Aloha everyone and welcome to the seventh episode of The Temple of Surf, The Podcast
Today with us Sylvain Cazenave, legendary surf photographer from Biarritz, France.
Let’s discover more about him, surf photography, future projects and much more!
For more info about Sylvain’s work please visit
You can find this episode in Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, Youtube and in many other important podcast platforms, if you want to read the interview, here it is…..
TTOS : Where are you today?
In Biarritz, in my one office because today’s high tide, so there is no way to go surf.
TTOS : It’s not good for the surf, but it is good for us, because at least we are with us today. How’s the situation in Biarritz in this time of confinement due to coronavirus?
Everything is closed….nobody can go out in France more than 100 kilometers, so people cannot come from Paris, from Dubai or Italy or Germany or England, you know, it’s open only for people around Biarritz…. It’s okay….It’s good.
TTOS : let’s open that by end of June, the situation will change….
Yeah., the situation is going to be better in Europe….we just started to go on the, not on the beach, but to go surf on saturday.
We will be okay,you know, in a few weeks we will be good because they will reopen the airports and all that….let’s hope not too much disease spreads around, you know? So that slowly stops…
TTOS : today we’re going to talk about surf, surf photography, your future projects, but the first question that I have for you today is : what is the most important thing, in your opinion, in surfing…
Just to catch a wave, “Go catch a wave” as simple as that.
TTOS : Very pragmatic, isn’t it?
Yeah, because I took my first wave in may, 1968……that changed my life.
I still remember that…..I don’t even need to close my eyes….I still remember those feeling of gliding, you know, be on a longboard, be on a wave ….the movement…. unbelievable.
TTOS : Do you remember the first board that you surfed?
I bought, in fact it was a long board, It was about nine foot eight, very heavy cause 1968 everything was going very slow, especially in France, people were coming from America sometime with longboards, sometime with shortboards
But that time was going crazy….there was no rule….what board to ride….people didn’t know that well….nobody knew anything, especially in France.
The top guys…Nat Young,Mickey Dora ….. they knew what they were doing, but us in France… no….. No.
TTOS : So basically very heavy boards, very difficult to ride…
In effect, it was good, because you paddle three times and it gives you a glide already.
If you have a very light surfboards you can’t even stand up If you have no speed… unless you’re a champion.
TTOS : You still have that surfboard?
No….because I was young, you know…. I was 14 years old, I didn’t have much money … my mom gave me some money….I had some… and you know,the movement was going to shortboards I was buying and selling surfboards….looking for the right surfboard
My next board was maybe around seven, five/six, hen I was looking for the right box.
Today, in my garage, there’s about eight or nine surfboards. All longboards.
TTOS : How did you become as a photographer and more specific, a surf photographer?
I became a photographer because I always liked photography, always liked the light.
While I was very young, my father bought me a subscription to LIFE magazine, which was, you know, in the sixties, “The” photographic magazine.
I was used to see very nice quality pictures, I also liked Surfer Magazine that was very high quality too.
I was really into something nice….. without knowing I was already involved in the light.
Then I met Jeff Divine in 1979,he told me what “you should be a photographer”,cause I was shooting with a small camera,I was already shooting something for fun and well, I went to Hawaii in 1980 and shot some very good pictures. I was very lucky.
There was some good swells there at Waimea and Pipeline….
I came back and I got some good publications. I, I didn’t succeed right away….. I had many jobs to pay for my photography, but slowly I came up, I climbed the latter.
TTOS : When was the defining moment of your career. The moment that you said…. I’m doing this as a professional?
Well, it’s when I managed to make enough money for my pictures.
You know…. before I was thinking….should I go on, should I stop?
Because when I showed pictures, the early eighties, there was no magazine, no industry, especially in France.
And I was a wind surfer too, I sold some windsurfing pictures to a magazine, and then the magazine sold a lot …….that was good for me
I worked with Quiksilver and Rip Curl right away…..that’s what I became a photographer.
A great magazine was selling more than a hundred thousand issues a month.
TTOS : Today it’s not even considerable, right?
Maybe “Surf Session” sells today 6,000.
“Surfer” magazine went down from being monthly and now they only have three or four issues a year. At a certain point, they even wanted to stop it … “Surfer” magazine right ?
I opened the gallery out, a shop..so it is different for me … I don’t want to shoot the video, I’m not a videographer , I’m a photographer.
And now , since I’ve been shooting since 1980, I have 40,000 slides in my gallery . So now my point of view is to be more an artist.
TTOS : among all of these films and photographs is there one that has a very special meaning for you? Maybe your best photo….the one that you really care about.
There’s a few of of them because you know, it’s 40 years of career now….
I have to say that being French, working with Laird Hamilton, I have a few shots that nobody has and I also have a very good relation with him.
I introduce him to a French company called Oxbow….that’s when Laird was testing, towing surfing.
I was in a helicopter. I was flying in the ocean like two miles, three miles, four miles out. And I have some insight shots, all the history of towing plus some amazing artistic shots.
TTOS : Amazing! How can people see those shots today?
You come to come to my gallery here in Biarritz and I will show you lots of stuff!
TTOS : Ok!…. so we invite all the people that are listening to come to Biarritz Rue Gambetta number 8.
Each picture published in my gallery has a story because you know, I traveled the world for 40 years. So this picture, I remember all of it … why, how, who….
TTOS : What was the craziest story that you carry in your memory? or the most fun…
It is different…. I have some scary stories, some wild ones….
The wild ones we cannot say yet because I have family and my friends have family….
during the trip, as you say, “What happens on the boat, stays on the boat”
I will write a book, but it will be published only after I die.
I have some incredible stories…how we did some trip and we discover some waves… the guys who rode the waves, our trips in Australia, in the Mentawai Islands, in Africa .
You know, things happen for a reason….. you have to go and go and go and process it, you know,
TTOS : will you publish a surf photography book soon?
I have that as one of your plans.
I’m trying to gather some stuff…that’s why you have some stories on my Instagram,
I’m studying these, try to explain them and I’m gathering all these.
I have 40 years of career behind me.
TTOS : Yeah. You can go volume one volume, two….you know…. That would be interesting. Right?
Exactly. Because when I was working all those years, I was traveling all the time. I had no time for me really. Well… that was my life.
Today I’m very happy and I was very happy back then…you know, I was meeting somebody and we said, “let’s go there” and we would just go somewhere, come back pack our luggages and go somewhere else.
Now I’m relaxing, you know, I’m 66. So I’m just relaxing and taking more time for me.
TTOS : Yeah. It’s different. Right. Every moment of our life as a different kind of fun, more physical when you’re young and then when you are older, it’s more psychological. Right. ?
So, yeah. But I still want to surf some waves that I can still surf at 66.
I won’t be able to surf when I will be 70 years old or 75.
I still want to ride Jeffrey’s Bay and a few of other waves.
I was supposed to go to Jeffrey’s Bay in June, but you know, this year is going to be too crazy. So no, that’s why I’m slowing down and I spend more time surfing …..now back to surf
TTOS : What was the greatest achievement of your career? the one that you are most proud of….
Well, became a surf photographer also because of the ocean, I need the ocean.
I leave in Biarritz and I need the ocean.
Ocean is, is part of me and become a surf photographer…. I’m the first who managed to do a living from full time photographer and right now, most of the guys I know in France, they are not full time surfing photographers, you know?
And I’m still here, a surfing photographer.
TTOS : I was talking with a music photographer that told me “the only way to sustain as a photographer today is to shoot weddings and I hate to do that” ….
Some of my friends who live I in California, they had to go do that and they are doing it for a long time, but I promised myself I would never do it….and I was lucky. I never had to do it.
Now with the gallery I’ve had it for four years and people know where I am. Maybe with the crisis. It would be a bit tough, but I won’t have to do wedding photography.
Wedding photography, you know, can be very, very creative. It’s not something you can laugh about
I want to be in the ocean, I want to do surfing
TTOS : Yeah, no, of course, with all the respect, for wedding photographers….actually it is scary because you know….if something happens to the memory card, even if you have a double card in the machine, you don’t want to face the bride….. It’s better to go for like a shark session of surf, rather than face angry bride. J
That happened to me with film!
One year I was shooting in Maui windsurfing for a Swiss company….the rider was only there for five or six days.
There were no waves….it was bad, rainy and the client was ….”when are you shooting?”
There was no wind…we cannot shoot and that involve lots of money, you know?
The last day the guy was supposed to leave at night,but in the afternoon it was super used to be a window of two to three hours of wind, you know, not very good, but wind and okay light.
So I told the client… well, we can solve the problem… you are on the beach, you get the boards ready, right there we switchboard and I will be shooting from a helicopter in a way I can move around and we can shoot really fast, you know…
The client said…. okay, so I flew in a helicopter for three hours, short, like crazy, I brought the film to the lab on Maui and the guy at the lab, he f#@$#d up and all the film went down and he could never get them back up, all f@#$#d up.
It would be a big nightmare. Of course I lost the job. I lost the client. That’s terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible.
TTOS : What is the equipment that you use for surf photography, what is your favorite one?
I’ve always been with Nikon , except for 1976 when I got the Minolta, but I’ve always been with Nikon
Now I’m with the latest Nikon I got the 850 a very good camera. So I have all the lenses from 10 mm …15 to 16 to 22. all in all Nikon,
TTOS : what is your favorite lens for surfing photography?
I love the 600, 600 F4 is so good. So good..very heavy, very big.
And from the boat I liked the zoom, 80 to200, now It became 70 to 210, I like the big opening up two eight very, very good lenses.
TTOS : we’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session. So please answer thing that comes up to your mind. Okay?
TTOS : The best surfboard that you ever ridden…
Donald Takayama surfboards, those are the kind of surfboards you can bring your cigarette and a drink and the board does everything for you.
I have a few of them then, because I knew Donald very well. so he shaped me a few of those that you would bring from France. He was coming for festival in the 1994/5/6/7 and carry the board I ordered from him
TTOS : best shaper of all time…
For all time, I would say and Dick Brewer are the all time shapers
Both of them, they are engineers and they were able to shape anything and revolutionize the shape in their time. And they were incredible.
I saw them work. It’s a pleasure of the eyes and of course, magic.
TTOS : Personal question, your favorite song….
My favorite song, I just listen to it. It was by Jefferson Airplane, long time ago.
TTOS : Your favorite surf spot
Is my house Cote des Basques, but now it’s changed….
You know, I grew up here. I sat there every day. I knew every corner with thing, but now too many people.
but that’s my favorite because my best surfboard, is at the surf club at the beach I leave it there.
I look at my window and… I wait…. see. Oh, the surf would be perfect. In 10 minutes I walk down. I still have one or two hours. surf, Welcome back home. Perfect. Thank you.
TTOS : Best surfer of all time…..
I would say Laird Hamilton for what he did for surfing.
I knew him…he was a surfer, regular surfer. Then he wanted to ride the biggest wave ever, so he took up windsurfing and with Dick Brewer…he was surfing out giant words on Kauai in the late eighties already. And then he did towing . He surfs big and small boards, he has no fear.
If the waves are smaller, he goes on a long board on a 12 foot boat, then he got bored and he created the stand up paddleing….And then now with the foil …
For me surfing is about riding a wave.
Like people from Hawaii say: “Riding is not only surfing on a surfboard. Surfing is riding a wave in the ocean.”
So you can ride it on the foil miles out in the ocean when the wave is not breaking yet.
Like you see the, the pictures and videos of Kalani too, you know…. those guys.
TTOS : then the last question, he’s a little bit unusual….we want to know your best relationship advice…
Well, my best advice… I always told my girlfriends…. “I have one mistress, My mistress is the ocean”
They would say “Oh, we’ll make him forget the ocean” …. “No way the ocean is part of my life”.
This is part of me. So, you know, because of the ocean, especially here, you have to deal with the tides and the right moment, the right wind….. So sometimes you have to tell your wife….she said, Oh, do you know dinnet at8PM?
You say, nah, you can’t do dinner because the surf will be good from six to nine. So I come, come at 9. They will not. She says, no, no idea. No I can’t.
The ocean decides the ocean decides.
Recorded in May 2020