CHRIS KLOPF

Surfer - - Showcase - By JUSTIN HOUSMAN

Over the past five decades, North­ern Cal­i­for­nia surfer and pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Klopf has sought to cap­ture the wild spirit of surf­ing in his own way

There aren’t many surf pho­tog­ra­phers with a port­fo­lio that in­cludes im­agery of both Mark Richards and CJ Nel­son. Then again, there also aren’t many surf pho­tog­ra­phers who have had ca­reers that span the bet­ter part of five decades—and there cer­tainly aren’t any who have done it like Chris Klopf.

Born in 1950 in Marin County, a bu­colic, red­wood-dom­i­nated stretch of land just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the reclu­sive Klopf started shoot­ing surf pho­tos in high school. He’d com­man­deer the school’s small stash of cam­eras and lenses and head to nearby for­est-lined beaches to cap­ture what­ever he could. Klopf spent lunches and after-school hours hunched over in­side a red-tinged dark­room, por­ing over neg­a­tives, de­vel­op­ing a love of film and a thor­ough knowl­edge of how com­po­si­tion and ex­po­sure work in surf im­agery. He fig­ured it all out as he went, with pretty much zero men­tor­ship or guid­ance.

“I didn’t have a lot of photo in­flu­ences where I grew up,” Klopf says. “There was no­body shoot­ing up here.”

In the 1970s, liv­ing, surf­ing and shoot­ing in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area (also with stints in Santa Bar­bara), Klopf be­gan mak­ing reg­u­lar pil­grim­ages to the North Shore, pho­tograph­ing who­ever he could find—it just so hap­pened to be one of the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­ri­ods in surf his­tory, and Klopf was there to doc­u­ment it. It helped that he had plenty of time off from work dur­ing the free­wheel­ing ‘70s, as he was em­ployed by one of San Fran­cisco’s leg­endary, now-de­funct beer mak­ers—hamm’s Brew­ery.

“Back when I worked at Hamm’s Brew­ery, which paid pretty well at the time, they’d lay you off like ev­ery two weeks for some rea­son,” Klopf says. “So I’d just take off and go to the North Shore and col­lect un­em­ploy­ment. It was a great life.”

He’d shoot Pipe, Sun­set—wher­ever was break­ing—then head back to Santa Cruz to pho­to­graph the area’s ob­scure reefs and point breaks. Klopf was also well-po­si­tioned to cap­ture the bur­geon­ing per­for­mance scene in Santa Cruz, pro­duc­ing some of the first shots of aerial pi­o­neer Kevin Reed boost­ing at lo­cal­ized spots north of town.

Klopf never lost his love for liv­ing way up north on the fringe of Cal­i­for­nia surf­ing, and now calls a big, 100-plus acre spread some­where near Men­do­cino his home. When he opens his front door, he stares out at miles of ev­er­green trees.

“For me, surf­ing has al­ways been a wilder­ness ex­pe­ri­ence,” Klopf ex­plains. This ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the wild, nat­u­ral as­pect of surf­ing is ap­par­ent in his work. Much of Klopf ’s im­agery em­pha­sizes the wave al­most as much as the surfer— some­times more so, in fact. Pulled back shots that show a wave bend­ing and fold­ing above a reef, or pour­ing over a sand­bar al­most al­ways with the en­tire wave in fo­cus have be­come Klopf ’s call­ing card. Oh, there’s a surfer in there, too, but they’re just an­other el­e­ment in an im­age that aims to cap­ture some­thing more holis­tic and raw about the surf ex­pe­ri­ence.

In the past few years, Klopf has turned the fo­cus of his work to the mod­ern sin­gle-fin long­board afi­ciona­dos: surfers like Tyler Warren, Tommy Witt and CJ Nel­son. This shift from high per­for­mance to long­board­ing might sur­prise those who have fol­lowed Klopf ’s work—it’s even some­what of a sur­prise to Klopf him­self.

“I had been rid­ing a long­board and guys like CJ Nel­son started giv­ing me shit when they’d see me, say­ing, ‘Dude, you’re out here surf­ing with me ev­ery day, why don’t you shoot pho­tos of us? In­stead, you’re shoot­ing all these pho­tos of guys rid­ing boards you hate.’” In Klopf ’s mind, his friends had a point.

The breadth of eras, surfers and board de­signs that Klopf has cap­tured are avail­able in two photo books he’s re­leased in re­cent years: “Shoot­ing the Decades: The 1970s and 1980s”, and the new­est, “Al­ter­nate Vi­sions”. They’re re­mark­able in their scope, es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing that Klopf has been in the surf photography game for decades, al­ways at the fringe, search­ing for some­thing a bit more wild than his peers. The self-taught surf pho­tog­ra­pher has al­ways done things his own way, and it seems to have worked out just fine.

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