Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Paul Ferraris is a San Francisco-based surfer, photographer, and filmmaker. Spending his youth in the gritty culture of downtown Los Angeles, Paul later became an educator to teach inner city kids in the arts. When not in the classroom, Paul takes his film cameras all over the world to document the ever-changing world of surf culture. His work has appeared in Surfer, The Surfer's Journal, and exhibited the Mollusk Surf Shop. We spoke with him to learn more.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in Los Angeles on the border of East Los Angeles and Montebello. I was a free-range kid and I have vivid memories of cruising around Skid Row, along the LA and Rio Hondo rivers on my BMX bike getting into heaps of trouble. I was not a very good kid, my parents did their best.
When did you get your first surfboard?
When I was 12, my pops bought me a well used Brotherhood down-railed single fin, probably about seven foot. Surfing didn’t come easy to me, but I kept at it.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
It was at Churches, it was wonderful, words can’t explain it. I’ve haven’t been the same since.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
My brother Jack, he was a few years old than me, he was a good surfer. He overdosed on Heroin in his twenties. Tragic.
Who/What inspired you to begin shooting images?
In 1999 I tore my ACL while walking across the Sugar Bowl parking lot with my snowboard, the ski patrol had to haul me through the lot. I still wanted to participate in surfing in some way, so I went to a pawn shop and picked up an old Pentax K1000 with a couple of lenses. After shooting three for four rolls I sent an 8x10 picture of Fort Point to the Surfer’s Journal and they ran it as a two page spread. It was years before I had anything else published.
What do you look for in a good photograph?
Depth, texture, good light, and a sense of time and place.
You’re also a filmmaker. Tell us about some of your projects.
I work with an amazing filmmaker named Elizabeth Pepin and we’ve written a couple of grants to make films about women surfers. Last year we released “La Maestra” a short film about a lovely Mexican surfer and teacher in Baja. We are currently working on a feature length documentary about Linda Benson and Joyce Hoffman, two surfing pioneers from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I’ve also done a few shorts for fun.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
That is a tough one, I’ve traveled to about 60 different countries and I’ve surfed more than twenty different countries, but one trip that really surprised me was when I traveled to the North Shore of Hawaii a few years ago for the first time. I had always been so apprehensive of traveling there because I had so much respect for the Hawaiians, so much so that I didn’t want to be another haole invader adding to the crowds. What I learned was that there are a lot of really good waves and the Hawaiians were so incredibly kind and gracious. It really blew my mind – it all made sense after that. Mundaka, Vanuatu, J-Bay, Namibia, Chile, El Salvador, Alaska, Micronesia, South Island New Zealand, Victoria, and Baja also come to mind.
Who/what inspires you?
Being completely lost always inspires me. I love blindly experiencing new places...
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
The older I get and the more that I learn I have so much left to learn.
What are you most proud of?
I’m a teacher and as I mentioned earlier I was a pretty bad kid, I barely made it through school. But when I dedicated myself to surfing, I also dedicated myself to becoming a teacher. I wanted to reach out to those inner city kids that teachers have a hard time reaching. I’ve been at it for almost twenty years now. It is a tough job, but I’m super proud and thankful that I’m able to do it.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Watching my girls surf, catching a good wave, and just being in Mexico.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Joel Tudor definitely opened my mind and changed my surfing. Ryan Burch, Marc Andreini, and Ryan Lovelace also come to mind. They look forward without losing sight of what has already been done.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
There are so many variables to this question. I’m loving my 10-year-old 10’ Andreini Hippy Pin for logging waves and my 8’ Andreini Serena when it gets a little bigger.
What's your favorite meal?
El pastor tacos at the second taco stand on the right when heading north into San Vicente in Northern Baja. I have dreams about that place.
What are you currently listening to on your phone?
Culture, Yussef Kamaal, Old Crow, Grateful Dead, and Anderson Paak.
What are you most grateful for?
My wife and kids, my health, and California
What’s next for Paul Ferraris?
Right point breaks, I hope.