– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

Nathan Oldfield

A part of our mission is to explore the essence of surfing. Because we believe that the commercial excess of our modern surf culture is but a temporary distraction, a way to our wallets. For many, surfing often encompasses feelings that cannot be easily translated into words. Nathan Oldfield - Self PortraitPerhaps this is why surf photography and film as art are such an important aspect of the culture. Here we are pleased and proud to present a short interview with Nathan Oldfield. Nathan is a photographer, filmmaker, and shaper living in Australia. Aside from that he has a family and a full time job as a primary school teacher.

What strikes me the most as I read the interview is the passion and sincerity in Nathan’s words. His work and art within surfing are a testament to the essence of surfing; a living proof that surfing can and does transcend the marketing and commercial facade that so deeply permeates our current surf culture. We hope you enjoy the interview.

Q. You shared the highly emotional journey of The Making of Noelani on Swaylocks and many of us were deeply touched by it. It seems that in the commercialization of surfing we often lose perspective of the emotional grasp that surfing can have on us. Can you talk about how making that surfboard helped you to heal through the loss?

Ummm…this stuff is very difficult to express because it is extremely painful and personal. Mark Twain said that there aren’t enough words in all the languages in the world to express the sorrow of losing a child. I guess that thread on Swaylocks was my inarticulate attempt.

When our daughter Willow was stillborn, my world fell apart. It was such a dark and difficult time living with that immense sense of loss. Making that little board I called Noelani was a way for me to learn to live again, to believe in living again, beyond the endless wilderness of grief that I was experiencing, alongside my wife Eliza.

Nathan Oldfield - Noelani lamI think people express and experience grief in different ways. People do all sorts of things: weep, stay silent, scream, hide, withdraw, make things, and break things. Making Noelani was just one of the ways I expressed my grief. Did making that surfboard help me heal? Yes and no. The grief path is something I’m still traveling, it’s an ongoing lesson in living with a broken heart, but it was very helpful for me personally to build that board, to photograph it, to film it, to write about it, and to eventually ride it myself and to film friends riding it too. I think that the process of creation can be very powerful, and it has been a positive thing in my experience of loss.

Q. In a recent article in one the major American surfing magazines they talk about surf films and neatly categorize them into several genres. Without much surprise, the high performance (and uber-funded) films were at the top of the list. Your films deal with different types of surfing as well as the people and characters. Where do you get your inspiration and what moves you to film?

Well, I’ve always been a very passionate and grateful participant in the act of riding waves. Nathan Oldfield shooting Alex Knost - Photo: Ryan HeywoodYou know, I love surfing with my whole heart. I’m interested in where it’s been, where it’s at, and where it’s going. So my interest in surf filmmaking operates on a few levels.

Firstly, I aim to document and record something of the activity that has given me so much. Secondly, I hope to give something back to surfing, through presenting it in an honest and sensitive way through film. In another sense, too, I think surf films can open people’s hearts and minds to how surfing can teach us how meaningful and special life really is. If my work ever inspired anyone out there to surf with a little more gratitude, then I’d be a happy man.

Q. What can we expect to see in Seaworthy?

Well, Seaworthy is still a work in progress. Much of the principal footage has been shot, but I’m still fleshing out how it’ll all tie in together in terms of sequencing, narration and some other stuff.

Essentially, the film will be a look at a variety of individuals and the different ways they approach wave riding. A whole range of surfing is in there: alaias, olos, toothpicks, singlefins, twins, thrusters, quads, fish, logs, bodysurfing. A part of the thrust of documenting those different kinds of surfing ties in with the idea of developing an intimacy with the sea. If you’re willing to ride everything, you can open yourself up to wider range of experiences in surfing, and you can connect with the sea in deeper ways.

Nathan Oldfield photoYou know, for me personally, I’m interested in the idea of surfing with a pure heart. Because through surfing, when your heart is truly receptive to that intimacy with the sea, a wealth of sea-gifts can be discovered. If you are open to it, a surfing life can impart so much: patience; humility; wisdom; enchantment; an understanding of the significance of beauty; the desire for wildness; the connection to place; a sense of belonging in the world; the value of pure simple joy.

So for me, why you surf is more important than how you surf. And I like to think that there may be men and women who are so genuinely connected to the sea and so grateful for the gift of wave riding, that they are actually upon the journey of becoming seaworthy. I don’t know, maybe that sounds over the top or romantic or preachy, but that is where I’m at in terms of the place I hope the film will go.

Q. Any thoughts on the topic of sustainability or social responsibility in regards to how you approach your work?

Well, I don’t think my little vision of things beats people over the head with environmental issues. But I always aim to highlight the beauty and wildness and sheer value of the physical environment in which we are so fortunate to play. I like to shoot a more pulled back perspective, because I think it emphasizes the wave rather than the rider, and I like to incorporate contextual shots that place surfers in a landscape. There’s no explicit message, but hopefully the viewer is moved by my work to appreciate the physical and cultural and spiritual significance of the sea and the land.

Also, it has been exciting for me to continue to record the work that my friend Tom Wegener is undertaking with his wood boards. When I made ‘Lines from a poem…‘ Tom was just beginning to build longboards using paulownia from sustainable timber plantations. Nathan Oldfield - Wegener boardsNow, in ‘Seaworthy’, I have been fortunate enough to document the evolution of Tom’s experimentation with exploring pre-European contact Hawai’ian boards, the olo and the alaia, once again using paulownia. The alaias that Tom is making are very green, just wood finished with linseed oil. They are seemingly primitive boards but in reality they are quite complex and refined in terms of bottom curves and outlines and flex. They are quite technical to surf well, but they offer an incredibly exhilarating ride, it’s the fastest and most pure sense of trim I have ever experienced. The fact that they are green only heightens that sense of purity. It’s a pretty exciting time, I think, in surfing.

Q. During our research on environmentally friendly surfing here on Phoresia we’ve come to realize that it is the essence of surfing that captures our attention and makes us devotees for life. What does surfing mean to you? Do think that it has an inherent essence that transcends age and culture?

My father passed surfing and shaping on down to me and I look forward to passing it down to my children. I see surfing as simply an extraordinary gift. It’s an absolute privilege. For me, surfing isn’t just sport, it isn’t just physical. It’s actually metaphysical; it’s an experience of the heart and the spirit. It’s a way of being and breathing in an imperfect world. It’s a place to go to, a place to be, and a place to belong.

Q. Any other projects in the works?

Not really. I do little things here and there, but basically Seaworthy is taking up all my creative time. I have been working on it for two years already. I am a fulltime primary school teacher and I take that pretty seriously, because I have a lot of special young people to look after every day. Nathan Oldfield - Shaping roomAnd my main priority is my little family. I am a father of two young children, Noa and Blossom, and they are the main focus in my life, along with their lovely mum, my beautiful wife Eliza. So Seaworthy’s more than enough for me at the moment. I’m actually really looking forward to having it done so I can give more time to my family, and catch up on a few other things in life, like making some more boards and hopefully surfing more.

Q. Last words?

For me personally, riding waves is a very spiritual activity and I am extraordinarily thankful to God for the great, good, generous gift of surfing. I just hope that I am able to share something of this heartfelt appreciation through my filmmaking. Thanks for your time.


Be sure to check out Nathans website at for updates on the release of his next film Seaworthy as well as some clips on his YouTube channel.

(All photos by Nathan Oldfield except 3rd photo from top, by Ryan Heywood)

• Category: art, diy, interviews

5 Responses »

  1. Thanks for this interview guys. As you pointed out, the mainstream surf media isn’t going to get to these kinds of projects, but there are lots of us interested in them.

  2. Phoresia you have captured Nathan Oldfield in this interview, or he has allowed himself to be captured. Nathan’s ability to share his wonder for the sea and it’s seaworthy creatures is truly astounding. We await the release of Seaworthy! Fans of his style in Lines… will not be disapointed by the looks of the previews.

  3. I followed the journey of Nathan on Swaylocks. Nathan is a great man, a great surfer, and a great artist. I’m eager to watch Seaworthy.

  4. Seaworthy was EPIC.

  5. This really is one of the best if not the best surfing film i have had the fortune of stumbling across –
    Seaworthy captures and displays to us viewers the real beauty and special meaning that the ocean and its waves can give us. Nathan has not only touched on this very intimate feeling that being in the ocean can provide but has helped me realise that riding waves in the ocean is a healing and very spiritual practice and not just a place to beat the hell out of waves.
    Well done Nathan
    Thankyou very much
    Chris Fuller