OF THE SEA
Written & Photographed by Avery Schuyler Nunn
“We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea. Those of us who are, we children of the tides, must return to it again and again until the day we don't come back, leaving only that which was touched along the way.”
— Frosty Hesson, Chasing Mavericks
The ocean and its ecosystems have evolved on Earth for 3,800,000 millennia. The gentle forming curl of a wave as it glides down the coast — with children, families, and lovers laughing as they dive through the refreshing and comforting wall of glassy sea — was present long before humans were there to admire it. It is only within recent Homo sapiens lifetime that we have come to explore, venture into, admire, study, discover, and attempt to truly absorb all that the ocean has to offer.
Life itself arose from the oceans. Covering 140 million square miles and over 70% of Earth’s surface, the sea's enormity and mystery is forever an adventure to be unfolded and never to be fully understood. From nourishment of life and discovery to trade and commerce, the ocean is the very foundation of human life.
The oldest recovered boat in the world was found in the Netherlands by archaeological excavation. This Pesse Canoe is a dugout made from the hollowed tree trunk of a Pinus sylvestris, that was constructed somewhere between 8200 and 7600 BC.
Those of ancient Polynesia began mastering the swells and tides, and with this came one of the most soulful of ocean sports. The creation of surfing brought not only a sacred art form, but a way of life. For many the ocean was, and is — integral to sustaining life as well as the pursuit of happiness.
However, in the past century, humans have caused more harm to the ocean than all previous centuries combined. As greenhouse gases trap more energy from the sun, the oceans are absorbing more heat, resulting in an increase in sea surface temperatures and rising sea level. Furthermore, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing at such a fast rate as to be nearly unparalleled in Earth’s history. Although human activities are not physically creating more CO2, we have moved it from where it has historically been locked away (stored in sedimentary rocks within the Earth's crust) and circulated it into the atmosphere and oceans. The global average rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide is now higher than it has been at any point within the last 800,000 years, resulting in climate change.
Many people recognize that the climate has changed naturally many times before — shifting between glacial and interglacial periods — and don’t believe that this time is any different. While it is true that the Earth is far older than 800,000 years and that it has experienced climate change throughout its’ multi-billion-year life, CO2 is currently entering the atmosphere at a rate faster than during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which is one of the most dramatic warmings to have happened in Earth’s history.
Many also use the fact that there have been record snowfalls and polar vortexes in recent years as evidence against climate change, but climate change is far more complex than a simple warming of the planet. In fact, scientists see these extreme winter weather conditions as more evidence that climate change is happening, from a river of west-to-east flowing air in the Northern Hemisphere, known as the polar jet stream.
In addition to coastal flooding, rising sea levels, and rising sea surface temperatures, the pollution of trash and oils have significantly sickened marine ecosystems. As stated in the 2016 documentary Before The Flood, “The ocean is not Republican nor Democrat, all it knows to do is rise.”
In Ocean City, New Jersey, many use their connection to the ocean as a way of finding tranquility as well as to inspire their professional life. The ensuing narrative will follow the lives and outlooks of fellow Ocean City locals as they discuss their constant call to the sea, briefly exploring just a few of their many relations to the ocean, what efforts are put into place to protect it, why it is imperative to add sustainability efforts to everyday life, and what will forever inspire these “children of the tides.”
• BOARD SHAPING • ART • FISHING • YOGA • SURFING • MUSIC •
BOARD SHAPING with Brian Wynn
Tools swiftly move across a thick block of foam, with pieces flowing through the air, as if creating a soft snowfall. This slice of polyurethane, indistinguishable in its shape at first, is soon to be a beautifully crafted piece of work, and one that brings joy beyond measure.
“The ocean inspires me because it is our life blood here on earth,” says Brian Wynn, an Ocean City local, surfer, and board shaper. Brian was brought up by his father who was a craftsman by trade, which led him to surfboard shaping. He describes this discovery of talent and passion for shaping as feeling like his destiny.
“Without the ocean we wouldn’t have our planet. It demands the utmost respect and cannot be tamed…very awe inspiring in itself. The ocean is constantly evolving and so is my work.” With a growing industry of surfboard shaping, Brian hopes that the corporate side of surfing doesn’t slowly erode a culture that has been around for so long, based on its' original values; soulfulness and artistry.
Shaping takes time, practice, patience, and determination, where imagination is brought into reality. Templates are used to outline the width, nose, and tail before using a handsaw to begin the shaping process. Both hand tools and electrical tools are used to create the perfectly smooth piece.
When interviewing, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your favorite failure?” because it tends to
bring forth intense reflection, openness, and often sense of pride and humor that comes from overcoming said "failure" or obstacle. But when I asked Brian what his “favorite failure,” in life was — his answer instead almost perfectly aligned with his work, stating that he has had “more failures along the way than [he’d like to] admit, but those are what ultimately shaped [him].” Failures can be as small as applying too much pressure to one area of the board while shaping it, which can come with great consequence for the final product. However, I make the analogy that shaping a board and shaping your life coincide, as they require learning from mistakes in order to make micro or macro adjustments throughout the process, to result in the best shape that can be.
I have always viewed surfing as a form of methodical meditation, but until photographing with Brian did not realize that the very foundation of the board also comes from much methodical beauty and accuracy. Within every millimeter across the board, the thickness, curves, weight, angles, amount of sanding and glassing is precisely calculated in order to create the perfect board. Having an art piece so beautifully crafted by a human rather than a machine or factory adds to both the nature of the board as well as personal connection and community feel. “Our surfing community here is incredible,” says Brian, smiling through the pieces of foam floating through the air, “Ocean City is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. Very tight knit and a very respectable vibe we have amongst each other. The clients and shops are awesome, because their stoke is real.”
Letting that stoke live on through personal connection between humans and the ocean is something that we hope to push forward beyond our own lifetimes, to which Brian greatly agrees and embraces, passing along his passion to his wife and children. “Those of us who have been touched by the sea keep returning until we die, but when we leave, all that is left is what we were able to pass on to others. I too have been touched. I keep coming back, and the older I get the more I realize the importance of passing on the experience.”
ART with Kristina Young
Kristina Young, an artist and surfer, grew up going to the ocean for as long as she can remember, and associated all fond childhood memories with the sea. “Anyone who connects to, or has had experiences in the ocean understands that indescribable pull to come back to her,” says Kristina, “the more you connect to her, the more at home you feel; the more lessons learned. The ocean is the center of all of my inspiration, growth, and every facet of my journey.”
For Kristina, the ocean did not drive her into riding its waves up until recent years. Rather, it inspired her to use it as her art form, eventually starting a business that is emblematic of all things love and ocean. “When I first started painting, I would paint seashells collected from the beach and small reclaimed pieces of wood. I had no idea what I was doing, all I knew was that painting and creating made me happy and the ocean continued to inspire me. Before long we had a house full of art!”
Kristina’s husband, Marshall Young, tried to persuade her to sell her art, but she was not convinced that anything could be made of her hobby beyond personal pleasure. “One morning, he snuck outside and set up my art, yard-sale style in front of our house. When I woke up, I was not only surprised to see my art outside but even more surprised to see that people were purchasing it! There is no greater feeling than when someone connects to something you have created. My life was forever changed, and my journey as a professional artist had begun.”
Through inspiration and love from both her husband and the ocean, Kristina started a career that
encompassed all that she cared about. Showing the beauty of the earth, and creating a space where people of any age can join her in creating art, expressing themselves, and finding the freedom that the ocean brings. “All of my paintings are ocean inspired, and always come from experiences in the water. Whether it be a paddle out with friends, a beautiful summer sunrise session filled with peace on the water, a pod of dolphins swimming by — there is endless inspiration if you really tap into it. I always leave the ocean with an immense feeling of gratitude.”
And that gratitude radiates through all who encounter her. Kristina is well known around the island of Ocean City for her constantly positive vibes, paint sessions, and most of all, for inspiring and empowering those around her — particularly the youth of Ocean City.
“I find it to be so empowering to be a female artist,” says Kristina, “it has connected me with the most amazing people, especially women. We all share a love for the ocean and for creating art in some form. I hope to continue to cultivate that community and connect as many people through art as I can. My hope for the future is for art to continue to grow within communities and to continue to bring people together. As much as I love it, there is always room for growth. I would love to see more culture in surf art. I’d love to see all races and ethnicities represented in the surf art world…that is a huge inspiration to my art.”
“The ocean gave me everything. My husband and I have shared so many memorable moments out on the water. Our shop, Peace of Wood is rooted in our love for the ocean and how it inspires us. The ocean started my path as an artist and is truly what drives me and inspires me daily.”
FISHING with Colin Devine
Colin, my coworker and manager at 7th Street Surf Shop, began fishing when he came in from a surf, finding our boss, Larry Friedel, fishing off of the shore. “I stopped to give him a hard time about not surfing when there was a fun chest high clean wave, and made a comment on how he is 'passing up a great day of surf for fishing, an activity that's based on luck.' He explained that fishing was skill rather than luck, and that within three casts he would catch a flounder. I thought for sure there was no chance in the world that he would be able to catch a fish in three casts let alone a specific species. Needless to say, that is exactly what happened…less than 20 seconds after his bait hit the water.”
The following evening, Colin picked up some basic equipment and joined Larry, to fish for the first time.
Colin has always been a waterman, with a fond blur of summer memories on the beach with his family as a child. As we cruised around the island during a choppy and crisp sunrise, Colin discussed his influences, failures, most memorable fishing moments, and the potential evolution of fishing in the future. But what we kept coming back to in conversation, was a mutual calling from the sea, and when he learned that he needed it most. “Even growing up at the beach I feel as if its ingrained in me,” says Colin, “I spent a good few years land locked away from the ocean up in Vermont, and it always seemed like something was missing. I came to realize it was the sound of the ocean the salt in the air and just the solitude it offered me. I did not know when to put my happiness first, and eventually found balance between my person and career goals. Succeeding in life is a mindset of what exactly you value. There is something about being on the water that keeps me leveled and peaceful. The ocean is my biggest inspiration and influence in life, giving me the opportunity to learn and be challenged.”
In terms of sustainability and conservation, Colin is incredibly knowledgable in his efforts and strives to
make as small of an impact on the environment as possible. His latest fishing passions are free diving and spearfishing, the most environmentally sustainable way of fishing, because no hooks or line are ever left
behind, and the free diver is limited to their own breath hold, consciously electing which fish they are bringing home to eat if any. There are more simple efforts (with great impact) that Colin always follows through with such as never littering, always trying recovering snagged hooks and rigs, and picking up any floating debris left by other boaters and fisherman whenever possible.
But, there are also more precise and complex issues to be aware of in the recreational sector when fishing. “One of the biggest issues is angles fishing with undersized hooks, which gut hook fish and in turn has a high mortality rate, so I fish with larger hooks and in an active manner, to translate into layman's terms is that I don't just let a bait sit where the targeted species fish has an opportunity to fully swallow the bait that is presented,” explains Colin. “Active fishing 90% of the time ends with lip hooking the fish, where it does not injure the fish long term. I also support catch and release of species that bio mass is in danger of being overfished.”
“Fishing as a sport is slowly yet constantly evolving, but I don't see the conventional rod, reel, hooks and line method going anywhere or changing much to the outside eye, tactics and methods of the tools given constantly improve or change. What I hope to see is better conversation in the fisheries so that the generations to come can enjoy fishing as much as I have. This would start with better conservation and management of the fisheries in the way of size slots and numbers of fish kept. Hopefully a larger number of anglers with use tactics that reduce the mortality rate of fish released and not keep more fish then they plan to consume themselves.”
YOGA with Suzanne Chew
I first met Suzanne a few years ago when my Mom and I attended one of her yoga classes. Immediately striking in her physical abilities as well as disposition, Suzanne radiates love and moves with the fluidity and swiftness of a soft summer wave.
“Whooooooooosh,” she says, directing her class to feel as if the ocean is moving through them, bringing them into their next pose. For Suz and her family, life and love are both brought forth through the ocean. She met her husband in the ocean, and teaches her children to live simply and always in the present, because, as she tells them: “There are no two waves [in life and of the sea] that are alike.”
“There is something that drives all of us to the sea — and there are ones that live simply for the sea,” she says, “they will do anything to make a change and see the light even when things are dark. They are the ones that have touched our soul and leave us with beautiful memories. They are the ones who make us feel alive and free.”
On a calm October morning, Suzanne and I trot around Seaview on the North end to capture some
photos as the sun rises above the clouds. We take a few pictures up in the dunes before moving down to the jetty. By the time we reach this breakwater made up of massive stones, the ocean has become much more vibrant, both in color and sound. Just above the ocean in front of the rising sun, it becomes evident that Suz is in her element. She flows between poses just as the morning sea flows behind her. After dancing along the shore and admiring the ocean together, Suzanne tells me more about the love that she and her husband share, and why it is so connected to the sea. “My husband is calm and relaxed but at the same time he can be strong, powerful, and fierce. Just as the ocean is all of these. It can roar, or it can be tranquil and quiet. I feel everything for what the ocean has brought me and taught me. I feel and see beauty in the deep blue, it’s amazing energy. . .I that hope one day when my husband and I are no longer present on this Earth, our love and soul will continue to touch and live in the hearts of others.”
But Suzanne’s love for the sea does not stop at the grander scheme topics such as her career or family — she has also put specific efforts into her daily life in order to help protect it. It is as simple as picking up trash whenever she or her daughters see it, as well as eating a vegetarian diet. “This is where we live. We need to protect our home and the fish that live in it.”
SURFING with Ryan Santiago and Jason Carlisi
Living in Ocean City has given me the opportunity to bond and grow with surfers of all ages over the years, whether it’s meeting someone for the first time out in the lineup and connecting over rash guard brands, or having known them since we were twelve years old, struggling to paddle out on foam boards.
My friends, Ryan Santiago and Jason Carlisi are the epitome of soul and joy while out on the water, truly moving and living as children of the tides, and passing along their passion as surf instructors. As I photograph them on a misty afternoon out on the water, their eyes and smiles slowly grow with each wave that they catch.
“My most influential surfers are the ones that are out there having the most fun,” says Jason, “they are the ones that influence me the most and force me to snap back to reality and remember to enjoy the activity that I am doing. That is the philosophy I admire the most and how I remind myself of why I surf to begin with. It is to have fun and create a challenge. We are always trying to progress, get better, and push ourselves outside our comfort zones in nature. But to truly have fun and enjoy the process of getting to those places while being in the moment is the ultimate. From the moment I caught my first wave I knew, right then and there I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
“I would love to say my passion for surfing started right then and there that first day," says Ryan, "however, I honestly think that it wasn’t until years later where it became a necessity for myself emotionally, mentally, and physically.”
During Ry’s freshman year of college, carless and for the first time living over 100 miles from the ocean,
he began to develop anxious and nostalgic feelings, to which he justified as adjusting to college life in a new place. Eventually, this yearning and dreaming of surfing — something he had taken for granted up until that point — evolved into an intense desire and need for the ocean. “One Friday where I felt as though I had had enough, I borrowed a friends car and drove three hours each way to get two hours of surfing in. That was the moment I realized that surfing and the ocean were not only my passion, but a major part of my wellbeing. Now I can honestly say that I truly love surfing.”
Along with all the physical release and beauty that the ocean brings are the harsher sides as well. “Being around the ocean over the years, as well as traveling you see the many faces the ocean has,” says Jason, “the beautiful days of clear water and perfect waves, where there doesn’t seem to be a drop of water out of place. In contrast, there is the extreme power and unruliness that that same ocean can bring. It is truly inspiring to see those many faces, accept those faces, and enjoy those faces for what each of them are. The ocean can be the happiest, most peaceful place, but it can also be a truly terrifying and powerful place as well.”
With the luring power of big, strong waves often comes a hunger for euphoria and adventure that surfing brings, and recognizing the limits can be the line between normality and a dangerous situation. Jason attributes these addictive euphoric moments in the ocean to shaping his life on land, scheduling work and events by his time in the ocean — in search of finding that bliss again. Vibrant sunsets and rainbows above the cool sea, dolphins and fish swimming and riding the waves next to you — in a circle of coexistence and exuberance of life, for the love of the sea.
MUSIC with Mike Dinan
The sun shines through the calming dunes beneath a pastel sky, as a guitar softly plays, and the waves coo with it. Seagulls fly by, their wings flapping in the wind and their chirps piercing through the air, complementing the peaceful sounds beneath them. All of these elements coming together to create a symphony of mother nature with human presence, and as I photograph, I can understand how music comes from it all. To Mike Dinan, this music has become everything.
“The ocean has always been where I've gone to play, to meditate, to breathe…it’s a home for my soul. There's just this energy that is present when you're in or near the water, and when you're away from you yearn for it. Sometimes this energy is calming and mellow, and other times its raw and unforgiving — but to me its always beautiful.”
Although Mike’s love for the ocean runs deep, his passion for guitar grew slowly. When he was 14, Mike thought that music was his calling. But after a few guitar lessons, he quickly lost interest and resorted back to surfing and skateboarding. While attempting to land an “ollie” on a large staircase, Mike tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his right knee. Couch ridden and losing his mind after being immobile for so many
weeks, Mike finally decided to give music another chance.
“I dusted off the guitar that had sat for so long in the corner of my room, and attempted to learn one of my favorite Jack Johnson songs,“No Other Way.” As a fellow surfer a writer to the sea, I became very inspired by his simple and honest approach to songwriting. After a few days, I had the intro down and was playing it non-stop. I met my now girlfriend about a month later, and played it for her on one of our first few dates. After her reaction to it I decided to keep learning how to play. So what first started out of boredom, switched to a way to impress a girl I liked, to now being my biggest passion in life. I'm always so present when I'm playing and music which is a big reason as to why I love it so much. To be successful as a musician you really have to be present in yourself and in the moment, because if you don't feel it, then nobody else is going to either.”
“The ocean has really played a key role in who I am,” continued Mike, “It is such a beautiful place to be, its so pure and it always makes me appreciate nature and the life I've been given. I think that's why a lot of environmentalists are surfers. When you love something, you want to take care of it. Every time return to the ocean for a surf or musical inspiration, I always leave the beach better than I found it.”