Friday, April 15, 2016


I was approached to explore type options for Andreea Waters stunning book of NYC surfing photos available from Schiffer Publishing. Andreea and I met at an outdoor, women’s, surf event on a cold day in October of 2012 where I was surprised and inspired to see how many women were interested in cold water surfing. Understand that women surfing in the winter lineup was a rarity previously but the scene had been changing drastically and was organizing in new ways. I remarked to her that having photos of what Rockaway was like a few years before these changes will be of a great value someday. No one seemed to be comprehensively documenting it. There was a realization among myself and the crew that I surfed with that the NYC surf scene would never be going back to the sort of unseen innocence that existed previous to hurricane Sandy and earlier. She had those photos, she had been on the street and on the shore passionately documenting it all. A few weeks after meeting her, hurricane Sandy hit and changed the area and interest in surfing Rockaway and NYC forever. At the time, and to this day, Andreea is the only photographer I know who has been comprehensively documenting the entire scene and region throughout. From standing on the shore in 20 degree wind gusts and rain while shooting Nor´easter bomb drops when no one is watching, to witnessing the NYC freaks of summer dancing in the sand, she’s got it all. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to edit the book from her vast trove of inspired images and can’t wait to see them all published someday as a historical document of the time.

Our discussions on hand-lettered type for the cover were about how NYC surf is in a constant and dynamic flux with drastically changing conditions — “You should have been here an hour ago.” It’s urban beach-side. Gritty, quirky, unexpected, ever changing and beautiful. The waves go from amazing to crap, very quickly. There are a myriad of frustrations to deal with, as any NYC surfer knows, but you always get to the bliss eventually, if you know where, when and how to look.

My own experience with surfing in NYC started in the mid 90’s. I called my brother who lived in NJ at the time to get my old surfboards and we started surfing again in NYC. We mostly surfed from hurricane season through winter (as everyone now knows, it’s when the waves are best). If waves were firing we’d go out at least 3 times a week. We bought bigger boards as we were blown away at how big, steep and heavy (read - spooky) NYC can get as compared to our experiences surfing in NJ, and our tiny thrusters wouldn’t cut it on bigger days. The feel and aesthetics of the place were so contrary to the NJ beaches we gew up surfing but it was such an appealing and open place, we fell in love with it. Approaching the type was based on a feel for the place and a collective thinking about experiences and conversations with my own surf crew and other surfers I met along the way.

Schiffer Publishing was responsive to all of the creative input and put all the design and print elements together to deliver the final product. I was there that day for that hurricane swell, depicted in the cover image, and it spells out so much about NYC surfing — the incongruities and the exuberance of it all. I remarked to Andreea on the beach that day “I bet that guy in the purple glitter suit rips...” and he did, he killed it. And I love that Derek Hynd had a really interesting conversation with Andreea about the significance of this image and subsequently penned a thoughtful essay included in the book after seeing her photos. As she tells it, “The cover was a hot creative collaboration.” When she reviewed her photos with Derek, he had an immediate reaction to the image, “The photo of the purple wetsuited surfer jogging by as another tries an “air” in the background tweaks the norm of blackouts and uncrowded surf usually seen in magazines. Vividly abnormal, it murmurs strange breed these parts.” 

This post features a series of type & image explorations from our creative sessions that also included the wisdom, design & creative eye of Elisa Bates These images and treatments didn’t make the final cut with for a variety of reasons but each have their own charms and soul. It’s how the sausage is made. Enjoy.

Those who surf here know that NYC surf can’t be pinned down but it’s got a serious flow and soul all it’s own. My typographic approach is painterly and comes from an interest in expressive and intuitive solutions. At times it nods and bends to the understood rules of type (Swiss bullsh*t) but it’s always reaching for an impact on an expressive level first and foremost.
Brutalist architecture / soviet communal apartment style can be seen dotting the Rockaway NYC landscape, which makes for an unexpected beach aesthetic. This type was originally conceived as a nod to this architectural aesthetic and
thinking for the Quiksilver NYC Pro competition to hint at the chunky, odd, yet beautiful (in their way) brutalist buildings. I also see these typeform explorations as referencing heavy, steep, drops jacking up quick over sandbars. 

My sketchbook page seen below and Andreea’s photo spread both show these sort of buildings in relation to the surf. In the end it all came together in the creative direction from Andreea — “The cover was the last piece of the puzzle and it had to wow. It had to speak to a surfer and non-surfer. The type needed to connect the energy of the surfers and elements of the ocean to the grit and culture of the city. It had to showcase the beauty in the madness of New York Surfing.” Yes.
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We considered exploring some type that had a “Surf meets NYC tagging” feel (*Fun fact —While in high school in south NJ a transfer student from Queens wrote out the graffiti tagging alphabet he and his crew used. I was grateful to get this hidden/expressive typographic code based on an economy of movement, physical and medium limitations and subculture). None of these really worked out in the end but...

This happy accident from the tag type explorations is a fave. Those who surf winter swells are out often enough on overcast, gray days on dark, big, winter swells. It’s not for everyone, I get that. Hardcore NYC.

We were asked to explore some type only/no photos solutions with colored spine options. Out of these the black cover with gray type was a favorite of the creative crew.
Every hardcore NYC surfer know the winter spray. Exhilarating.

This image captures so much about NYC surfing when decent winter swells roll in on foggy/snowy days and the ocean blends seamlessly with the sky. Thoroughly enjoyed working this image. Some of the most memorable days out there.
Originally the idea was thrown around that the book would be titled ONE. Here are some of the favorite hand lettered type explorations from that series with design by Elisa Bates.

See inside more of the final published edition and get your own damn copy at Surf NYC.