ended up as a photographer, which is somewhere in between. I think they had me seeing the world a little bit differently from the very start. Looking back, photography seems like a natural happy medium.”
THE THREAD: How did you first get into photography? Whose photos inspire you, and what, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a truly great photo?
WILL WARASILA: “I started shooting when I was in high school. I often found myself as an observer in most of my different groups of friends. That seemed like a natural point of view for photography. I have done some writing as well, but telling my story with images makes the most sense to me. The photographers who inspire me most right now are Christian Patterson and Jack Coleman. It’s hard to say what makes a great photograph. I know one when I see it. In my own work, I’m looking to capture a moment—one that is perfectly imperfect. In my surfing shots, for example, I don’t want to make a pretty picture of a surfer on a wave; I want you to feel that you’re in the water, too.”
THE THREAD: Where do you live now, and what do you like about it? What is your day job—or do you do photography full-time?
WILL WARASILA: “I currently live in Brooklyn, New York. I love how easy it is to connect with people here, whether I’m just having a brief conversation or collaborating on a project. Photography is my job. I’m always shooting, whether it’s for myself or for work.”
THE THREAD: How did you first get into surfing, and what do you love about it?
WILL WARASILA: “Family friends in San Francisco took me out to Bolinas when I was about 10. From then on, I was looking for the chance to do it more. In high school, I would take trips to the coast and surf a little bit, but at the time I was more into the idea of surfing. I started surfing for real when I went to college in Wilmington, North Carolina. Surfing always has helped me recoup and get away from serious life.”
THE THREAD: What are three of your favorite surf spots?
WILL WARASILA: “I’d say my favorite three spots are: S-Turns on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; The Peak in Bundoran, Ireland; and Flat Rock, Newcastle, New South Wales, in Australia. But look, my favorite spot is the one closest to where I am at the moment, and right now, that would be Rockaway Beach, Queens. It really doesn’t have the best waves, but I always have good times out there with my Salt Surf friends.”
THE THREAD: Speaking of Salt Surf, how did you link up with them, and what do you like about working with them?
WILL WARASILA: “I met Nabil Samadani, co-founder of Salt Surf, through Instagram. He had an old free poster up for grabs. I came by the studio to pick it up, and we clicked. That led to me working with Salt last summer. Since then, we’ve done more work and more surfing. I end up throwing Salt’s boards and shirts in my bag when I take a trip, and so we’ve started to collect some photos. I like working with Nabil because he’s down to let me do what I think could be fun. That includes surfing from time to time on the job. I love what he’s doing with his company. It’s really laid-back and unpretentious.”
THE THREAD: Surf photography, as a genre, has a long history with some really iconic imagery. What are some of the particular challenges of photographing surfers—and how do you even get the shots, logistically speaking?
WILL WARASILA: “It can be hard to avoid being a big cliché, because surf photography has such a saturated history with a bunch of really talented guys. I just try to have fun and shoot friends in the lineup. I pretty much always shoot in the water, wearing swim fins, with underwater camera gear. My biggest problem comes on days when the surf is really good. It’s hard to shoot, because I just want to be surfing with all my buddies.”
THE THREAD: Your Salt Skateboard clip has a great vibe. What equipment did you use to shoot it, and why—and who is your rad female model?
WILL WARASILA: “We’re really happy with how the skateboard clip turned out. I shot it on Super 8 to give it the classic feel of an old surf film. The model was my best friend here in Brooklyn, Courtnee Martinez—she’s a badass. We wanted it to be a fun video, and we thought the best way to capture that would be to just have fun shooting it. So we made a point of not planning anything out too much and just going out to skate like we normally would. I think that effortlessness comes across in the end result. Shooting with real people and not models often lends itself to more authentic-feeling results, which is something I always aim for in my work.”
THE THREAD: Same question on your Ozzie Grain series. Very cool look—did you use a certain kind of gear there? Do you prefer shooting film or digital, and why?
WILL WARASILA: “I shot those on a 35mm camera with high-speed film, which gives it that super-grainy look. I enjoy shooting both film and digital, but shooting digital can bring out a perfectionist side of me, whereas with film, I’m more spontaneous as a photographer. With film, you give up the ability to be a perfectionist, because you can’t see your work right then and there, so you focus more on being present and just hoping you’re able to capture the right moment.”
THE THREAD: Puerto Rico, Australia… where else have you traveled to recently?
WILL WARASILA: “Last summer, I took a trip to Ireland and got to spend a few days surfing in Bundoran. The day after I landed in Dublin, just by chance, I saw a guy who had a surfboard strapped to his car. I’d heard about Bundoran, so I asked him if he was going there and if he would give me a ride. ‘Yes, and yes,’ he said. It was a super-cool experience. He and the people he was visiting in that area were so welcoming. During the summer months, the sun stays up for a long time there—6am to 10pm. One day, we got in four sessions.”
THE THREAD: What would your version of a perfect day look like?
WILL WARASILA: “Wake up. Surf for a few hours in the morning with all my friends from NC to NYC. Eat a cheeseburger. Surf some more. Have a BBQ at a friend’s place, where maybe some buddies are playing Natural Child.”
THE THREAD: Your In-Water Portraits series is a cool idea—what made you think
to start that, and who are some of the subjects? What other upcoming
projects do you have in the works?
WILL WARASILA: “I want to shoot more formal portraits of the people I surf with. I think it’s a good way of showing the diversity of surfers in the lineup. It’s my way of documenting the best part of my travels—the great people I meet surfing. This is an ongoing project, but among those portraits are a lifeguard, Nabil (from Salt Surf), a group of guys from Hawaii who have relocated to Brooklyn, a few college buddies and a few people I just met one day in the lineup. I have several projects coming up—one personal project in the fine art area, a few commercial shoots and more surfing images. Those will never stop coming.”