Ed Fladung is an American Photographer living in Mexico. He left his job and hectic lifestyle in LA to pursue his passion for surfing, design, and photography. There he fell in love, married, and had a child. We catch up with Ed and ask him a few questions.
What was it like growing up?
I grew up in suburban Westchester, New York in the 80’s. Two things occupied my mindshare as a kid: skateboarding and graffiti. I practiced both with innocent abandon. My family were very supportive of my artistic endeavors. They never went to any of my Little League games but I had a never-ending barrage of art supplies and a new pair of sneakers or skateboard when the old one was on its last leg.
Croton-on-Hudson, the town that I lived in, was quite small. I was the only skateboarder for miles. At different points of my childhood, kids would pick the sport up and we’d become friends, and then seasons would change and I’d find myself amongst a new group of recent converts. To feel connected to the larger skateboarding culture, I devoured skate/surf mags consuming the latest trends.
I was also very into scuba diving as a kid. On a trip to Turks and Caicos, my father and I got certified. I was 11. My father tells a story of me on my back at 110 feet with the regulator out of my mouth blowing air rings as they float towards the surface, slowly expanding. Going on a few trips a year (scuba diving) really connected me to a water lifestyle.
When did you get your first surfboard?
2004. I bought my first surfboard shortly after my 30th birthday, two days before I moved to Nayarit, Mexico after having lived in Hollywood and the LA area for 10 years (and never having learned to surf!). It was a 7’6″ Roberts funboard. It really taught me to use the entire length of the board. A few months later, I upgraded to a slightly used 6’2″ Al Merick Flyer II and a few months after that I bought 5’7″ Zippy twin keel fish. Those boards taught me how to ride the tail. They took good care of me.
In August of ’04, I had spent two weeks in Mexico, deciding whether I wanted to stay long-term. Our family friend, Michael, was visiting and, coincidentally, he took me out to what is now my local break and taught me to surf over the course of a week. In a large part, surfing was one of the main factors in my decision to make the move. I was hooked.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
My body instantly understood the glide. It took a few sessions to get the technicals, but my body knew it was home. Surfing just felt so right. But more so than just standing up, I identified with the entire experience—the paddling, the wait, the environment, the view, the water, the sea life, the waves, the glide, the solidarity and the solitude. That last combo is a big factor in why I really love surfing.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
For my internal compass, I looked up to my parents and various family members, all interesting individuals. For cool factor, definitely Gonz (Mark Gonzalez), the Bones Brigade, all the bands whose music I devoured. For art, Keith Haring, Warhol and Basquiat. And later on at CalArts, I admired all of my teachers and fellow students. For professional graphic design practice, I identified with the work of Milton Glaser, David Carson, Vaughn Oliver, Rudy VanderLans, Phil Baines and The Designers Republic.
What inspired you to begin shooting images?
While growing up, my dad dutifully documented our family in photos, but he also used photography as an art form; he was always into abstract forms and composition. I was aware, from a young age, that the camera could be just as much an art form (like a paintbrush) as it is a documentary medium. In high school, my dad bought me a Pentax and for awhile I studied photography and the photo printing process. My photos essentially got me into art school, but I elected to study graphic design instead. I took photos on and off through school, but for the most part let it go.
When I moved to Mexico, I bought a cheap little point and shoot and a Lomo. I pushed the boundaries of that point and shoot, and soon after I upgraded to a DSLR. At first, my photography was more to visually complement the stories I was writing on my blog about my new experiences in Mexico. After a few years, my writing started to take a backseat to the stories I was telling with my camera.
What do you look for in a good photograph?
I don’t really concentrate on technical aspects: surfing ability, digital vs. film, focus. I’m more looking for a feeling. Very rarely, with my own photos, do I know what I have when I’m shooting. A good portion of magic happens in the editing process. It took me years to be able to edit with restraint, showing only the most crucial bits, telling a story in a compact sequence or group of images.
Lately, I have been trying to tell a story in one photograph, and sometimes that story comes out of the photograph itself rather than the scene the camera was capturing. Something unexpected and random—trying to find a feeling, playing, pushing photography as a documentary medium, but also something with more of a personal voice.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I’m relatively new to surfing, so I haven’t had the chance to make too many surf mecca hajjes. Bali was amazing. My wife and I went on the off-season twice and though the waves were smaller, I enjoyed the bukit spots so much. Nusa Dua kicked my ass and the locals were calling it three feet (overhead in my terms). Bali is the most beautiful place. Ubud in the rainy season … I could live there easily if my wife ever gives the green light. My wife and I traveled throughout Southeast Asia and India. India really blew my mind. For a photographer, it has endless inspiration. The Caribbean side of Mexico has one of the most special qualities of light I’ve found so far.
Who/what inspires you?
My wife Marcia and my son Luca both inspire me in so many different ways and keep me grounded. My whole family—I’m fortunate to be part of a very eccentric, funny, sweet, artistic, loving, tight-knit family. Without them, I’d be a Wall Street banker.
Surfwise, I started surfing very late in my life, in Mexico, so I naturally gravitated to the internet for inspiration and found it in all the really cool surf-related blogs and websites that have been blossoming over the past five years. I still look towards all these really awesome people putting out daily stoke and inspiration. For that, the internet is a beautiful thing.
Somewhere along the way, Michael, the same guy who taught me to surf, gave me a copy of publisher Tom Adler’s Surf Contest photo book by Ron Church. It blew my mind into tiny pieces. It was the first proper surf photography book I owned and it started my surf photography education in earnest.
I also draw heavy inspiration from art, art culture, technology, architecture, futurists, curmudgeons, music, politics, buddhist philosophy, graphic/web design, psychotherapy, fashion and just about anything that combines any of these different disciplines.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Compassion and empathy.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
I’m not sure I’ve lived enough to have major regrets yet. I think, if I could do it differently, I’d love to have been in my late teens during the early 60’s in Southern California and in my early twenties in the early 70’s in Hawaii on the North Shore. That’d be an ideal life.
What are you most proud of?
My son, Luca. I’m a new dad!
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
The act of sitting out in the water staring at the horizon for long periods of time … waiting. The hairs on my neck standing up as the set waves roll in. The moment the wave’s energy and board’s energy connect and synchronize to catching a wave and sliding. For me, surfing is as much a meditational practice as a physical event. It equalizes me and not necessarily in some blissed out way; it’s often more subtle. A stressful couple of days and after a trip to the local break, my mind has less static. Surfing is largely responsible for helping me make the decision to move to Mexico; without it, I’d probably have a very large therapy bill.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Every day I get to wake up, play with my boy, kiss my wife, do some work, create some art and go surfing. What else could be better?!?
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I’m a bit removed from surf culture’s core by way of geography. I’d have to say the surfy bloggers, of course. They are who I’m connecting with. People from all over the world—from Southern California to Brazil, Peru and Cornwall. People that are surfing, snapping photos, making art, shaping boards, traveling, putting on art shows, surf contests, planting gardens, rescuing sea life, thinking about the future, helping the less fortunate and doing it all while sharing it selflessly online. Never before has stoke been so widely accessible. There are constantly new pockets of surf culture that are coming online every day. It’s a very exciting time to be a surfer and surf-inspired artist, I think.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
9’0″ San Miguel noserider, 6’2″ Al Merrick Flyer II, 6’2″ Michel Junod single fin egg, 6’0″ ATL Surfboards potato chip and, my newest acquisition, a 5’7″ ATL twin keel fish which I’m head over heels for. I alternate a lot between the fish and the log. We get long patches of flat here in Nayarit, so I ride the longboard a lot of the time. I love that board. It’s a total water log but it has really nice noserides. My favorite surf spot is called Dinosaurs. It’s a ledgy, fast, right point break. It only really breaks during the summer southern swells, and when it gets above head, it gets hollow and heavy.
What’s your favorite meal?
I’m a total foodie; I love eating. But if I had to narrow it down. I’d probably say Indian food or Vietnamese Phở. I am a Phở addict. When I go back to Los Angeles, I camp out at Phở Café in Silver Lake. The irony is that neither can be found within a thousand miles of where I live.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Discovery, The Very Best, Girls, Beirut, Sufjan Stevens, Miike Snow, Passion Pit, Justin Hines, The Dodos, Cass McComb.
What are you most grateful for?
To never have to commute in traffic ever again if I can help it.
What’s next for Ed Fladung?
Working on cool design projects, collaborate with awesome peoples and clients. Try to get my photographs more widely seen—into shops and galleries. Continue trying to get my book published (collection of stories and photos from my blog). Watch Luca get older too quickly. Read more books. Shape my first alaia (waiting for the wood to dry!). Take a sojourn down to Michoacan for some waves and spend a night or three in a sleeping hammock.