Alex Fatenko | 14 Year Old Cold Water Photographer

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Jude Clark. Photo: Fatenko

The beaches are overwhelmingly packed and the line ups are busting at the seams during the summer in New Jersey. Yet when the summer months pass and as fall sets in, the chill begins to fill the air, while crowds on land and in the water dissipate. As fall leads to winter, only the diehard remain, and this is when the true power of New Jersey surf shows itself.

Cold water surfing and photography are not for the faint of heart. It takes a supreme level of dedication, motivation, and stoke; to enter the ocean when most don’t even want to set eyes on it.

When the waterfront is desolate, the ocean pure and solitary, this is when the cold water surfers come into their own. With the chilling winter conditions in full effect, this is when you can find Alex Fatenko swimming in the impact zone and capturing images of some of the best surfers in New Jersey.

I recently spoke to Alex to see what motivates him and what he loves about the New Jersey surf culture.

First, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, how old are, and what do you do?

My name is Alex Fatenko, I am 14 years old, and I shoot surf photography. I currently live in Sea Girt, New Jersey, but I was born and raised in Pennsylvania . Up until 3 years ago, I lived in the total opposite of what I call home now. I was totally surrounded by woods growing up and I visited the beach only a few times each summer. So the idea of living in a shore town was a very foreign thought to me. It came as a shock when my family decided to move down. We moved in just a week before Hurricane Sandy! The house we originally were going to buy was completely destroyed. But after many months of searching, we found our match.

What first drew to surfing and then surf photography?

The actual true things that drew me to surfing were the people who surfed. The surf lifestyle and the somewhat rebellious attitude towards life appealed to me. All my friends back where I lived wanted to see pictures of the ocean and surfing! Surfing seemed extreme and dangerous to them. The first question everyone asks and no one seems to comprehend is how these photos are actually taken. Everyone thinks you are on a board! The answer is and always will be; swimming with a pair of fins and a camera in hand.

What do you feel are some of the unique aspects to being a surf photographer in New Jersey?

By far, the most unique part of New Jersey has to be it’s frigid temperatures come winter. We live in one of the very few places where people put on wetsuit and paddle out in the middle of a blizzard. It takes balls.

What elements do you look for in capturing a great photograph?

To me, a great photograph is something risky, that no one has ever done. This is on my bucket list!

Have you yet to travel to shoot photography?

March of this year will be my first time shooting out of the country. Over spring break I will be traveling to Puerto Rico! All I can say I am super excited, but at the same time full of butterflies. We will see how it goes!

What do you find inspiring about the surf culture of New Jersey?

Oh man, everything about New Jersey’s surf culture has been an inspiration. I don’t know if many other communities in the world would have come together like we had in times of crisis. Hurricane Sandy brought complete destruction and left thousands homeless. The surf community played a huge part in rebuilding. Another reason has to be the people themselves. Recently a shaper by the name of Charles Mencel brought me into his shop and let me shoot around a bit, I learned so many aspects to how a board functions and how it works on a wave. People like this make up the Jersey Shore.

Why do you feel it’s important to document surfing through the medium of photography?

New Jersey and surfing are both super fragile. What I mean is, things can come and go in a blink of an eye, and if you miss them they will be gone forever. Although I am still only 14, I would want my kids and others to see what I did with my life at their age. Hopefully I could prove an inspiration to them.

Who are your favorite surfers to shot with when there’s a solid swell coming in?

Definitely has to be my boy Jude Clark! Not only does he completely rip, he also charges when the big ones come through.

Do you think the growing coverage of New Jersey waves and surfers has helped our local surf community?

This is a difficult one, that I might get yelled at for (laughs). Let’s put it this way, if there were not so many photographers, some Jersey pros would have to find real jobs. Also everyone else would look down on Jersey surfers as unequal just because they could never see their talent. So in my mind, we are perfect were we are now.

What’s your greatest aspiration as a photographer?

SHOOT FOR SURFER MAG! I’m only kidding, that’s what everybody says. But I truly want this to be how I make a living, this is what makes me happy.

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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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