The Surfing Essay, by Anthony Friedkin at DRKRM Gallery


When I think of surf culture, especially the California surf scene, my immediate thoughts are of blonde-haired, blue-eyed and tanned Orange county boys.  A great big smile with bright white teeth that resemble a row of chicklets.  The words, “bro,” and “no worries” thrown into every phrase and sentence. To my surprise, when entered the gallery I encountered a wave of photographs of a wild bunch of young men and women. Disheveled hair, scrapes and bruises on their faces, cigarettes spot-welded to their bottom lips appearing to be suspended by their sheer we don’t give a shit! attitude.

This era of surfing in Southern California in and around Venice Beach was known as the “Dog Town”.  A rough and tumble neighborhood where Iggy Pop’s, Raw Power is helping someone charge a wave, or “Bert” the glass door.  Shady apartments, stray dogs, and addicts walk the back alleys in a haze.  Drugs and alcohol definitely help to fuel these cowboys of the uncharted landscape. Protecting the “Cove” and ‘locals only” were par for the course.  You had to earn the right to be down with these guys, like being part of a gang.  This era of surfing also created a by-product, “sidewalk surfing.” Skateboarding had reached a dark age and when the swell was weak these dog town boys rode the concrete wave instead. A rich history evolved from that and this helps set the groundwork for what is known now as “street skating.” Friedkin gives a nod to this with a portrait of Natas Kaupus, a skateboarder famous for pushing the street skate scene in the 80’s. He is crouched down and aware of the camera but gives a glare of contempt.

If you didn’t know Anthony Friedkin, or realize that he was a California native, who spent his time surfing, you realized it pretty quick after inspecting a few photographs. You know that the photographer was definitely mixing and chopping it up with this group.  A level of intimacy and exclusive access become apparent and is reminiscent of Larry Clark’s, Tulsa photographs, black and white images of young heroine addicts shooting up, playing with guns, and looping out in rundown apartments and dwellings.

I also tasted a residue of Danny Lyon’s, The Bikeriders (1967) photos where Lyon became part of the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle gang. To properly document some of these subcultures you needed to be part of the crew, and that’s exactly the sense I got when viewing Friedkin’s photographs. These photos fire on all cylinders and draw you in with gritty black and white tones of dirt, sand, and ocean. Your senses twinge with the smell of salt water, cigarette breath, and damp towels.  You somehow want to be there and at the same moment wanted to run the other way from these individuals.

Not to say that there are only photographs of these young surf rats, there are also warm and intimate portraits and moments caught in time of just “hanging out.”  Off moments captured by the shutter of a camera, an appropriated billboard advertising what really goes good with a Coke, and the glassy translucence of a wave break.

Anthony Friedkin’s show is a beautiful and stark document of an era of Southern California surfing sub-culture. This body of work proves that you can’t just grab a pair of shorts and your surfboard and think your going to get photos of these cats, you poseur!  You had to prove yourself on and off of your surfboard.  These important photographs are a window to a little known scene that helped shape not only future surf culture, and street skateboarding, but also popular culture in general.

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Jay Dawes