It all started back at the 2008 Coldwater Classic, when Ryan Craig attended Nat Young’s celebratory party for winning the event, ending a five-year dry spell and bringing the crown back to the West Side of Santa Cruz. It was a night filled with beers and cheers and the start of a photographic relationship between Craig and Young.
For most of California suburbia, there’s no “king” of the town, or a place where one group of people deserve more respect than another. However, this hardly pertains to Westside, Santa Cruz. Respect is everything. Maybe it’s not as gnarly as it was back in the mid-’90s, but it was enough to keep Craig very careful the first time he picked up a camera and started shooting Nat. “Even though I was born and raised on the West Side, I grew up an avid sponger, so it was sort of intimidating hanging and shooting with any of the SC surfers,” says Chachi. “It was also intimidating with photographers like Dave “Nelly” Nelson running around. Santa Cruz is a really tight-knit surf town full of a lot of legends you have to respect. Nat was early in his career when I first picked up a camera. I was a bit shy to approach him and just ask him to shoot. A few months after the CWC, I started shooting him at the Lane a bit more. But over time, and as stuff got published, that’s when I started to ‘know’ Nat.”
Nailing a cover never hurts. Ryan’s first was a beautiful scenic lineup shot of Nat slotted perfectly in an evening-silhouetted wedge for Surfing Magazine‘s June 2013 issue. By then, “Chachi,” as he had become known (for his questionably similar looks to Scott Baio from Happy Days), was earning more and more published work. Where Dave Nelson excelled with his flash photography and skate-inspired fisheye surf shots, Chachi was developing his own well-grounded style, a methodical approach to “shoot for the conditions.” With Nat now by his side, he took to the streets with A-grade talent to strengthen his portfolio.
“SC has a lot of waves. But like anywhere, there are variables that come with knowing ‘the spot.’ SC gets virtually every swell direction, and therefore on any given day, there’s a lot of head-scratching, wondering where to go,” says Chachi. “We’ve all seen the rarer spots go off, the odd day that makes you always want to go back. These days, Nat’s focus is polishing his surfing for competition, and we often pick waves that are stronger suited for multiple maneuvers. That said, there are still plenty of spots to check when a new swell fills in. Nothing explains a goose chase better than driving to the Lane before sunrise to meet Nat, then driving to SF for waves, only to drive back to the Lane one-and-a-half hours later. That’s a Grade-A goose chase!”
These days, Chachi lets Nat be Nat. “This winter was the most excited I’ve ever seen him, in terms of trying to get to waves he’s never visited before,” Chachi says. “He surfed Fort Point for the first time recently. That whole area is generally a giant mirage, but he was down to give it a whirl. Anytime the left wedges north of SC have the right sand and swell, those are the waves that Nat gets the most excited about. On the right day, The Lane is always a great spot to shoot. That wave shaped him. It’s crazy to watch Nat surf out there when it’s going off.”