Catching up with Bude's favourite son and chatting about his career.
Over the two and a half decades the mag has been published Reubyn Ash has been a fixture for a lot of it. Turning heads on a world stage and blowing up whenever he hits the water. Sharpy caught up with him at home in Bude for a look back on his career.
What were you doing in the spring of 1994 when the mag started?
I would’ve just turned six years old, probably mainly playing with my toy Land Rovers, surfing when there were small waves. Just being a little grommet kicking around I guess.
Do you remember starting to surf?
I recall moments from when I was really young but more in emotion than specifics. Happy or sad times are imprinted on to your memory. I remember getting scared when I was super young, going out on my dad’s back. There are little bits and pieces as it was the same time I was learning to walk, so it’s been a constant — just part of growing up.
Did you grow up in Bude?
I’ve always lived here overlooking Widemouth Bay; born two miles away in Stratton. Of course, I’ve been away a lot travelling, but I always end up back here. I love being home when I can.
How old were you when you realised you were ‘quite good’ at surfing?
Not sure to be honest. I think the first contest I ever did I came third, the second one I did I won. I was around six or seven I think. It was the Surf to Save at Polzeath, and it was a cool vibe. That was the initial one that made me realise.
Who did you look up to growing up?
There’s been a lot of talented surfers from Bude; it’s a good surfing community. Growing up with my older brother Joss, who’s really good, one of the best kids of his age when he was growing up. I’ve always looked up to him. At the same time, we had guys like Mike Raven as a pro travelling around to do the international comps that was inspiring. There were other people further afield, but it was the local guys mainly. Apart from that, it was all VHS. Loads of old movies, if the surf wasn’t good, we’d have the Hawaii Nine-oh series, Gripping Stuff, Tom Carroll ripping etc. That really made me want to escape the cold and get some warm waves in board shorts. You’ve done your time in Indonesia?
Totally, I’ve been going there since I was nine. The first trip my dad took the whole family, bar one sister, for a two-month trip. Super lucky to have the opportunity to do that so young. Being able to go somewhere like that and surf when you’re from the UK is so good. We have good waves, but they have consistent, brilliant waves. To go most years from then onwards helped my progression as a surfer so much. It’s like a skate park, surfing a few times a day and the level in the water is insane, so you’re always surfing with people better than you.
Did you enjoy contests when you were young?
In my career times have changed so much. When I started being a young up and coming kid, your focus was contests. That’s how you made your name and got sponsors. I did enjoy comps when I was young. I was focussed and keen. Then in my late teens and early twenties, I felt burnt out. My heart and soul wasn’t in it anymore, and I struggled mentally with nerves. After over a decade of competing already by my teens, I needed a break. I was supposed to do the QS, that was my contract with Billabong, but we had a meeting, and they realised I could be more of a free surfer. I was making these DIY clips in Indo, getting friends to film, bodging them together on my little Mac, and they were getting loads of views. In a short space of time, they came around to the idea and said, ‘If you want to go off and make films and be a free surfer rather than training for heats that’s cool.’
They were stoked, and I was super happy. So from the age of 20 to 26, I was a professional free surfer. A lot of time abroad, the freedom to try different stuff, practising mad moves to get them down.
These days kids are nailing crazy stuff in heats. In the old days, it was safer. You put on a heat-winning show, but it wasn’t your cutting edge. You were limiting yourself to get through heats safely. I was pushing it trying the same trick for a couple of weeks straight to nail it, and when you do, it feels so good.
Sponsorship fizzled out with the recession, and I was one of the guys that got cut. From that, I came home and surfed for myself again. I really enjoy surfing, so it was quite nice to do it for me. The last few years I’ve just enjoyed competing on the UK Pro tour. It’s an excellent little tour, and if you’re winning events and the tour title, it’s decent money. I’ve got a few sponsors, and I’m enjoying it as there’s not the pressure. When you’re with a big company, they’re a big business, and they want you to do well as it’s good for their numbers. If I do a QS these days, everyone’s that much older, and it’s so fun to catch up. When you’re doing events as a teen it’s a lot harsher and competitive; now it’s all about catching up with the crew.
Do you remember when you twigged you could make a living from just going surfing?
Yeah, I do, I was sponsored from the age of nine, but not much, just enough to get away on a trip in the winter with my parents. From 13 to 16 I was making half a living. Enough to do the European Pro Juniors and a winter trip. Then I left school at 16 and walked into a decent three-year contract which gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted within reason — travelling to comps without sleeping in cars all the time.
How did your involvement with Taylor Steele’s Innersection film come about?
It was from Jason Reposar, the surf photog, he mentioned it to me as his friend was involved with the production. I was going to Indo every year to make myself better and was filming a lot, mainly for
me to help me improve and learn new stuff. Jason was watching some footage with me and said I should enter. I was focussed on my deal so wasn’t aware of my level in comparison to the rest of the world. Timmy Boydell helped me with the part, so I had the Indo stuff from Lakeys, and we went to Scotland and scored. It was voted for by the public, so it was unreal to make the cut.
Do you remember your first photo in Carve?
I think it was me, wearing a Gecko helmet, at the point, when I was about eight or nine years old. Riding a Rusty 5’6” pintail, it was double overhead, and it was a big wave for me at the time. (The family parrot interrupts the tape by laughing its head off at this point). How about your first cover?
It’s another one of those goals as a young pro. Something else ticked off, like your first edit or landing a trick — a career highlight.
Your underwater one is of the most popular covers ever on the mag. To get that underwater cover shot it was Will Bailey and me, we were shooting this perfect little barrel in Scotland. Some shoots it’s tough to get anything done, it’s hard to line up and connect. This session was so easy, perfect waves, no rip, Will’s a great swimmer anyway, but he was in the spot every time. So we were cleaning up with barrel shots, and we sat there having a breather and were all ‘what can we do that’s different?’ some of those mad clear shots from Tahiti were happening around then and the water there was crystal, so we decided to try it. Literally, the first attempt was the cover shot. I took off, pulled in, he swam down and popped off a sequence. We tried it a few times, but the first one was just perfect. I was blown away by the shot. It’s such a pretty picture, and I’d be stoked just to see it, but actually to be involved in it. Brings back a lot of memories, one of my all time favourite images. Think Will’s done well with canvas sales of it.
Now you’re the older generation do you inspire the new crew?
Ha! Yeah, I’m a little bit older now. I hope I do. I’m always surfing with the kids around here. They keep me motivated and on my toes. I try and help them with tips on surfing, travel and how to be a pro. I’ve been there and done that. Stan is shredding, as is Barnaby then you’ve got the slightly older crew like Miles and Jobe. There are international level surfers here with no sponsors. But we do it because we love it. They’re hardcore. I’m taking Stan out now he’s that bit older. They’re at an outstanding level. When there’s four or five of you ripping it’s a proper session. We push each other forward.
It seems like Bude has a tight surf community?
Very much so. It’s a place where a lot of people have dedicated their life to surfing. Doing whatever they need to do to keep surfing. It’s good, whether or not you make a career, it’s a great lifestyle. It’s been that way for a long time. Keeps you fit, keeps you on track, it’s an excellent thing.
Are you still working on the Land Rovers?
Ha, you’ve seen the yard, haven’t you? I’ve got to get back to buffing a wing out now!