Daniel Costa is a surfer/shaper/photographer from Portugal who is the creator of the popular blog Retro Movement. Interested in keeping traditional board riding alive, Daniel documents the surfing lifestyle through images, texts, and board building. We caught up with Daniel to learn more.
What was life like growing up in Portugal?
It was okay, but when I was young Portugal had just come up from a civil revolution that for ages closed the country to the world. I guess that kept us a bit behind the rest. When I was around 16, things started to change. I was lucky in some ways because I grew up on a farm instead of a city, so I had a pretty good childhood—always liked to be outside doing my things. I was stoked on learning and would do anything like build my own toys or do some agriculture to get some money cause my family was just a simple countryside one. I always felt that something could be better than that. For some reason, I think I always knew that I was different from all my friends where I grew up.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were young?
I don’t think there was anyone who I admired, to be honest, until I found surfing at age 15. I was on holidays, and saw Surfing magazine for the first time covering an interview with Darrick Doerner, with really impressive images in black and white of Waimea. And that was it. That was the changing point to me. Then, I would say my heroes were guys like Tom Curren, Gerry Lopez and Tom Carroll with his famous snap in the curl of Pipe. Now, the ones I most like to watch gliding is Skip Frye, Terry Fitzgerald and Derek Hynd.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I remember I felt something like I never had felt. I still remember arriving at the beach to learn surfing. It was wintertime and I didn’t have a wetsuit. I’d been working all summer, but it was only enough to buy the board; the wetsuit had to wait another summer, but it didn’t matter. I never felt the cold; I was completely stoked. For the first time, I was feeling really alive. It was like I had just been awakened from a long, long sleep. I still remember like if it was today.
Where did you interest in art and design come from?
With shaping, I was pushed by my best friend. His words to me were, “Hey, man, you are really good working with your hands. You really have to try shaping a board.” At that time, we were together all the time because we were running a surf club in the town we lived, so he really pushed me into it. The photography? It’s an old passion that I have never had a chance to go forward with because of the money issue. Then, when the digital was cheap enough, I bought my first Nikon and it has been my escape ever since. Now, I have a couple of old Nikons and I really love to shoot film.
Now, with the stupid crowds in the lineups, most of the time I just go away inland to stay alone, away from all the crap surf scene that is out there nowadays. I just stay cool, looking for something to shoot. Now I only like to surf when there’s no one out. I don’t have the passion to be in the water with a bunch of jerks.
Tell us about Retro Movement.
It’s was supposed to be a project around my surfboards, mostly about lifestyle—the lifestyle we had the first years I started surfing back in the 90’s, when surfers were a different kind of people from the man in the streets. I still have in mind a couple of ideas (like starting some clothing using my photography).
I have another thing starting to happen next autumn. “The Retro Experience” basically brings together people that want to surf relaxed on cool waves without the crap around. We’ll give them the opportunity of riding all kinds of different boards—all real surfboards built by me and not those plastics things. We will have longboards, classic noseriders, twins, singles, quads, etc.
I still have a couple more things I would like to do. I especially want to try to give back something to the sport that made me what I am today.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
The East Coast of Australia. It’s a wonderful place to spend a couple of months. There are incredible places with long pointbreaks away from the crowds—just perfect for longboarding. The people are great and their relaxed lifestyle is really a good vibe to feel and share. Also, I’ve made great friends there and met one of the kindest men on earth—Alan Crosky. He gave us shelter for two months on his place, and shared with me plenty of stories and knowledge.
Who or what inspires you?
In the shaping, I need to have the feeling. For example, let’s say I have a nice noserider on order. I will not start shaping till I feel like it. Normally, it comes after a good session in the water. When waiting for the waves, I’m thinking on the last wave and the board I’m using, and it’s gonna start developing in my head the idea of the next board. If I view in my brain the board I want, then I leave the water and go straight to the shaping bay. This is how I like to do it. Sometimes my customers have to be patient, but I’m lucky; they already know how I work and they are quite happy with this idea because 90% of my customers know really well what they want. They don’t want a crappy board made in China.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That life isn’t about acquiring wealth and a big house with the garage full of Ferraris and Mercedes. Life is about joy and sharing with the ones you love. It’s about simple things—like riding a wave with your mates, putting your child to sleep and feeling the unconditional love from her, meeting a nice human being …so rare these days now. I am lucky and found great friends all over the place. That what counts and that’s what I’m trying to teach my daughter.
What are you most proud of?
Searching for my goals. Everybody said that I was crazy giving up the best engineering degree to work on boats to watch the ocean and get money to go away and see the world. The first year people from Portugal were able to visit Indonesia, I straight away get the flight. Then, I went to Australia to live there for six months and came back with the certainty I would never work from 9 to 5 again. In a week back at my parents, I was done. I bought a caravan, asked the guy to drive to a camping area on the southwest coast of Portugal and, for the next seven years, that was my home. I was on top of the world, had achieved what I thought was impossible.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
When I saw those images of Darrick Doerner at Waimea, I thought to myself that it could change my life. So, I started to search for more information about the surfing world. I found what I was looking for: a goal, friendship, complicity among members of a totally different tribe from the man on the street.
From an “A” student with the normal goal to achieve wealth, I changed to a simple guy just trying to surf as much as I can and totally absorbed by the surfing culture. Eventually I quit college. My parents freaked out. I started to be seen as the black sheep of the family, but didn’t care.
Nowadays, I can live and be happy with what I get instead of searching for a bigger house and a better car than my neighbor. I fulfilled most of my dreams and have had my work recognized by people who know what they are saying. Next May I will be exhibiting my photos in Japan at the Greenroom Festival. I’m stoked and comfortable with what I’ve got.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Every day, I wake up my daughter to take her to school and she’s always happy like if it was the best day of her life. That’s the ultimate happiness. No matter how long the tube rides or hang tens you’ll do, nothing compares to the smile of my daughter Zoe.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
There’s a lot of new guys out there. But, to be honest, I still believe that “the masters” are still the masters. To me, Donald Takayama and Skip Frye are the best ever.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Hmmmm, it’s difficult to say just one. Nowadays, anything that noserides well and I’m stoked. I also would say my first pig; I drew the template on my board bag from what Alex Knost was riding in the Salinas Longboard Festival. It’s based on the Velzy Pig and I just loved it.
My favorite surf spot would have to be the place I used to live in my caravan. I got there the best waves, and the biggest too, of my life with no one or just with friends.
What’s your favorite meal?
Seafood with friends and family—that’s the best. I have some friends that are fisherman, so sometimes the great meals are at my place.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I’m always changing, but some things are always there: Ben Harper, Pearl Jam, AC/DC, TSOL and the Litmus soundtrack.
What causes, projects, organizations do you support?
Right now, I’m a bit disappointed with organizations in general. I think they are run for the wrong reasons. On top of that, I have so many things going on in my life that I have no space to support anything.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for finding surfing back in the 90’s. I could feel and try the lifestyle, the culture, the stoke of meeting another surfer, surfing another wave. People who learn to surf today don’t have a clue what surf is. Also, I’m grateful for my friends I have that I known I can count on no matter what. I’m also grateful for my skills; I’m the worst salesman, but, on the other hand, I’m able to build whatever I want to.
What’s next for Dan Costa?
Good question. I ask the same question to myself over and over again. I want to take even further my surfboards. I’ve accomplished so much more than I was expecting, but now I know that it can be better. I want to take forward the Retro Movement project, my photography and, most important, be 200% present in my daughter’s life, giving her the tools to be a great human being. Pay my mortgage… that’s important too. If possible, next year I would like to go to California, but I would need a great summer!!!!
Find out more about Daniel Costa and Retro Movement here.