Interviews, Photography, Surf cultureCity Surf 

-Words by Mat Arney, images by Nate Lawrence

Access to the ocean and the joys of surfing is something that most surfers take for granted. Even in coastal cities in wave-rich zones, with good transport links and infrastructure, multiple barriers (societal, economical and geographical) exist that can still prevent young people, and often the young people who would benefit most from it, from discovering surfing.

In San Francisco, a non-profit organisation called City Surf Project is on a mission to change the lives of the city’s urban youth. They estimate that 80% of the young people living in their city have never been to the ocean, and believe that if introduced to surfing the impact can be profound.

Former SURFING Magazine and What Youth Senior Photographer Nate Lawrence is probably most well known for his stunning depictions of Indonesian line-ups and the world’s best surfers, but since being introduced to City Surf Project he’s been documenting its students and impacts with fellow photographer Rachael Rothstein, for a hardcover coffee table book that is now into the last few days of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its publication.

Surf Simply spoke to Nate to find out more about the project.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

Can you tell us about the City Surf Project and its aims?

CITY SURF tells the story of City Surf Project, a non-profit that connects underrepresented San Francisco youth to the ocean and themselves through surfing. Featuring moving interviews with CSP’s students and their diverse cadre of volunteers – surfers who come from all walks of life – this beautiful hardcover coffee table book documents San Francisco’s unique urban surf culture and its impact on the city’s youth. Shot entirely on film, CITY SURF is a celebration of what it means to be a city surfer and how surfing and the ocean are changing young lives in San Francisco.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

Is San Francisco your hometown? What sort of a city is it for a surfer to live in?

I grew up in Santa Cruz, California which is an hour drive from SF. As a kid I would visit The City and be in awe of the big buildings and steep streets. For a surfer living in a city, there’s no better place.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

San Francisco’s beaches have a reputation for being big, cold and heavy, so not the most inviting environment to learn to surf in. Has that had any impact upon the enthusiasm of City Surf Project’s students, or are these conditions just where they set their bar for “this is what surfing is”?

Ocean Beach is rough and raw and definitely only for the experienced surfers. A few students who have graduated the program now surf Ocean Beach regularly. There are some more protected beaches where the classes happen, but there’s no avoiding the cold. As Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

What are some of the project’s impacts that you’ve seen over the course of documenting it?

Surfing is a very hard activity to get introduced to in San Francisco for kids and young adults. Expensive equipment paired with the beach usually being a far bus ride away. But when a student of City Surf Project falls in love with surfing and the ocean it’s infectious and spreads to others in their school or community.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

How have you structured the book?

The idea for the book came when I attended one of the surf classes. The look on the kids faces – pure excitement. I got a feeling that was different than any other experience I’d had surfing. It wasn’t about the waves or conditions or maneuvers. It was simply about being in the ocean and feeling its power. Seeing the freedom it gave the students, I got curious to see where these kids were coming from and what their lives were like outside of the ocean. The stories in the book follow six students from different parts of the city on a journey from their San Francisco neighborhood to the untamed waves of Ocean Beach.

Surf Simply technical surf coaching resort, Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

This is a passion project for you; shot entirely on film and it will be published as a large format, hardcover coffee table book. Why did you choose the crowd-funding route on Kickstarter, and what are some of the rewards that you’re offering backers?

Publishing a premium hardcover coffee table book is expensive. As an independent photographer working with a small non-profit, we can’t afford to publish this book on our own. But CITY SURF is a story that needs to be told. So we’re turning to our community – that’s you! – to help us tell it, and tell it the right way.
Check out our Kickstarter campaign that we have going on. We have prints of Ocean Beach available as well the hard cover book for $60. Thank you for your support!