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The King Of Queens

Morgan Maassen’s tender world!

style // Jun 12, 2016
Words by Lucas Townsend
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Access is Morgan Maassen’s ace. Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson and Kelly Slater were, for a long time, regularly in his lens. But silver don’t shine forever and Morgan needed some new spice for his cocktail. So he carved out an entire new niche in surfing’s more tender side: The women. He mixes in a world no one else has access to, and he shoots naturally; without stylist or makeup and that’s what makes his photos connect. It’s not just our world which recognises his new raison d’etre. ESPN commissioned Morgs for their infamous Body Issue, where a nude Coco Ho surfed an outer reef in Hawaii for his eyes only. And his new cocktail suitably became the sweetest ticket item at the bar.

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Stab: Tell us about how you shoot women?

Morgan: No makeup, no styling. I just like to hang with girls. I love girls. I think they’re beautiful, intelligent, wild. They make me laugh. A lot of these girl surfers, athleticism is their strongest suite, but when that moment of beauty shines through… that’s what I live for. And the fact that they are world class athletes, doing something I dreamt of being able to do as a surfer myself, makes their beauty that much more enchanting. 

Is a relaxed subject what you aim for? How do you get the girls relaxed? Relaxed… maybe. Natural, definitely. I have a dark sense of humour. Some people love it, some people are caught off guard by it. But it’s who I am, it seeps out of me immediately. So however girls react to me and my presence is what I capture. Their reaction to my flirtatious banter, snarky jokes and callous opinions.

Who do you shoot with most?  Stephanie Gilmore and Laura Enever.

Why?  Stephanie, to me, is the pinnacle of elegance. Her beauty in the water and out is mesmerising. Laura has this flirtatious fire, this sexiness, that no other surfer girl has. It’s a blast to shoot. 

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Very few individuals exist at the intersection of being a top athlete and a gorgeous human being. If there was a third dimension to this equation, it would be quality of character, and that leaves us with just Stephanie. A library of books could be filled with praise of her greatness, but one thing that must be known is just how goddamn cool she is. I’ve yet to meet an apex athlete, no – a superstar, who will cook you breakfast and can chew your ear off about obscure passions like guitar amps and disco music. She’s eclectic, casual, and a student of the world. Just add water, and her style is second to none. She’s my favourite surfer, for almost every reason beyond just her sublime surfing.

Who is most difficult to shoot? Steph, because of politics! (laughs) My real answer would be girls like Lakey Peterson and Courtney Conlogue – that type of girl surfer. They are naturally beautiful, but being photographed in a more delicate light is trivial to them compared to their athletic ambitions. I’ve been shooting with both of them more recently, and I’ve really come to enjoy it. 

Who is the easiest to shoot? Steph. Her facial structure is that of a model. Her smile is blinding. Her body is stunning. The only bad photos that I’ve taken of her are my fault. 

Who haven’t you shot with who you’d like to shoot with? Carissa is someone I’d love to photograph. We’ve always been ships in the night with our separate agendas, so I don’t know if it will happen. But her personality has always struck me as bubbly and sweet, but with a fierce competitive demeanour. That would translates to photos effortlessly.  What do you love about your job? The traveling aspect never gets old to me; I lose sleep at night just dreaming of where I’m off to next. And as weird as it sounds, I love the entanglement of my passion, and business. I truly enjoy navigating my photography around the world, working with characters and corporations, and growing myself every day. I’ve been using my steadily-growing body of work with surf girls to get work in the fashion world, and it’s exhilarating jumping into that realm. 

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Laura has the most fun, period. I’ve spent every hour of the day doing something different with her: surfing, camping, dancing, exploring cities and throwing pool parties. In the water, Laura charges. Like, really charges. P-pass, Cloudbreak, you name it, she pushes female surfing into another realm. And out of the water, she is nothing short of exhilarating to shoot. She’s sexy. With eyes that flirt and beauty that propels the culture of her sport into new territory, my camera has the most fun with Laura and her wild antics.

What do you hate about your job? Drawing the short straw in political situations, like dealing with sponsors and managers. I want to shoot everyone, everywhere, everyday, and when someone denies me that, I hate it. Also, the dynamic nature of photography, it’s the exact opposite of the linear career path of, say, an accountant. I’m self-taught and learning something new everyday, so when I look back, the mistakes and errors I’ve made and how they’ve affected myself and others. Hindsight can be a shitty feeling. 

How often are you asked about the “outs” or unedited photos from the Coco Ho ESPN Body Issue shoot?  More than half a year later and I still get creepy Facebook messages and random friends hitting me up. The honour and magnitude of the shoot is still dawning on me… I’ll be in Tokyo and see an old friend who says, “Lets see ALL the photos from that shoot!”

How was it shooting Coco in a lineup with people while she was naked? In Hawaii no less. ESPN took utmost precaution that we were shooting far from the nearest person. We had a flotilla of boats, jet skis, and dinghies at a secluded outer reef, and the hired lifeguards made sure the lineup was clear well before we began. And even while we were shooting, the extra crew was hundreds of metres away, so the only person who could truly see or photograph Coco naked was me.

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I first saw Sage when I was 13 years old, surfing on an unremarkable rainy day at my go-to reef break in Santa Barbara. She paddled out through the drizzle, wearing a hot blue wetsuit, and proceeded to out-surf me and my friends effortlessly with amazing style and finesse. While her performance was epic, it was her cherubic beauty that had me immediately. I think that may have been the first time I encountered love at first sight. As a young teen attending school full time, and with parents who had no interest in driving me up and down our fickle coast, I lived for those chance sightings of her at Rincon or NSSA events. It wasn’t until years later that I got the opportunity to properly meet Sage, under the pretence of being a photographer for Surfer Magazine, but damn was she as beautiful as ever. In the water, she tears apart waves with a pointbreak-honed style, and out of the water she has the character of a truly pure human being. I think I’m still in love with her, more than a decade later.

What’s the vibe like on an all-girls surf trip? How does it vary from men? Well, the girls are definitely more liberal about letting me catch some waves! (laughs) No, it’s almost identical. iPhones, texting, Instagram, computers, alcohol, surfing, gossip, eating, sleeping. That’s all it consists of. A trip with three 20-year-old girl surfers is no different than a trip with three 20-year-old guy surfers. Maybe just that the gossip is more evil, and less crude. 

Why are you the go-to guy for girls?  Maybe they trust me? Maybe they think I’m gay? I don’t know. In 2010, I was just a broke little kid posting photos of my surfing adventures and girlfriend on my blog. I owe every shred of success I have at shooting women to Megan Villa at Billabong Womens. She approached me out of the blue to shoot her girls in Tahiti, and from there I’ve both developed a full photography career, and harnessed my love of shooting women to carve a niche for myself. I think I do give shooting girls my 110 percent, and apply a lot of my inspiration from art, fashion, and travel to give them a slightly different air than most surf girls have been traditionally photographed, which has typically been as an afterthought to the men.

Anything else you’d like to share with us, sir? I think we are at the tip of the iceberg of the culture complexity and beauty of women surfing. There is no other sport as abstract as surfing, and to pair it with such a worldly, eclectic group of women is magnificent. I think we will see a huge push of women’s surfing in the coming years, far beyond what they represent as athletes on a surfboard. I hope brands and media continue to grow their support for this. I’m just stoked to be a part of it, and proud to call these girls my friends. And I’m also looking for a wife.

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