Mikey McArthur: Young, Free, Alright!
The Rad and Creative Youth of Australian Surfing
Presented by Arnette
By Mike Jennings
Amongst the work of 20 year old South Coast photographer, Mikey McArthur, are some details, moments, pixels, that cause you to stop, take in slowly, and really appreciate. Like the shockwaves refracting back within the barrel of the very first image in the gallery below, or the capture of the dramatic breath just following the explosion of a bombora in the last image… timeless elements that reflect an eye far beyond the down-to-earth south coast vibes of this aspiring lensman. We’re stoked to feature the rise of this talent for Young, Free, Alright! this fortnight, and can’t wait to see where he goes. Dude doesn’t even have a website yet.
CW: Hey Mikey, how you going man, you guys getting any waves on the South Coast?
MM: Umm, there’s not too much swell around today, just little fun waves, I’ve just been to the hospital though, about two weeks ago I tore a ligament.
Ah no way. How’d you do that?
Just surfing. Got lipped in the head.
Shithouse. Can you swim, can you shoot?
Not really. I’ve just been trying to shoot land, I’m going to get in the pool this week and try and get back into swimming.
I’ve heard of surf photographers swim-training in the pool, do you do that?
Nah, I never have. I’ve been meaning to and now that I have to do this it will be a great reason to get into it I guess. I’ve been putting it off and it’s almost like this was meant to happen to get into it. So I’m not that bummed about it.
Tell us about how you got started shooting.
Well I grew up in South Australia and my brother was a bodyboarder for many years and when I got old enough I’d go out with him and his mates and watch him surf and whatever. I didn’t really think about shooting until one day I was in a mate’s boat and he was filming out of it, just filming a local slab in South Oz, I had nothing to do and he had a spare camera and pretty much handed it over and said, “If you want take some photos...” I ended up getting an okay shot and later that night all the boys were kind of, “Oh look at that shot Mike got…” rar rar rar, and I think that planted a seed. I was probably about 14 then. We moved over to Ulla Dulla when I was 16. I didn’t have enough money to get any surfboards and I was pretty frustrated but I loved the ocean and couldn’t really walk away from it so I ended up selling a couple of items I had, whatever it was, and ended up getting an entry level camera. And, yeah, started taking photos around the local area, that’s pretty much how I started.
How long ago was that?
I’m 21 in a couple of weeks, so I’ve probably been shooting seriously for about three or four years.
Have you always been really comfortable shooting big swells from the water or is that something you’ve grown into?
When I first started surfing and shooting I was pretty terrified really, I was really scared of the ocean for a long time. In South Oz I wouldn’t even go surfing, and then I moved over here to Ulla Dulla and the beaches were easier to ease into so I kind of just got a feel for it here. And then with my brother, following him around, he was going to a lot of heavy slabs. I wasn’t that confident until I got my housing, the first time I got to use my housing in the water it was at a secret break just south of here, and it was a good, like, 8-10 foot and that was pretty confronting, I kind of got thrown in the deep end but I kind of had no other option than to just figure it out. Luckily I had a good photographer friend Jem Cresswell, he was always a good friend and mentor, and he was out there the first time I was shooting and a bunch of guys I already knew so I felt comfortable to an extent.
Have you had any nightmare scenarios?
There was this one time that’s probably been the worst. At the time I was feeling really confident in the water and really comfortable and I really wanted to push myself. This wave down here was probably like 10-12 foot. Big. Big and pretty crazy and there was just one bodyboarder out, Glen Thurston. I was really keen to test out this new port I got and it was probably about half an hour till the sun was going down, so I quickly set up and didn’t really look at the situation, didn’t really analyse anything, which you should always do before going into a situation like that, which now I know… I’ve jumped out into the channel and it’s about 8-foot in the channel. I’ve jumped out with my set-up, which weighs a fair bit without a board, I just wanted to free-swim with it. I was trying to swim out, you need to kind of push against it for a good five minutes to break through the rip and then you get let out into dead water, but this day was so big, it was really really rippy, I think the tide was running out and there was a pulsing swell as well so it created a really really rippy channel, and since it was so big there were close-outs through the channel too so I ended up getting like probably five minutes of trying to push out and I wasn’t going anywhere so I was like, “Alright accept it, I can’t get out,” so I thought, “I’ll just try and swim back into the rocks where I’ve jumped off.” I’ve tried to ping it across back into there and I can’t get back in, and then at that stage it was probably like 6-8 foot sets closing out the bay, so I’m going under, up, under, up, getting tired. I couldn’t go out, couldn’t go across so I tried to go in and it wouldn’t let me in either. So I was kind of just stuck in this whirlpool rip, and that was pretty scary. That was one of the worst things I’ve experienced so far.
That sounds terrifying.
And then I kind of accepted that I couldn’t fight it, and eventually I ended up getting slowly washed in, really drained. Really drained and fatigued, and it was a really good lesson.
And no photos from that session.
Yep, no photos, but a great experience.
Do you have any goals or anything you’re setting out to achieve with your photography?
It comes and it goes, overall what I really want to do is just become as good as I can. I guess the main principle of why I shoot and where I want to go is I shoot as an expression and it’s as simple as that. I really try and simplify it because it gets complicated easy if you get competitive, and so many times I’ve forgotten why I’m even to taking this photo or why I’m trying to pursue this, so to simplify it I just try and do it as an expression and all I really want to achieve is to learn to express myself more through my photos, that’s the main thing I want to do. There is the magazine side that I want to push into, which I obviously need to if I want to make money, but the main thing is to learn to express myself more through photography.
It’s interesting to hear you say that because from just looking through your photos on Instagram today, it’s not like you have shots of the guy doing the biggest air, the most critical turn, the biggest, deepest barrel, there’s a lot of empties and a lot considered composition and light and it’s sort of like a good photo for a good photo’s sake rather than a cool surf shot or whatever.
Yeah, as much as they’re for other people, they’re for myself as a form of self-expression and hopefully people enjoy it.
I guess all quality art comes from that kind of attitude.
Yeah I try and keep my motivation like, that, nice and simple. Because it gets complicated, as does everything.
Do you have a favourite scenario for shooting, say certain types of light or sessions or people, a favourite time where you think, “this is perfect.”?
Yeah it’d probably need to be like big big barrels, big barrels is what I’d rather shoot over anything and moody light I guess, dark moody light. I don’t like too super bright stuff, I do enjoy it but I’d rather a darker situation.
Do you have heroes in photography, or people who inspire you in general?
There’s a few for sure, one of my first ones would be jem Creswell, he kind of stayed with us when I was growing up and seeing him get his first double in Riptide and all this kind of stuff and then multiple covers, it made me see that you can come from nothing and become something. So it was really good to see that. And then my brother as well. And then there’s other photographers that really inspire me like Trent Mitchell, Daniel Russo, Mickey Smith and a few others like Dean Dampney, but I could go on forever listing photographers.
I was stalking your Facebook and came across a project I think your brother started called Bright Youth Foundation. Do you have anything to do with that?
To some extent. It’s an organisation to help Aboriginal youth. We’re part aboriginal, our mum is aboriginal. This is pretty much to help aboriginal kids when they want to do something, to help support them with money or mentoring or whatever they might need because there are so many kids who are really talented with heaps of potential in their futures but can never pursue them because they don’t have the structure or the money or anything like that. So hopefully my photography could somehow influence aboriginal kids who want to get into that sort of thing.
A little over a year ago Coastalwatch and Arnette launched Young, Free, Alright! a series showcasing the inspired young community rising in Australian surfing – introducing talented new faces doing rad stuff every fortnight. Now, we want you to join us and be Young, Free, Alright! Just hashtag the fruit of your work on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with #youngfreealright and we’ll be all over you like a bad op-shop jacket at a Year 12 Formal. Our favourite photo or video each fortnight wins a pack of goodness from Arnette.
On top of that you could find yourself getting props as the next Young, Free, Alright! feature profile like Mikey here.
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