Andrew Crockett is an Australian surfer/photographer who is the producer of the surfing books Switch-Foot and Switch-Foot II. In 2005, he was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame for his work in media. We took the time to learn more about his unique outlook on life.
What was your life like growing up?
I was very fortunate to grow up in a loving family in the country. We had cows, sheep, pigs, horses, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats all on a 5000 acre farm, inland from Cresent Head, Australia. It was 50 miles to the nearest town, down a dirt road. My older brother and I didn’t have much on the farm, but we were really happy. Each Christmas, we used to drive up to Byron Bay, and I will always remember coming over that hill and seeing the sea and the mountains and just busting out of my skin with excitement.
The farm didn’t work out for my parents. Fortunately, my parents had friends in a small town near Byron Bay and my father started a new career building swimming pools. I was six years old. Living near Byron Bay, I was lucky that the ocean was part of my life from a young age.
When did you get your first surfboard?
We always had inflatable air mattresses as kids and my father would also take me out on his ski. I was about 12 years old when my brother and I were both given a surfboard. We bought them from Sky Surfboards in Byron Bay. I still have the one my brother picked; it was a secondhand Louie Ferreira model twin fin shaped by Michael Cundith. It still goes like a rocket!
What was the feeling you had when you first stood up on a surfboard?
I started out surfing on my tummy, then went to my knees and, eventually, to my feet. I don’t think the stoke is that much different if you are lying down, kneeling or standing up. Standing up gives you even more freedom of expression; you have more control of the vessel and more leverage to be able to turn quickly. Once my uncle put me on a longboard, expressive surfing took on a whole new feeling.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young boy?
Like any young boy, my father. Aside from all the usual admiration a young boy has for his father, my father saved my life twice when I was a young boy. Once on the farm and once in the surf. I will never forget it.
Who or what inspires you?
There are plenty of inspirational people out there. I am inspired by people who are happy.
People who are positively charged, inspired and living their dreams. I am inspired by passion. People who get out there and do what they are in love with and don’t care how that might impact on their “career” or “success”. I am inspired by people who have faith. I am inspired by people who walk the road less travelled. I am inspired by older people who are still smiling. I am inspired by anyone who is getting on with it.
In the surf bubble, there are plenty of people who inspire me and in the two books I put together, there are over 100 contributors and each one of them inspired me on some level. George Greenough is inspirational to me; he lives how he wants to live and he creates things that are utterly unique. To single out only George would not be an accurate reflection on who inspires me. The list of people is quite long.
What inspires me? I think it is something like God and those moments where you just know something cosmic is happening or just happened. You hear stories that are too coincidental to be a coincidence. I think we all get to experience things while we are alive that are just unique to us—things that mean something special in that moment to us. Those sorts of things inspire me..
The past inspires me—film photography, artists, paint, music, children. Above all, nature inspires me daily.
Tell us about your book Switch-Foot.
Australia is a “sporty” country and surfing here is not immune to that cultural baseline. The sport of surfing is far more popular in Australia than the lifestyle, the style, the art and the classic movement. Switch-foot attempted to restore some balance in the big picture by presenting something that wasn’t just about the “sport” of surfing. Surfing in the U.S. has a rich heritage in style and cool. You are lucky like that. In Australia during the 1980’s and the 90’s, there was an artistic void within surf culture. Switch-Foot came out at a time when that void was starting to change and both the books were very well liked.
The Switch-Foot books are underground. They were self-published and are self-distributed. You cannot see them at Walmart or the latest corporate surf supermarket. I don’t think you can see them anywhere in the U.S. and that might be quite sad, but that is the way it goes. I have hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters from crew who simply love the books I put together. Recently, we even got a gig in Rolling Stone magazine; that was big for me personally. Rolling Stone is one magazine I would be happy to talk to. The Surfers Journal and the Surfers Path do a good job, but in Australia it is quite bleak unless you are pals with the editor or something like that. You might be able to get a spread in the “sporty” magazines that are common fodder for surfers in this country.
What were some of the challenges in creating your books?
I was on drugs when I put the books together. That is the only way I could have done all that work for no pay. I was taking heavy doses of cortisone every morning to keep the inflammation (Crohn’s Disease) in my intestine under control. It was pure madness. I should have been at home working on getting better, but instead I was like a crazed bee in a bottle—buzzing around, never contented, always looking for more. It took me years to get off those drugs and once off them, I realized how ridiculous I had been to myself and others.
The major challenge to put a book like Switch-Foot together is having the time to do it all. I spent seven years of my life on the Switch-Foot books. During that time, I pushed aside many opportunities to have a “real” job and actually make some coin. That was tough and perhaps foolish. Now I can look back on it all, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
In relation to surfing, you can sit at the end of the line and watch two surfers experience the same sort of ride. One surfer will flick out and be stoked, and another will flick out and be bummed. That says a lot about life in general: it is about how you are feeling on the inside that matters, not the external wave, the house, the car or the girl.
What are you most proud of?
When I was 18 years old, I was thrown into the “real world” when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It nearly took my life. I spent many years in and out of hospitals, and have had life saving surgery three times. These days, I have an infusion of drugs every eight weeks to keep me stable. Getting that low and experiencing those feelings and emotions … and staring death in the face and overcoming it … I am really proud of that.
Sometimes you have to step back or are forced to step back and realize you are not in control. It is humility. It taught me humility, but it also taught me compassion for others. I really believe that everyone is going through some heavy shit at some stage or another and these days I feel compassion more so than I did when I was younger.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I cannot name one. I think it comes down to how you are feeling on the inside that counts. Two people could be standing looking at the same beautiful scene and feeling two different feelings. If you are happy on the inside and you like what you are seeing outside, then you have found happiness and that, I believe, is what we are all seeking.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing gives us a more solid connection to nature. That is where the attraction lies for me. Through that connection, it makes you more sensitive and aware to what is going on around you, and that has changed my life immeasurably.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Those moments in your life when nothing is really going wrong; there are no major stresses and things pulling at you. Those moments are special and it brings me happiness to be free to create things, work on things I am feeling, take photographs, write songs and poetry … or just go for a guilt-free surf with no mental chatter going on inside pulling you in a different direction.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
The path we speak of was once a narrow, rickety old dirt track with familiar faces traveling up and down the coast looking for waves. These days, it is a 50 lane super highway with e-tags and computer monitoring of our movements and I struggle to keep up. If I had to name names, it is people no one has ever heard of.
What is your current favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I am so lazy these days. I like riding my 9 foot bulletnose pintail and surfing it from the middle. I can’t remember the last time I walked to the nose. I am happy surfing anywhere as long as it isn’t busy with people trying to surf.
What’s your favorite meal?
Any home cooked meal that has had time and love put into it.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I have never purchased an iPod, but I love music. I love music perhaps even more than I love surfing. Lately, I have been listening to a new recording by this older cat called Mulatu Astake and the album is called Heliocentrics. It is funky with a twist of an Ethiopian idiom that he is quite famous for through his 1960’s recordings. A friend tuned me into a band called Aluta and the Mystics. It is reggae from Africa and I have been listening to that a lot too.
What are you most grateful for?
My health. When your health goes, it changes everything.
What’s next for Andrew Crockett?
I am going to sell out to the multinationals and then relocate to another country and write poetry about the demise of mankind.
To learn more about Andrew Crockett and his work with Switch-Foot, click here.