Morgan Maassen is a California surfer/photographer. At only 19 years old, Morgan has compiled a stunning portfolio, capturing that elusive moment experienced in the ocean. At the same time, he has also acquired an enviable client list. We spent some time with Morgan to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
Active and adventurous. My family, friends, dogs and I lived at the beach— skimboarding, spearfishing, surfing and swimming. My dad is a fisherman, so boating was a huge part of my childhood, be it trips to the Channel Islands or just up and down the coast. My family traveled copiously, so growing up I was fortunate to visit some very interesting places. I was also deeply obsessed with skateboarding, Lego, computers and art.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I learned how to surf on a soft top when I was seven, but I didn’t really pursue surfing as any more than a casual activity until I was about 10. Around that time, I got a David Pu’u/Morning Star shortboard, which, despite being a very awkward shape, really catapulted my interest in the sport. I also began riding my dad’s Becker longboard simultaneously, which helped foster an appreciation for all wave sizes.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I remember the day vividly. Crystal clear water, scorching hot and not a breath of wind—the perfect August beach day in Santa Barbara. My dad, two best mates and I went down to Miramar Beach, where a clean small swell was rolling through. Dad pushed me into a clean thigh high wave at an angle. I just glided along, for what felt like forever, watching the beach, water and reef below pass by. It was a surreal, indescribably-warming feeling. At the end, I jumped off onto dry sand brimming.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were younger?
My parents. They’re my biggest heroes and best friends. My two closest mates growing up, Matt Harris and Cody Traxler, are both a couple years older than me. I looked up to them not only for their qualities, but because they were always more mature than me. Nowadays, my surfing adventures are with Brandon Smith and Trevor Gordon. I couldn’t ask for more talented, humble, inspired and hilarious companions. Will Adler is, by and large, my biggest source of inspiration in the human form, and to call him a close friend is one of the greatest honors I know. On the hero scale, there was Shane Dorian, the Shorty’s team, Steve Jobs, Lee Scratch Perry and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Where did your interest in photography come from?
When I was 13, a school project requiring a mentor and their trade led me to make a small surf film with a family friend. From there, I continued to make films for fun and still do to this day. About two years ago, I decided to carry a still camera in my bag to take snaps to accompany the video I was shooting. My dad, who’s long been taking photos, encouraged me with his equipment and photography slowly grew, more and more, into a hobby and then a passion. About a year ago, I stopped filming and started shooting full time, and using the camera to explore more subjects than just my immediate interests.
What inspires you?
Everything—the ocean, art, travel, architecture, music, people, trees, cloudscapes, technology, nature, films, typography, Will Adler, literature, love, hate, simplicity, beauty, fear, ugliness, motion, light, darkness, the night, the earth, thought. I love life. I love ideas. I love emotions. I love seeing and feeling everything around me.
Tell us what you remember about your most memorable wave.
No wave nor session stands out in particular for any type of interaction with the ocean. A few weeks ago, I shot waterhousing in the morning, dodging rocks and dead seal carcasses in mocha brown water and junky storm surf in a sweeping current. The water was cold. I smashed my leg into a massive submerged washrock and I almost fell climbing up a slippery cliff when I was done. For some reason, I reflect on it as more interesting than any recent outings in the last month.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Do good. Drink tea. Never depend on applause.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
I wish I had explored cameras earlier on. I look back on all the traveling I did as a child without a camera of any kind in my hands. But, in turn, that gives me so much more motivation for, and when I’m traveling with, cameras.
What are you most proud of?
My family, being drug-free, the freedom I enjoy and the people I call my friends.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has been a great catalyst for exploring the world. It’s introduced me to some of my closest friends, been a staple in my photography and filmmaking work and is such an amazing sport to partake in. Just surfing alone or with just a few friends—there is nothing like it. Such a privilege.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Travel, my family, love, our dogs, creating things.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I don’t know. I don’t follow surfing progression or politics much at all. I like to watch Dane Reynolds surf. Shane Dorian for practicing his style in everything from 2 to 60 foot waves, doing his own thing. Trevor Gordon and Brandon Smith for surfing for the right reasons—themselves. That seems like a rarity in this day and age. Almost everyone is surfing for fame, fortune and image.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I have a quiver of odd and fantastic boards from Ryan Lovelace. My yellow and blue Churchills are the apple of my eye. I love The Wedge in Newport Beach, Ke’eke shorebreak in Hawaii and a couple mysterious spots in Central California. Really anywhere with clear water tickles my fancy.
What’s your favorite meal?
Roast tomatoes, fresh fish … anything from Taqueria Rincon.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Department of Eagles, Caribou, Buck 65.
What are you most grateful for?
The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen. My family and my life.
What’s next for Morgan Maassen?
Travel. Art. New photo projects. A film idea that keeps me up at night.
Find out more about Morgan Maassen and his work here.