Ice Cream Headaches | Surf Culture in New York & New Jersey
“We did it because we love surfing and we love people who choose to make surfing central in their lives, because that’s actually a really hard thing to to do if you live in New York and New Jersey. It takes work, commitment, and passion; all of which this book required from us in order to bring it into the world.” – Ed Thompson
New York-based writer Ed Thompson and photographer Julien Roubinet are currently raising funds to bring four years of travel, interviews, photoshoots, and research to life in the form of a book.
Ed, originally from England, and Julien, originally from France, met while surfing New York’s famous Rockaway beach, about an hour’s subway ride from Manhattan.
Over the past four years, they’ve driven up and down the coasts of New York and New Jersey, to meet the 40 remarkable people who appear in their upcoming book. They’ve also documented more than a dozen epic hurricane swells that have landed on local shores.
I recently spoke with Julien and Ed about the upcoming Ice Cream Headaches book.
Read on and support this classic project.
First tell us a bit about where you grew up. The local vibe. The surf and/or skate scene. What was the creative community like?
Julien: I grew up in Toulouse, South of France. Mostly skateboarding, I didn’t ge surfing until later. The local scene was and still is very interesting. A number of really talented guys made a name for themselves. Before Instagram it was all about contests, or shooting videos and photos, until you had something substantial to share with magazines. In that sense, there was a bit a localism. If someone had shot a trick at that one spot, you either had to land something bigger, or find something new. It pushed people to stay original, creative, or simply improve.
Ed: I grew up outside London in a land-locked town called High Wycombe. I was kind of an alternative kid and I definitely went through punk-y, rock-y, grunge-y phases. I skated a bit and later I got super into mountain biking, specifically downhill and dirt biking. I was lucky to have a pretty broad cross section of friends at school, but a lot of them were creative – people who liked to draw, design things, make things, make music, mostly just for fun. I got into surfing on summer vacations in Cornwall and Devon. As much as I loved mountain biking, which was a lot, somehow when I came to surfing I knew it would be something I would do for the rest of my life. I can’t remember my first wave – it was such an incremental learning process.
Somehow when I came to surfing I knew it would be something I would do for the rest of my life. I can’t remember my first wave – it was such an incremental learning process.
When you initially came to the states, was the book project something you already had in mind, or did it develop on its own time?
Ed: I brought a board with me when I moved over here from England. I had heard about surfing in New York and couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered the chance to move here for a job. I thought I’d be surfing all the time! But it takes a ton of work, know-how, and the right gear before you can make surfing work with life in the city. When I started meeting people who were into it too, it got easier, but I was thirsty to find out more, surf more, make it a bigger part of my experience. I met Julien and we just kind of clicked. We were talking one day and I proposed the idea to him to make a book about the local surf culture. Almost immediately he agreed. We both wanted a means to enrich our surf experience, deepen our knowledge, and share our passion for these amazing places and this community.
Julien: It was about two years after I moved to the U.S. and I wanted to photograph surfing, I knew that since I was first exposed to it. Meeting Ed was the trigger to properly do it. Then the project certainly did develop on its own once we decided to commit to it!
The combination of photography and a solid amount of written work is something I personally enjoy. Do you think this is a timely presentation of the subject in the age of social media and how people ingest information now?
Julien: This idea was born from our love for coffee table / art books. Maybe it is a response to what is considered timely in this day and age. There is too much to digest today. Our hope is that people will take time with this book, come back to it, find and read things they didn’t notice the first time. Maybe add their own memories to it as time goes on.
Ed: I don’t think it was a reaction against social media or digital media, but we are both print nerds and we both love books. Holding something in your hands, taking care of it as one of your possessions, coming back to it at different points in your life to reflect on it again – all that seems to lead to a more meaningful experience of the material we’ve worked hard to gather.
Our hope is that people will take time with this book, come back to it, find and read things they didn’t notice the first time.
What are some of the qualities that impress you the most about surfers in the New York and New Jersey region?
Julien: The commitment. The true passion and the unconditional love for surfing. There are people like that all over the world, no doubt. But I don’t think I’ve seen it that concentrated elsewhere.
Ed: People talk about the commitment it takes to get up at 5am and put on a heavy wetsuit and surf when there is snow on the beach. That does take commitment, but I think the durational commitment, the need and willingness to do that for years, decades or a lifetime is really fascinating. Living in or near New York, I love the sense of “getting away with it” in a sort of Puritanical “why-aren’t-you-at-work” way, which we often felt as we were making the book and which I think surfers often feel wherever surfing isn’t a de-facto lifestyle.
During the process of shooting, what was one of the most memorable surf session?
Julien: There are a few! The first time I ever shot in the water, Tom Petriken got that bomb half an hour into the session. Everything lined up.
The day of the US election was a memorable one. We went up to Montauk and shot the local guys ripping the place apart. The excitement was at a peak until we got back to the city later that night. The last session shot in NJ was quite unreal too. Most people would dismiss that day. We met up with Charles Mencel and Sean Brewer, it was 2ft, 30mph winds and 40ºF, light was horrible but somehow we got a few shots that I love, transcribing the pain of the experience more than the beauty of surfing.
Ed: There are a few spots at the Eastern End of Long Island we’ve surfed and even camped illegally to surf and shoot. Those memories will be with me forever, unlike the Lyme’s disease which we narrowly avoided.
We met up with Charles Mencel and Sean Brewer, it was 2ft, 30mph winds and 40ºF, light was horrible but somehow we got a few shots that I love, transcribing the pain of the experience more than the beauty of surfing.
With the written and interview, was it hard to edit with what I imagine was a lot of recorded speaking to go through?
Ed: I found it very difficult. There are over 100 hours of recordings!
The hardest part of all was about 3 years in, realizing there was no way we’d have space for individual interviews with each person we’d met, which was our original intention. I’d already written maybe 70,000 words but I had to scrap them and start from scratch. Realizing only 5,000 or so made sense to keep in the new format, and knowing I’d need to write about another 30,000 was a dark day! I basically quit my job, hunkered down, and got going again. It forced us to keep only the best material so I’m happy with the outcome. Earlier this year we started working with Thad Ziolkowski, a surfer, writer, and an amazing editor. He made a huge impact on the project by helping us see what to keep and what to let go of. If you haven’t read his memoir On A Wave get yourself a copy right now!
In your selection of profiles in the book, you cover a wide range of unique characters from the NY and NJ community. Was it part of your mission to cover both larger names and the more obscure people dwelling on the fringes?
Julien: When you surf Rockaway you quickly realize that the line-up is composed of a wide range of characters. From the local boy to the world renowned photographer, the crowd is very eclectic. And when you surf Rockaway, you also surf Long Island all the way to Montauk and New Jersey. You can’t dissociate them. It gathers an even wider cast of characters.
Ed: We wanted to meet with people who had contributed to the culture in some way, but that didn’t mean they had to be a local legend, historically significant, a complete ripper, etc. We wanted the end result to include a variety of perspectives which I think it does. Some folks are super low key and some are kind of a big deal. It was an equal honor to meet and interview both.
During the process of creating this book you did quite a bit of traveling as well. Is there another project in the world already?
Julien: The book created this friendship between us and a shared desire to improve our surfing. So the trips were more about surfing and having a good time rather than thinking of chasing someone, getting the shot, or starting a new project!
Ed: Not yet, but you’re giving me ideas. The international travel was in the spirit of improving, seeing things from a new angle, seeing new places. It did give us some perspective, I think, about the surf experience here also. You imagine living in Nicaragua surfing every day with offshore winds would be dope, but we spoke to an French expat shaper out there with this thousand-yard stare who said: “The wind starts to get to you after a while…” It was a reminder not to romanticize other surf experiences or lifestyles.
It was a reminder not to romanticize other surf experiences or lifestyles.
Why did you choose to use a crowd-funding DIY method to publishing, instead of using a publisher?
What are the pros and cons to the process?
Julien: The book will be published by Damiani Editore. However we share some of the risk with the publisher by paying for some of the production costs. In addition we hired an editor and a designer to get the best piece we could. The crowdfunding, we hope, will cover these 3 main expenses. The cost of actually getting the content for the book will most likely not be covered, ever.
Ed: The publishing world has changed a lot. Making a good book is hella expensive. Damiani Editore offered us a deal where we share some of the cost/risk while they handle production and distribution which would be incredibly difficult to do alone. As Julien says, our personal costs for all the travel and material expenses will likely never be recovered. When we set out on the project we said to ourselves: we’re not doing this to make money, and we’re not expecting to recover our costs, but if we can somehow afford to take a surf trip afterwards we’ll be 100% stoked.
The cost of actually getting the content for the book will most likely not be covered, ever.
When the book is published and readers hand, what do you hope people get from the book?
Julien: I truly hope people will enjoy it as much as we did creating it.
Ed: I hope there will be something in there for everyone, surfers and non-surfers alike. There are some nice surprises and some really cool stories. I hope people will sense that if we could have included more people we would have. I hope people don’t think we’re stupid or arrogant enough to think we’re offering some kind of definitive perspective about the community or who or what is or isn’t important. That would be a dumbass thing to take away from it. We did it because we love surfing and we love people who choose to make surfing central in their lives, because that’s actually a really hard thing to to do if you live in New York and New Jersey. It takes work, commitment, and passion; all of which this book required from us in order to bring it into the world.
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