Kevin Welsh photographs the world's top wave-riders for Surfermagazine and catches the action on video at the same time. A senior staff photographer for the surfing mag, Welsh won't reveal the specifics of his "double trouble" system, but it's clear he's getting maximum mileage from each shoot: The glossy pages of Surfer are filled with his stills, and he compiles the best of his moving images to put together his Surf NRG video series.
Each tape is a yearbook-type montage of scenes from the professional surfing season. But Welsh also gives airtime to amateur riders, who hang ten on their home breaks -- areas where sandbars or reefs create a steady stream of rideable waves. Welsh has been producing the annual surfamentary for eight years, and for the past few he's coupled the release of each video with a promotional tour, known this year as the NRG 2000 East Coast Summer Tour. Traveling up and down the coast in his 23-foot motor home with a rock band caravaning behind him, he stops in beach communities and puts on a show that includes a concert and a video screening.
Surf dogs in the crowd get to watch themselves on screen at many shows. Some of the footage in the latest video, NRG 2000, Surf NRG Volume 8, was actually shot on last year's tour, during which Welsh chased Hurricane Bonnie as it skirted the East Coast. "If you stay to the southwest of [a hurricane], you'll catch the swell from offshore winds," he said last week, just outside a tour stop in Folly Beach, South Carolina. "These guys are going to come out tonight and see themselves on some of the best waves they ever had."
This year's tour began in New Jersey and wraps up September 10 in Palm Beach. "On our way to Florida [last year], we got Hurricane Georges," says Welsh, who included on Volume 8footage of St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach locals riding storm-spawned surf.
Welsh's tapes always feature dramatic scenes, but this year he's gone conceptual in honor of the upcoming new millennium. Volume 8opens with a scene in which pro surfer Damien Hobgood is kicking back on the floor of his surfboard-strewn bedroom in Satellite Beach. The camera pans to Hobgood's PC and slowly zooms in on the screen, where an image of his twin brother, C.J., pops into view. One of the top 40 surfers in the world, C.J. is shown in action at the Gotcha Tahiti Pro tournament on what's being called one of the gnarliest surf breaks in the world, Teahupoo.
"Damien's on one side of the world, checking out what's going on on the other side," Welsh says of the bedroom scene. "It stresses how the Internet has become such a viable tool for surfers."
Live surfcams, surf forecasts, and wave models appear on sites all over the Web, and the hurricane-chasing footage of Volume 8 is interspersed with online storm-track images. Welsh uploads teaser images from his videos on his own site, www.surfnrg.com, which is where Tom Cook, of Miami, found out about the NRG tour. An oceanography graduate student at the University of Miami, and co-chair of the South Florida chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Cook saw an opportunity to turn the event into a benefit for the group, which promotes ocean and beach stewardship with educational programs and clean-up days. He emailed Welsh, who approved of the idea. "There's the Internet taking effect again," Welsh says.
The band on the bill -- made up of surfers, of course -- is Southern California blues-rock group Sunchild, which hooked up with the tour in yet another example of synergy. Welsh and Sunchild frontman Donavon Frankenreiter, a pro surfer, were on a Volume 8 shoot together in Panama, and when the musician-surfer mentioned his band, things started to click. "It was a three-hour boat trip to get there," explains Welsh. "We talked about the tour during that remote shoot, and here they are."