Danny Fuller Interview

Reconciling mainstream opportunity and surf world credibility

Danny Fuller holds his pose in this double-overhead studio. Photo: Glaser

It takes brass balls to drop into an 8-foot bomb at Pipeline. It takes similar steel to paddle into some of the biggest barrels ever surfed at Cloudbreak. But for a celebrated big-wave surfer, putting yourself on a billboard advertising a fragrance might be an equally terrifying decision. Surfing's relationship with mainstream American culture has been rocky to say the least, but over time it seems that the landlocked masses have become more and more interested in romancing our lifestyle. This poses a handful of questions to the world's most talented surfers: Is this fascination necessarily bad for surfing? Is it OK to capitalize on that interest? Does it make you less "core" if you do? As a surfer who has held his credibility among big-wave hellmen while working for years in the fashion industry, Danny Fuller seemed like the right person to talk to about walking the fine line.

As someone who has had many forays into the mainstream, how have you balanced that with actually chasing waves?

I'm 30 now and I've been involved with fashion for almost 10 years. Early on it got to a point to where there were actually a lot of really good opportunities for me there, and the money is really good so it's hard to deny it. But I came to this point where I started to get really stressed out because I was juggling these surf adventures with my friends and my fashion work. I started realizing that those experiences were absolutely priceless and it wasn't worth missing out on those opportunities for money. I kind of pulled back and made myself less available to do those jobs. I'm not saying there was a super high demand or anything, but I just wanted to keep the balance. I love photography and art, and I feel like surfing and art kind of feed off each other--and they are just different forms of expressing yourself. I've been very fortunate in my life. I've been exposed to so many talented and incredible people over the years both in and out of surfing.

So chasing swells supersedes anything the fashion world can offer you?

Well, I want to be available to do those types of jobs--if it works. Like the Chanel thing was just a complete no brainer. I had the opportunity to work with a company like Chanel, and a photographer like Catherine Bigelow, and all I had to do was be in my natural environment and ride waves? I couldn't have asked for a better job and the whole thing was a real pleasure. I liked the way it came out, which is great because when you are in these shoots, you have no control over how they will come out in the end. I still want to have the credit that I have in the core surfing world, and I don't want to be portrayed as something that I'm not. But in this case, I didn't have to worry about that.

I know that you live in Los Angeles these days. Does that make it tough when you've basically made your name charging huge barrels?

I really need to be in Hawaii in the winter, so LA is my home base and my fiancé and I have a place in New York. I go to Hawaii for four months out of the year, from November through the end of February, and I love every minute of it. The thing about living in California or New York and traveling a lot of the time is when I go back to Hawaii in the winter, I'm so psyched for every second of it. Some people get jaded and start to forget how amazing it is there. I'll go to Hawaii in the summer and I'll be at my friend's place on the beach and I'll be thinking, 'I can see the ocean from your house, this is fucking priceless right here.' When you're in a concrete jungle like New York, you realize over time how dependent you've become on the ocean and surfing and the whole experience. When you're deprived of it, you're not the same person. I'm very fortunate to feel that kind of connection with nature. But once that's gone for a little while, I definitely get a little on edge.

You've been drawn into this first hand, but what do you think about the increasing fascination the mainstream has with surfing? Do you think its bad for surfing, or a healthy interest?

I remember like five years ago everyone was like, 'Wow, the mainstream is jumping on surfing, things are gonna change." And if anything, that interest has probably increased. There are probably more surfers because people are seeing surfing more and getting out there and wanting to have that experience in the ocean. But it's hard to say that's a bad thing. Surfing is one of the only things you can do on this planet that makes you truly present in the moment, because there is too much going on for you to be thinking about anything else. I think that when people have that experience and that relationship with the ocean, it's absolutely priceless--it completely enriches their lives. That's why there are more surfers now than ever before. But as far as the mainstream attention goes, I think its positive. Surfers are getting the credit that they deserve, you know? People are recognizing surfing as a sport and that there are guys out there risking their lives doing it. Look at that swell in Fiji--it couldn't have been a better setting. That gave all of us the opportunity to have that session live on the web, and that really created a buzz in the media and increased interest in surfing. I think it's great, and the sport is definitely growing. It would be really cool to see it held in the same esteem as an Olympic sport, but the thing with surfing is you're dealing with elements of Mother Nature and conditions don't really permit a level playing field. The downside of that attention is that more people will surf, and that will always be frustrating when you want to get waves at home. But as a professional, you're job is to endorse a product, and mainstream interest is only going to give surfers more opportunities to make money doing something they love.