Discover the unique approach of Woody Gooch to surf photography.
We had the pleasure of interviewing one of our favorite photographer : Woody Gooch. Hailing from Noosa on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, Woody's signature style is all about simplicity and leaving room for viewers to dream. Get ready to dive into his world as he unveils the secrets of his craft !
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in surf photography?
I grew up in Noosa (Sunshine Coast, Australia) with my family. I started taking photos of skating first. Over time, I wanted to be standing on the beach, closer to the ocean, with my camera taking photos of the local surfers. I was more excited to set up with my camera and my tripod and just watch these amazing waves roll through on a big swell.
I created this relationship with one particular surfer, Harrison Roach, who is also from Noosa. I focused on Harrison a lot as I was learning how to take photos, observing the ocean, and understanding how surfing was ridden in a special way, the way he did it. I was quite drawn to his style of surfing and the way he would read the ocean. He took me under his wing as he wanted me to photograph him surfing. After some years had passed, I was then offered an internship at Deus in Indonesia when I was 17, which ultimately changed my career. I was getting paid a very minimal salary. I experienced a lot more than money can actually pay. I ended up traveling most of Indonesia with my close friends from Noosa for a couple of years.
What inspires you to capture surf moments?
Discovering my style took time. It was influenced by a lot of my friends growing up and our homeschooling experience. Being homeschooled allowed me to prioritize photography over traditional studies, with a 70/30 “balance” in favor of me seeking my dreams at a young age.
I like to focus on simplicity, I like to live in simplicity. Leaving space for observers to dream and imagine their feelings within my photographs is a medium I focus on a lot. I tend to find creating something from nothing makes me portray how I want to daydream. It can all be in front of you, you just don't need to use it all. I love the spontaneity of Mother Nature, the balance and imbalance. I find a lot of excitement in weather that most people avoid, which makes me comfortable, vulnerable, and experimental.
What’s your favorite shot, and why?
My absolute favorite is Moroccan Emptiness, which seems to be a favorite among people who follow and support my work. It was one of the first trips I funded myself, along with Harrison Roach, Derrick Disney, Kai Hing, and Andrew Gough (filmmaker). An interesting group of three surfers that surf all very differently, ride different boards, and intuitively read waves in a diverse way.
During our time in Morocco, we surfed this wave called Dracula's, which you can see in the photo here. There was this huge cactus field that was a couple hundred meters in width and so many kilometers in length in front of the wave. Seeing it from the road, the waves appeared almost too good to be true. The conditions were offshore and incredibly windy, making it challenging to catch a wave unless you had a sizable mid-length board or were positioned deep inside. Harrison, in particular, scored the most incredible waves due to his versatile quiver of boards. It was massive and perfect, with stunning light and strong offshore winds. We spent six hours a day surfing this wave. We were staying at this fancy hotel, even though we were just a bunch of surf enthusiasts, getting free accommodation somehow. We would load up on breakfast from the buffet, pack our little lunch boxes with food, and head straight back to Dracula's.
The highlight of the trip was capturing a particular image of Harrison riding this wave for what felt like an eternity. He just stood there and tall and solid and rode it forever and ever till I could barely see him. Holding a camera in those conditions was a challenge, as you could almost feel the camera being pulled from your grip. The wind was aggressive, I loved it.
What kind of equipment and camera gear do you prefer to use for surf photographs?
I have to admit, I might disappoint the camera geeks because I don't have a lot of equipment. I was an ambassador for Nikon, and when I took my gear in to get my camera sensor cleaned, they asked me to bring out all my gear. So, I pulled out a camera and two lenses, and the person there was genuinely shocked! They couldn't believe that was all I had. I explained that my camera was about seven or eight years old and discontinued as they don't make it anymore…. But that's all I needed. I still work quite minimally with gear.
People are often taken aback by how little gear I have. However, all my digital work is done with a Nikon D850. One of my friends suggested I invest in something more substantial for the kind of work I was doing, but for me, stubbornly this camera had everything I wanted — the colors, the overall feel it brought to my images. It was like an extension of my body.
In the past six years, I've been using a lot of medium format with my Mamiya 7. I don't use it much for ocean-related photography, but it's my tool for portraiture and landscapes.
And of course, I can't forget my water housing. It's a custom-made waterproof case made by Dave Kelly in Newcastle, Australia. He is simply amazing. Dave Kelly is a genius. He is the best water housing maker in the world. He's probably in his 60s and still crafts them in his garage.
Favorite surf spots ? Favorite destinations ?
Honestly, right in front of my parents’ house is probably my favorite place to surf. I mean, there's something about it that feels so special. It's on a long, open beach stretching about 10 kilometers in length. It's called the ‘The Creek”. The freshwater creek has a bank of native tea trees along the side of the creek, which is an Australian native tree, which the leaves give the water a surreal reddish-orange color to the water that runs out of the creek and into the ocean. It's like a three-minute walk down the track, and it doesn't matter if the waves are big or small or if it's windy or offshore. There's just a certain feeling there. Many people can relate to the joy of surfing at home. When the conditions are perfect, there's no better feeling than surfing alongside your friends and then returning to a huge homecooked meal under the sun or in the shade, completely surfed out.
However, there are countless places in the world that hold their own individual charm for various reasons. It's fascinating how they all change over time. Looking back, I sometimes wish I had spent more time surfing instead of photographing. I was so obsessed with capturing images in the water, which is still a passion of mine. I wanted to experience what it's like to be the surfer rather than the one operating the camera.
What type of surfboard are you currently riding?
When it comes to my surfboard selection, I have a quiver from Neal Purchase. I absolutely love his boards. As a surfer, you know that different boards offer distinct sensations, but Neals' boards just suit me perfectly. They feel like they were tailor-made for me, especially since I'm a bigger guy. I've had smaller friends try them out, but they didn't quite grasp the shapes and the magic of Neals boards. However, whenever I connect with someone who's a bit bigger, we both agree that his boards are the best. Neal has such an original approach to surfing. Not only do the boards look beautiful, but they perform even better.
I have two boards from Neal and a couple from Thomas (Thomas Surfboards). Additionally, there's one board from a friend who lives near the creek. His father is a shaper, and he shapes boards for friends. They're all pretty dodgy as the rocker is super pronounced, and the bottom is not completely flat. It's kind of classic. So, I have a diverse quiver that offers some variety.
What does “SURF P*RN” means to you?
It's like being part of a new family, where everyone understands and appreciates the ocean in an open way. There's a deep respect for surf craftsmanship and the way the ocean works and makes us feel. Being connected to the ocean is liberating and rewarding, and it's incredible to give people the opportunity to understand and appreciate this special place. SURF P*RN gallery captures that feeling so well. Even if people can't physically be at the beach, they can experience it at home through the artwork that is shown throughout the online gallery. It ignites a desire to be near the ocean, and that's precisely what it's all about. You have done a great job gathering surfing imagery over the years, creating a platform that elicits a particular emotional response. The accomplishment in itself is why I am collaborating with SURF P*RN.