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Todd Glaser – On Surfing

An inextricable part of SURFER’s photo department for the past ten years, Todd Glaser has become synonymous with surfing. Even outside the bubble, if you have seen a surf photo, you have more than likely seen one of Glaser’s. Hell, he’s one of the go-to guys for surfers as varied as Kelly Slater or Joel Tudor and for good reason. Everyone could learn a thing or a volume from Glaser. The water crazed San Diegan has established himself as one of our most revered water photographers, and his work has appeared in countless publications such as in The New York Times, Outside, Men’s Health, and GQ. His photographs have even been shown at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. And when his face isn’t buried in a camera, he can be found searching up and down the coast in San Diego county or hanging with his wife, Jenna. Sometimes, he like to sleep on his laptop. Earlier this year, Glaser published a book in partnership with Taylor Steele’s film, Proximity. Beyond that, he was the first photographer invited to Kelly Slater’s ground breaking Surf Ranch. Take note of this fellow’s rhythms. We’re honored to have him included here.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

One of the most challenging aspects of surfing to me is having an understanding of what I want to do on the wave, but not having the coordination to do it. Growing up riding a bodyboard and spending as much time as I do in uncomfortable situations with my camera in the water, I feel at peace in the water and have a deep respect but also an understanding of how water moves, how waves break, where to be and when. When shooting, I’m constantly juggling multiple factors of the swell, tides, wind, location, swell direction before jumping in the water. Then once in the water, my positioning is determined by the type of wave, who’s surfing, what lens, and what kind of image I’m hoping to capture. Usually I’m pretty far inside watching to see the reactions of who’s in the water as they go over the first wave of the set, do they look left, do they sprint over the top, or do they paddle deeper? All of those subtleties makes me move accordingly. I’ve been so fortunate to have seen so many great waves ridden that I want to be able to do what I’ve seen done. However, when It’s my turn to surf, none of it seems to stick!  I still have fun surfing though, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up: Buoys then coffee.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

The best part about going surfing is being able to jump in the water anywhere in the world and be able to share a common bond with those around you. It’s a way of forgetting about everything that can occupy your mind on land and let you focus on having fun, staying healthy, and learning. Surfing is like chess, the more you play the more you learn, but ultimately, you’re trying to maintain the same level of stoke you did when you rode your first wave. The beach I surf at the most when I’m at home has a pretty good parking lot scene too, so there’s always someone to hang with or share a laugh.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

It sounds funny to say, but surfing has given me everything. There’s very few things in this world that can get someone excited—day in and day out—without being burnt out. Sure, there’s times when I haven’t been in the water, but it’s usually due to injury or traveling, but as soon as I get home, it’s the first thing I want to do. Even if it’s completely blown out and cold, just the act of putting on a wetsuit and going underwater calms everything. Out of the water, most my friends surf. As I’ve grown older, I’ve met so many people who come from all walks of life who still share the same passion for surfing as I do. Career-wise, it’s enabled me to travel around the world with my camera documenting some of the best waves in the world in locations I dreamed of going to when I was younger. I’ve always had a passion for waves, art, and travel so being able to combine those different parts of surfing and share them is something that is so special, and I’m so grateful to be able to do it.

How long can you go without surfing?

I once went three weeks without surfing when I had wrist surgery from snowboarding on my honeymoon. My wife and I went to Italy for two weeks, where we didn’t have any waves, although we did find a little ripple to bodysurf, so I guess that doesn’t really count. Three weeks is the longest. I guess you could say I’m kind of addicted to surfing. It would probably be good for me to go on an extended hiatus, but I don’t know what I would do. I would definitely have much more time on my hands. At the same time, I find a lot of inspirations in cities like New York and San Francisco that have a huge art, music, and photography scene. The funny thing about those cities is that they both have waves too.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I grew up in San Diego riding a bodyboard and surfing for as long as I could remember. Any free time we had, we would go to the beach. I played traditional sports at a younger age like soccer, basketball, and baseball, but I was always the smallest guy on the team and probably not the most coordinated, so I spent most my time keeping the bench warm and cutting orange slices. When I found the beach, there was no one to tell you how long to go out for and when you could and couldn’t go out. That freedom was contagious. If the waves were big, it was up to you whether or not you wanted to challenge yourself or wait try to find another wave that was better suited for the conditions. I guess that’s where the travel bug kicked in. You don’t always have to fly halfway around the world to go on an adventure. Sometimes just going around the corner or 30 minutes up or down the coast gives you a whole new perspective of what your own city can look like. That flexibility and sense of adventure has stuck with me ever since.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning regardless of where I am is to check the buoys, make a cup of tea. As the water comes to a boil, I stretch. I drink the tea while checking the buoys and weather then make a batch of coffee for the road. That’s been my routine for the last 15 years or so. My day usually starts around five; I like the mornings. They’re the quietest times of the day for me. Lately the newest addition to my surfing morning is having a jug of warm water with me. The extra couple of minutes to fill it up make the cold morning change so much more pleasant, and you don’t smell like wetsuit/pee the rest of the day.

Todd Glaser

/ Interview by Michael Adno, illustration by Matt Titone

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