The Heart and The Sea: The Nathan Oldfield Interview
Age: 38 years
Town of Residence: Terrigal, Central Coast, New South Wales, Australia
Profession: Primary School Teacher
Current Favorite Board: 9’6” custom log by Thomas Bexon and I have a new 5’9” quad by Sage Joske on the way that I’m pretty excited about.
Tyler Breuer: Can you remember your first surf film? What was it and where?
Nathan Oldfield: The first surf film I ever saw was a rerun of “The Endless Summer” on television. It was during the school holidays, around Christmas time, and we were staying at my uncle’s house. I must have only been six or seven years old at the time. It’s a beautiful childhood memory–being allowed to stay up a little late on a balmy summer evening to watch a movie with my dad, my uncle and my cousins. I remember being absolutely enthralled with Bruce Brown’s film. Absolutely enchanted and captivated. That early experience of watching “The Endless Summer” definitely inspired me in my desire to want to live a surfing life. It helped me to believe that surfing was a worthy, significant and noble pursuit.
TB: What do you mean by “surfing life?” What do you consider to be a surfing life? What do you think makes surfing a worthy pursuit?
NO: By a surfing life I mean a lifetime where surfing plays an integral part, where surfing is a lifelong engagement. For many of us, we don’t think about surfing as being a sport that we participate in everyday or a few times a week or twice a month or whatever. It’s a lifestyle, a way of being, a way of really engaging with the state of actually being alive. Surfing isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.
From an outsider’s perspective, looking in at surfing and surfers, I think there’s been this kind of history of incredulous disdain. They don’t understand what we do. All they can see is us going around in circles, catching waves in and paddling back out, sitting beyond the break for endless hours, watching clouds, sea-gazing, daydreaming. To them, surfing seems like child’s play, a waste of time, non-productive, useless, self-indulgent.
But a surfing life is full of rich gifts, even if it’s not how the world measures riches. I explored some of these ideas in my film “Seaworthy.” A surfing life can teach us to recognize the significance of beauty, the desire for wildness, a sense of belonging in the world, the value of pure simple joy. For me, these are the kinds of things that help give our lives shape and meaning. That’s what I mean when I say that a surfing life is a worthy pursuit.
TB: In another interview, you mention that your father had passed on his Canon SLR camera to you when you were a grommet. Do you think you realized the significance of that gift at the time?
NO: I don’t think I could’ve appreciated at the time how much that old camera would influence my future. I was already really interested in cameras and photography. I used to pore over old copies of National Geographic and dream that one day I’d be a photo journalist. But having that old SLR really allowed me to take my interest in photography to the next level. I used to borrow books on photography from the local library and study them cover to cover. I would record each shot I took down in a little notepad. I loved the whole process of taking photos with that old camera: winding back the film, the careful composition of a subject, the satisfyingly heavy ‘clunk’ of the shutter, the anxious wait to see if the shot actually worked, the delicious excitement of picking up the processed film from the lab, the satisfaction of a well-executed photograph.
TB: Do you still have the camera? Do you still shoot with film at all? Do you think that digital cameras deliver the same excitement as film cameras? I guess what I’m getting at is: do you think that delayed gratification of film adds to one’s own value of their photos?
NO: Sadly, no. It stopped working eventually and disappeared somewhere along the line. I hardly ever shoot with film anymore. It’s something I want to get back to playing with, but making surf films has taken precedence in my creative life, at least for a while. And also, of course, digital has so many benefits over film: it’s cheaper, easier, you get instant feedback about how your vision for a photograph is unfolding. I actually think I’ve become a better photographer since I’ve shot digitally just because it’s given me that instant feedback and due to the fact you’re not endlessly paying for rolls to be developed, it’s given me the space to experiment a lot more.
But I’m glad I had my grounding in film. I think it taught me a sense of restraint, to really construct an image in your mind before you try to create it in camera. And, yeah, nothing beats that feeling of picking up a developed roll from the lab and flicking through your shots and seeing that one image that gives you goose bumps. That’s a special feeling.
TB: “Lines From A Poem” was your first film endeavor. What were you doing before you embarked on making that film? Where were you in life at that point?
NO: I’ve always been wired to make things. I get restless and unhappy if I’m not working on something. So before I started filmmaking I was interested in other creative stuff: making music, poetry, journaling and building surfboards. Poetry, in particular, was my focus. I wrote a lot. I had some work published in an anthology of new Australian poets which was really important to me at the time.
Before I started working on “Lines,” I had the dream of making a surf film myself one day, but it was a dream that always seemed unlikely for a couple of reasons. Firstly, although surf photography and filmmaking interested me, I couldn’t actually bring myself to stand on the beach behind a camera when the waves were good. I used to feel sorry for the guys stuck on the beach shooting when I would run past them to go surfing! And the other reason, I guess, is that I had no training whatsoever in film or video, and in that pre-digital age, making a surf film was beyond my budget. I didn’t have the finances, equipment or training with analog equipment. Shooting and editing film is prohibitively expensive and I didn’t go to film school and have access to any of that kind of equipment. But then all of a sudden, the digital door opened, digital video cameras were becoming less expensive and more accessible, and so I taught myself how to shoot and edit.