Donnie Hedden is a young and talented surfer/photographer from Santa Barbara. His saturated images and his thoughtful perspective on life seem to be far beyond his 25 years on this planet. We caught up with Donnie to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in the sleepy, beach town of Summerland, CA. I went to Summerland Elementary school Home of the “Waves.” I had five other kids in my classes. Smallest public school I’ve ever heard of. At age six my dad employed me as a deckhand, bartender, and ticket collector on the “Harbor Queen” – the 49 passenger staple of the family business. I’d work eight hour days. I’d love running around the narrow deck barefoot perfecting my cleat ties. I grew accustomed to staring out upon the steady, Pacific horizon perfectly content amidst the bickering of German tourists and my Dad’s rambling pirate themed narration.
The ocean became a natural venue for my creativity at an early age. It’s all I knew. In the off season, my dad would push me into waves at Rincon on an old Yater Spoon. I’d start standing and hold a line all the way to the free way, jumping off my board onto the sand in a stiff, neon green and blue O’Neill suit.
When did you get your first surfboard?
My first surfboard was a five-foot-2, no-name fish that my dad found drifting in the middle of the Santa Barbara channel. I surfed that thing to death. At four-foot-8 and 75 pounds, the thick girth of that twin fin pissed off a lot of old timers at the Cove as I scrambled at high speeds for every set. Classic grom.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
As a child, I looked up to my neighbor Bill “Blinky” Hubina shaper and owner of Ventura Surf Shop and also Davey Smith, a legend of a surfer, shaper at Channel Islands and at the time, the man behind the wheel at my most looked forward to week of the summer “Davey Smith Surf Camp” Between Blinky and Davey, boards and wisdom were readily available. I’m very thankful for this.
Who/What inspired you to begin shooting images?
My Mother, Kerri Hedden, is a plein air oil painter. Growing up the walls of our house were a constant rotation of vivid California seascapes and landscapes. I was fascinated by the way my mom would capture and present these scenes on canvas. Come high school I took a photography class and discovered that capturing landscapes properly and compellingly was pretty damn hard. My teacher at the time, a professional photographer/first time instructor was very critical. The challenge to capture lit a fire. I’ve been stoking that fire ever since.
What do you look for in a good photograph?
If there are humans involved, I’m always looking for the moments in between a conventional photograph; the eye contact between two folks, the feet of a bottom turning old timer, the daydreaming gal in the passenger seat, etc. I’m drawn to those vivid, human moments that are unaffected by the presence of a camera.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
A few years back I went to Rwanda. No ocean, but talk about vivid human moments. With no cellphones drawing people inward, conversations on the bustling red dirt streets were rich. Soccer games, cooking, kids climbing trees, dancing, young lovers, depression, sadness, guilt – all these things piled together ripe for respectful observation.
Who/what inspires you?
When I see fighters, believers, or pioneers acting for the good of a community; opening doors for strangers, taking their grandpa to the movies, leading a parade I am inspired. I am inspired by the people who follow through and follow up.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Solid questions! Going out on a limb from a mere twenty-five years of observation, speculation and a bit of blind faith, I’ve learned and chosen to believe that it’s all gonna be great. This whole heaping spread of the human experience, no exceptions. Loved one’s pass, girlfriends cheat on you, genocides happen but every healthy breath in between is good enough for me. Give me a bit more life, maybe I’ll grow cold, but for now I’m holding on to that positivity. It’s way more fun. Good things happen all the time.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Windows down, dried mangos, 55 mph and an endless flat horizon to drive into.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Travers Adler for spontaneity and ease. Troy Mothershead for his undying commitment to not taking himself too seriously and showing us all how to have fun. Conner Coffin for unwavering performance surfing and and an incredible sense of positivity and grit amidst an often messy industry. Seth De Roulet and his unabashed expression of opinions and quality imagery. Cyrus Sutton for his multifaceted output of creativity and convictions. Jason Baffa and his not only beautiful, but hearty, plot driven films. The commitment of the folks at Mollusk Surf Shop to quality surfing and art. Independent, discerning publications like this who shed light on the overlooked gems of this industry. Honored to be a part of this.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Tied between an early ‘90s Yater Spoon and a modern, yet very ‘80s feeling S/Double 5’6” thruster by Shawn Stüssy. Favorite spot due to frequency: Rincon.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
“Spirit Family Reunion Band.” They’re incredible.
What are you most grateful for?
Right now? Sunscreen.
What’s next for Donnie Hedden?
More collaboration and to finish a film about surfing and Nashville.
To learn more about Donnie Hedden and his work, click here.