Liz Cockrum is a San Diego-based photographer who works in medium format film to capture the unique aspects of surf culture. Her latest work “Sirens,” a look at the many facets of dedicated women surfers, has been published in the U.S. and internationally.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I got my first surfboard in 2003; it was a gift from my awesome brother who taught me how to surf when I came to California to visit him from Chicago. We saw Step into Liquid and I was so stoked to surf on the lake that he sent me home with one of his boards.
What was the feeling you had when you you first stood on a surfboard?
Pure joy and exhilaration… I was thrilled! I also remember being very proud of myself because it felt like it took me a thousand tries before I was finally able to ride the wave.
Where did you study photography?
Columbia College, Chicago.
What brought you to California?
Surfing and sunshine. I had never lived anywhere other than Chicago and wanted a change… the man of my dreams felt the same way so we ran away together to Cardiff.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out?
There isn’t one place that stands out in my mind; rather it’s the experience of discovering the unique sense of place every city, state, country, etc has to offer. It’s so exciting to spend somewhere and get to know what it sets it apart from everywhere else in the world. One of the things I love about making photographs when I travel is that it gives me a license to explore and meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
What code do you live by?
My code is simple: treat others the way I’d like to be treated. I believe in karma and getting back what you put out into the world, so I live my life accordingly. I try to remember not to sweat the small stuff, and to live in the present moment without worrying about the past or future.
Who/what inspires you?
It changes from day to day — the internet has exposed me to SO much and has vastly expanded my artistic horizons. Unchanging sources of inspiration are my fiancé Greg, photographers like William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Annie Leibovitz, watching light shift, and anything that’s vintage. I love to looking at all the great shops on Etsy and am very inspired by food – I am obsessed with trying new recipes these days! I’m reading the book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and that has got my wheels turning too.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
There are two things; first is my “code” that I mentioned above. Experience has taught me that living any other way is shit. The second thing, is to trust my instincts. The older I get, the more aware I become of my intuition and gut feelings and how frequently they are right-on. It’s pretty sweet!
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
To me, surfing represents joy, a connection with nature, being healthy, having fun… maybe a summary would be surfing means positivity. It’s my way of unwinding and getting back in touch with what matters. Surfing has changed my life in so many ways — most obviously, in 2007, I left the only place I’ve ever lived to pursuit of waves. It’s exposed me to an entirely new culture and lifestyle. But internally, it’s changed me by helping me realize the importance of living in the present moment, eating well and taking care of my body, and that we’re all part of something bigger. It’s pretty amazing how the ocean can make you feel so connected and alive, yet so tiny and insignificant at the same time. Surfing’s taught me a new respect for nature and the world at large. I wouldn’t be the same person without it.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget how surfing has changed my photography with Sirens! I’ve met so many incredible people, including my surfing heroes, and gotten great exposure (photographically) through this project. Getting published in the Surfer’s Journal is a dream come true for me; surfing has had a really positive impact on my art.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My current quiver consists of a 9’2 Gary Hanel singlefin, 9’1 Pendoflex performance longboard, 6’8 Fineline displacement hull, 6’8 FCD Mako and a 5’10 KG twinzer. My favorite board is the Pendoflex; it’s my first custom-board, delivered this summer. This might sound obvious, but it FEELS like it was made for me and I just love it. The hull is super fun too. My favorite surf spot is anywhere that is uncrowded and consistent :) I’ve got a few go-to spots in North County that I probably shouldn’t name specifically… and of course, I’ll always love the spots I learned to surf in Winnetka, IL and Whiting, IN.
What’s your favorite meal?
It changes month to month. Right now I am all about Thai food: yellow curry with chicken. I dream about it.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I listen to a pretty wide variety of music, but here’s what came up in my shuffle this morning: the Beatles, Monsters of Folk, Regina Spektor, Bob Marley, Mates of State, M. Ward, Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, and the White Stripes.
What causes/ projects/ organizations do you support?
I’m a member of the Surfrider Foundation and support them as much as possible; I think it’s so important to raise awareness about the state of our oceans and do whatever we can to preserve and protect them. I recently worked with a group called Words Alive, which was a fantastic experience. They’re a literacy-advocacy organization, promoting literacy in under-privileged communities. For a school year, I visited 4 pre-school classes each month and got the kids engaged in books and reading. It was really great to see their enthusiasm develop over time and have the kids be so stoked to see us and read. I myself am a book nerd.
Another organization I’d like to work with in the future is Surf for Life — their focus is to make a positive difference in impoverished areas through projects like building schools. The basic idea is surfers banding together to make a hands-on difference in areas where they love to surf. It seems like an amazing way to score some great waves and give back.
What’s next for Liz Cockrum?
Photographically, Sirens is on the mid-to-back burner while I focus on creating more vernacular / random images just for the love of the art. I get a little burned out focusing on one thing all the time, so it’s fun for me to freely photograph everything and anything that grabs my interest. I’d like to get back to making landscapes. In surfing…I’m working on hanging 10, that’s my goal right now. I’ve improved my surfing leaps and bounds since moving out here, but let’s just say there is a lot of room for improvement.
Personally…I’m getting married! My new name is going to be Liz Lantz starting Janaury next year, so start getting used to that… I’m so stoked!