Sipping Ain’t Easy

Behind the scenes of Taylor Steele and Dustin Humphrey filmic adventures in Iceland


Taylor Steele is hunkered down beneath a pile of plastic tarps in the howling wind and the pouring rain trying to change the film magazine and battery pack on $30k worth of 16mm camera equipment. By the time he's done, the lens will be fogged over again. The camera will be water damaged. The film will be compromised. And several key waves of the session will have passed undocumented.

"Don't worry, Taylor," I tell him, "It's not the footage that matters, it's all about how you get it. Right?"

His stare is blacker than the Icelandic sky.

Fifty yards up the rocky point, photographer Dustin Humphrey is shivering behind his camera beneath a makeshift, plastic cover. His lenses are stuffed inside his heavy Patagonia jacket. His head is buried beneath more plastic. But already he's realized that this rain-sopped session is bound to ruin his $6,000-lens.

"The camera is just tool anyway," I advise through the rain. "The real lens is in your mind's eye. Let memory by your only equipment."

D.Hump pretends not to hear me and focuses on the stormy lineup.

It's times like these that birthed the expression: "Sipping Ain't Easy." And we find plenty of occasion to use it. Whether it's blowing sands of the Egypt, the shady customs agents of Morocco, the dicey cuisine in South East Asia, or -- in this case -- the brutal cold and endless rains of remote Iceland, the conditions encountered on the continuing journey and Taylor Steele and D.Hump's Sipping Jetstreams project are guaranteed to prove challenging, if not downright impossible. But in the end, that's the true beauty of this project.

It's like that saying, you know:

"The destination is not a place, but a way of seeing things." --Henry Miller (drunken, pervert writer)

Or that other one, "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." --Helen Keller (deaf/dumb/blind chick)

Or maybe the one that says, "A good traveler has no intent on arriving." --Lao Tzu (Chinese troublemaker)

The next wave we found was even better. Taylor and D.Hump were instantly “in the Jetstream.”
This is what it’s all about

It's ridiculous stuff, I agree. But here we are, trying to surf while the wind and rain turn into hail and snow and so much un-godly natural fury. The photogs and filmers are fighting back tears of frustration and mentally calculating the cost of lost equipment while still trying to focus on the rare session at hand. It ain't easy. Have you ever tried looking through the lens of a 16mm Bolex camera? Even in the best of conditions it's hard to see anything. That's why cinematographer Todd Heater walks around all day with his right eye closed just to account for the light change. But this fog and rain make filming surf virtual guesswork. Meanwhile, out in the water, Timmy Curran, Dane Reynolds and Dan Malloy are braving 40-degree storm surf, suffering frostbite and Shamu-death visions just for a chance to have a couple clips in Taylor's "art of travel" surf film or Dustin's "off the beaten track" photo book. And even if it's still kinda fun, it sure as hell ain't easy.

The whole operation's forever on the brink of disaster. But, as a writer, I couldn't be happier. My job's never been so easy. Disaster and destruction; that's great stuff for stories. My problems start when things DON'T go wrong. In fact -- and please, don't tell the guys about this -- but if things ever do start going well, I might just have to go out and let the air out of the tires, hide someone's camera or feed someone's passport to a stray dog. Whatever I can do to keep it interesting. An anonymous call to the authorities. A midnight fire alarm. The odd Mickey in the drink. All in the name of "adventure" -- just don't tell no one.

Trudging back from another drizzly location scout:
Timmy, Hump, Dane and Taylor

Not that I should ever need to sabotage things. Taylor and D.Hump got making my job easy down to a science. Their recipe is simple: travel to places no surfer should ever consider visiting and document them in a such a way that every surfer in the world thinks they probably should visit it. So wonderous you'll wonder why you went. So exotic you'll poop your pants. So distant you may never find your way home.

It's like science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said: "Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness." (Oh we got that look down.)

Or what sarcasm-master Mark Twain said: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many people need is sorely on these accounts." (As punishment!)

I carry these ass-backwards little travel quotes around in a little book just to antagonize people when the van runs outta gas in the middle of the desert, when the camera equipment malfunctions right before the super session, or when a stray llama eats the last PB&J for a thousand miles. "Cheer up, guys," I tell 'em, "Remember what Lao Tzu said."

Perhaps the most amazing part of it all is that Taylor and Dustin still manage to pull it all off -- in fact, the final product comes out so blindingly beautiful you'll fall head-over-heels in love with every off-camera catastrophe it took to get there. And you won't even know it.

"Those moments when you're right on the edge of disaster," says Dustin after narrowly surviving a glacier blizzard to end up scoring a world-class, never-before-surfed slab, "those are the times when I feel most alive."

Hold on, I may have to put that one in my little book.

[Check the March Issue of SURFING Magazine for the full Icelandic adventure. Steele and D.Hump's yet-to-be-named follow up to 2007's groundbreaking Sipping Jetstreams book/film project is scheduled for a 2009 release, but we'll bring you along for the bumpy ride every step of the way.]

Sessions ended when you could no longer stand the cold. Dane put in a good two hours before calling it quits on this one. Alex Berger documents the frigid moment


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