Morgan Maassen On Diving Back Into The Deep End With "Jungle"
At 27, and recognized as one of the brightest creative talents to come from surf in the last decade, Morgan Maassen sits down to discuss dipping more than a toe back in the sport he loves the most.
At a time when print titles are closing up shop, retainers for photographers a thing of distant memory, marketing budgets Dust Bowl dry, Morgan Maassen has found success in his myriad creative and business ventures on the strength of his own personal brand, taking a place at a very young age as one of the most unique and artistic eyes in the surf game, and remaining there as his creative interests have broadened.
After digging through his archive from the trips that comprise his recent retrospective film, "Jungle,"—as he was at home in Santa Barbara, where he and his biz partner, Tosh Clements, run Breakfast, a cafe, gallery, and surfy concept store—we caught up with Maassen during some rare downtime for the globetrotting 27-year-old.
"It’s hard for me to explain, but I think filmmaking satiates me, as a creative pursuit, because I can capture the way I see things," says Morgan Maassen
Stab: I think most people will be familiar with your photography, while anyone who has been paying attention will know your film work. How much of your focus was on video during those years?
Morgan: As of 2016, video work accounts for at least 50 percent of my commercial and creative focus. However, I am incredibly discerning when it comes to releasing videos, for the sake of their complexity against my artistic endeavors, so I seldom release any of my work... let alone anything beyond the realm of surfing. “Jungle” represents both my strong ties to surfing, and my appreciation for it... and it’s actually helped convince me to scoot more than one toe back into the sport I love most.
Is it easier now, just with the technology, to think about both when you're working on a project?
Yes, and no. Yes, in the sense that all DSLR's shoot beautiful 1080p (if not 4k) video, with the push of the button. But no, in the sense of the route that I took: In 2012 I opted to commit completely to a Red, for quality and technical ability, and while I share lenses between my Nikon bodies and the RED body, it entailed me to a myriad of accessories and subsequent baggage. And then creatively, mentally, even physically... it presents a huge dilemma daily, where I wonder what I want to carry with me, what I want to shoot something or someone on.
"While I’ve had the honor of shooting Kelly, Dane, Ando, Noa, etc.—these guys who are constantly pushing performance surfing—I’ve always naturally reverted to Stephanie," says Maassen
You've enjoyed an intimate working relationship with Stephanie Gilmore over the years. What draws you to her as a subject? How do you approach working with her differently?
While I’ve had the honor of shooting Kelly, Dane, Ando, Noa, etc.—these guys who are constantly pushing performance surfing—I’ve always naturally reverted to Stephanie, and female surfers in general, as the apples of my eye. The guys push bigger airs, crazier barrels, etc, but to me, the ethos of surfing is style, and that stems from elegance. And, who is more elegant on a wave than Steph? She defines the art of riding waves, and is the vanguard of surfing for me.
"The guys push bigger airs, crazier barrels, etc, but to me, the ethos of surfing is style, and that stems from elegance. and who is more elegant on a wave than Steph?"
"[Steph] defines the art of riding waves, and is the vanguard of surfing for me."
With photography you're often pretty limited by the image on a screen or page, or on a wall if you're lucky, but with film there seems to be a lot more room to move, just natural to the form. How does that post-capture creative editorial freedom—of playing with different soundtracks or effects, etc., say—help you tell the story or convey the feeling you're hoping to get across?
Music is my top source of inspiration, and an ultimate passion. I am always listening to music, from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep—beats, pace, energy... they dictate the way I see and experience everything. It’s hard for me to explain, but I think filmmaking satiates me, as a creative pursuit, because I can capture the way I see things, and express the experience with a song that perfectly articulates the way I’ve conceived or appreciated that moment.
Tell us about that Mexico trip with young Noa, Sterling, and Dillon. How old were you all back then? Just a bunch of babies running around the desert!
That was July 2013, I was 22 years old, Dillon the same, Sterling a year older and Noa might have been 18. Monster Energy had commissioned a short film on Dillon, so in the process of coordinating a trip down to Salina Cruz, I started to reach out to people who both inspired me and would jive well with Dillon. Sterling and I were thick as thieves—he had actually introduced me to Dillon several years prior—so he was a natural first pick. I had been friends with Noa for a couple years from hanging out on the Goldy with Blake Myers, where we would skate and then hit McDonalds for sundaes to watch people stumble out of Commune. He had just released a web edit with Shane Fletcher called "Radio Frequency" in the Telos and I was in awe. I asked Noa to come out to California, hang at my place in Santa Barbara and join us for this trip, followed by another mission with Dane and Ando two weeks later. We went down for a week, had six days of incredible waves, beers, tacos, and fire drills with DJ Struntz.
Dillon Perillo, Salina Cruz, June 2013.
"I think Noa might have been 18... I had been friends with him for a couple years from hanging out on the Goldy with Blake Myers, where we would skate and then hit McDonalds for sundaes to watch people stumble out of Commune."
Is there anyone who you'd like to work with that you haven't?
My two favorite surfers right now are Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferriera... They are the two dudes who get me glued to the webcast. I would love to shoot with them... Their surfing has the unpredictability that harkens back to Kelly's trump card in contests... I sometimes dream of filming them in contests even. I think they thrive off that energy... Which makes the whole environment that much more exhilarating, and complimentary.
Looking through this, are there any moments or trips that stand out?
Absolutely. “Jungle” is worthy of a book, possibly titled Menial Adventures…
Traveling to Indo for the swell of the decade, only for it to not show up, Dane to break his wrist doing a rodeo on the first day, myself getting bed bugs on the way back from the overnight chicken and goat ferry ride... that was a blast.
Spending almost three weeks in the Maldives with the Billabong girls, eating nothing but curry for three meals a day at the seedy Chinese resort, getting royally skunked, only for them to leave on a change-over before the models showed up... and during those two days getting to surf perfect, overhead barrels by with just Brent Bielmann out.
The Mexico trip was, still to this day, some of the best surfing I’ve ever seen—Dillon surfed the points amazingly, and Noa was so explosive and raw.
Nicaragua with Rob and Dillon for Sterling's movie was the four of us (plus Dave Malcolm) sitting in an apartment, doing nothing but surfing, eating plantains, and dreaming up the dumbest surf lifestyle clips imaginable.
Hanging out with Steph in Hawaii, surfing the sandbar out front on soft tops on the small days and filming her terrorize the lineup on her yellow twin fin. Retrospectively, its a visual postcard of some god damn good times.
Gold Coast, 2016.
“Jungle” represents both my strong ties to surfing, and my appreciation for it... and it’s actually helped convince me to scoot more than one toe back into the sport I love most."