How I learned to re­lax and let surf pho­tog­ra­phy take over my life.


Mar­cus Pal­adino is a tal­ented Cana­dian photographer mak­ing his name on the cold wa­ter scene; he riffs on a pho­to­graphic life.

My god­mother and I have al­ways had a re­ally pow­er­ful con­nec­tion, al­most as if we’re the same per­son. She’s like a drink­ing buddy and a moth­erly fig­ure all rolled into one, which is why I’ve con­sid­ered her as my sec­ond mom. She is the per­son who got me my first cam­era. I never asked for one, nor did I have any pre­vi­ous in­ter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy, but she got me a plas­tic point-and-shoot film cam­era any­ways. It’s as if she knew.

In my teenaged years, that cam­era ended up be­ing used mostly to hide my il­le­gal para­pher­na­lia. Where the roll of film would be, I’d hide my stash and no one could in­ves­ti­gate be­cause they would “ex­pose the film and ruin my pho­tos.” The only rea­son I signed up for pho­tog­ra­phy in high school was be­cause my older sis­ter said it was an easy A. Con­sid­er­ing the only A I ever got in school was in Physed, I thought I could use the GPA boost. All my friends were in an­other class so I ended up with the artis­tic out­casts who ac­tu­ally payed at­ten­tion to our lec­tures and as­sign­ments. My mind was al­ways hard to keep up with, which is part of why I never did well in school, but work­ing with 35mm film and cre­at­ing time­less art slowed ev­ery­thing down and gave me a sense of calm. With no dis­trac­tions, I found my­self in a peace­ful bliss qui­etly work­ing away in the dark­room. At the end of the term I was granted an Out­stand­ing Achieve­ment award in Pho­tog­ra­phy. For the first time in my life I had le­git­i­mate recog­ni­tion for some­thing that I en­joyed.

By the time grad­u­a­tion came, I was lost. Not sure what to do with my life, I sought coun­cil with one of my favourite teach­ers. His ad­vice was sim­ple; “Find what you love to do, then find a way to get paid for it.” I got ac­cepted to a col­lege with a solid Fine Arts pro­gram and to my sat­is­fac­tion it was only a 30 minute drive from the lo­cal ski re­sort. How­ever, my in­struc­tors were get­ting fed up with me try­ing to in­cor­po­rate move­ment, ac­tion, or sports into every as­sign­ment. It was that, or the fact that I’d show up to class straight from the moun­tain and still cov­ered in snow. Thank­fully, it was only a 10 month pro­gram. By the year’s end my sus­pi­cions were con­firmed… school wasn’t for me. School felt more like a com­pe­ti­tion rather than a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I got told that I would never “make it” as a photographer if I avoided wed­dings. But in re­al­ity I didn’t want to shoot wed­dings, they’re not fast enough, I live above 1/800th of a sec­ond. So, I left for the moun­tains with a dream and a large un­paid stu­dent loan.

Sea­sons went by, pow was slashed, friends were made, fun was had. I still strug­gled to make that tran­si­tion from ama­teur to pro­fes­sional. Even though my cer­tifi­cate claimed so, I re­fused to call my­self one. That changed when a co­worker told me about his off­sea­son in a small surf com­mu­nity on the edge of Van­cou­ver Is­land. Tofino… I had a feel­ing while rid­ing the bus along that nar­row wind­ing road that I was on my way home. Surf­ing was a nat­u­ral at­trac­tion for some­one who loves con­stant move­ment. Surfers com­plain about the dif­fi­culty of work­ing with an ever chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, but I loved it and thrived on the ex­cite­ment that the chal­lenge pre­sented. I lived in a staff ac­com­mo­da­tion at a beach­front re­sort, so the ma­jor­ity of my 20 room­mates were avid surfers. Hav­ing that as my newly ac­quired ad­dic­tion helped de­velop my surf pho­tog­ra­phy and still plays an ac­tive role in my style. Stay­ing for the sum­mer turned into stay­ing for the win­ter. Which changed into stay­ing for­ever. With­out re­al­iz­ing it I went from a tran­sient ski-bum into a grounded lo­cal.

With the hia­tus of Canada’s only surf mag­a­zine, I started film­ing/edit­ing to fill any voids that may have opened up. I spent ev­ery­day work­ing to live, bik­ing in the cold, stand­ing in the rain and surf­ing as much as hu­manly pos­si­ble. With a lack of sun, numb feet, no money, lim­ited gear, amaz­ing friends, tal­ented pro­fes­sion­als and con­stantly chang­ing con­di­tions, I got by. One short go­rilla film be­came an en­tire cult tril­ogy, and I was told that with­out re­al­iz­ing it we were keep­ing the Cana­dian surf cul­ture alive. If you work hard enough, peo­ple start to no­tice. For me, the right per­son no­ticed. A lo­cal surf­board shaper liked what I was do­ing, and took a chance on a kid who had a blog and was mak­ing stupid videos with his friends. He hired me to pro­mote his busi­ness and shoot with his team rid­ers. My dream be­came a re­al­ity. Though the money was min­i­mal it was enough to forego a day-job, and even though I was lit­er­ally liv­ing pay­cheque to pay­cheque, it al­lowed me to fo­cus on my craft full-time.

The worst thing about liv­ing the dream is when it’s time to wake up. I was thanked for all my hard work and en­thu­si­asm, but we had to make a change with my sub-con­tract em­ploy­ment. I was let go of my Mar­ket­ing Man­ager du­ties and placed as a So­cial Me­dia



Co­or­di­na­tor. When caught stand­ing still, do you take a step for­wards or back­wards? My heart knew I had to keep go­ing, even with­out that safety net. I made a de­ci­sion to fo­cus solely on achiev­ing my goal, to be a free­lance surf photographer. I started shoot­ing full-time with one of Canada’s top surfers, and his hard work and ded­i­ca­tion rubbed off on me quickly. Work­ing with him were (and still are) some of the most in­spi­ra­tional times of my life. This was my rou­tine for the the bet­ter part of a year; shoot, surf, shoot, edit, emails, sleep. Every sin­gle day. With a strict reg­i­ment like this, I ended up sac­ri­fic­ing a lot of po­ten­tially lov­ing re­la­tion­ships. At the time I was will­ing to make that sac­ri­fice, I didn’t want to be dis­tracted and lose mo­men­tum. I worked so hard that it scared me and at times it phys­i­cally hurt. That was a con­stant re­minder to keep my mo­ti­va­tion from fad­ing, you have to suf­fer to suc­ceed. I would stare at my bank ac­count and think: If I don’t make any more money, how many months do I have left? I was start­ing to wear my­self thin men­tally. Anx­i­ety de­vel­oped, but I just couldn’t shake it. I was liv­ing and breath­ing surf pho­tog­ra­phy, it took over my life.

As the days started get­ting longer, a sense of re­lief be­gan to come over me. Ed­i­tors were re­ply­ing to my emails, clients were ask­ing for my rates and pho­tos were start­ing to get pub­lished. All that stress had fi­nally led me to com­fort. It was as if this was no longer a strug­gle, but a new life I made for my­self. When I fi­nally be­gan to breathe nor­mally and calm my mind is when I re­al­ized that while I may not have made it, what­ever it is, I fi­nally can see that I’m on my way. I’m proud to have done it my way. I had count­less of­fers from friends to join them up north in the oil­fields and make “real money,” but I just couldn’t sac­ri­fice my hap­pi­ness for dol­lars. And that’s what all this is about… try­ing to be happy. It’s easy to let money dom­i­nate my thoughts in a busi­ness that’s al­ways pro­gress­ing, al­ways chang­ing. Stay on top, stay on top. Pho­tog­ra­phy ad­vances just as much, if not more, than the sports it doc­u­ments. I can al­ways achieve more and take a bet­ter photo than I did the day be­fore. An end goal is just an il­lu­sion. I’ve still got a long ways to go and al­ways will, but where am I try­ing to go and what’s driv­ing me there? Money? No, not money. It took a while to re­al­ize that, but re­flect­ing on who I am and the peo­ple that have in­flu­enced me shows that money has never de­fined me. My god­mother didn’t buy a cam­era for me be­cause she thought it would make me rich. She knew me well and took a chance on some­thing she thought would make me happy.

Try­ing to make a liv­ing as a surf photographer isn’t easy. Tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing it eas­ier for more peo­ple to get into the busi­ness, which ac­tu­ally makes it fi­nan­cially harder for ev­ery­one to make money. But ev­ery­body al­ready knows that there are smoother paths to fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity be­yond pho­tog­ra­phy. Surf pho­tog­ra­phy is about as rough as it can get, but I still want to do it. What else can I say other than I’ve al­ways tried to be true to my­self and I truly want to try and keep do­ing this for the rest of my life. I hope that when peo­ple look at my work they get a small por­tion of the joy I ex­pe­ri­enced in tak­ing the pho­to­graph. I never take pho­tos of my­self, but I al­ways try and put a lit­tle of me into each im­age. I think that those will be a more truth­ful ex­pres­sion of me than th­ese words ever will.

above. After get­ting bar­relled all day, Pete told me he would catch one more and go in. That’s never the case, he kicked out of this one and pad­dled right back to the lineup.

be­low. I’ve lived here for more than half a decade and it’s never snowed like this. I nearly spat out my cof­fee when I looked out the win­dow in the morn­ing. I flew through my con­tacts and called ev­ery­one to go surf. Thank­fully Andy Jones is up for...

bot­tom. My good friend Derek Wes­tra-luney is al­ways down for a mis­sion with no guar­an­tees. After a 30 minute walk up this closed­off hill, we be­gan our hour long de­cent into the mid­dle of nowhere.

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