“I guess I never really had that competitive drive that people talk about. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, surfing new places and meeting different people.” – Asher Pacey
What happens to surfers once they choose to opt out of the highly competitive environment of the world tour? Just because they turn their back on the main focus of surfing today, and instead choose to celebrate where it all started, where we all started… getting up on a random wave that happens to come your way and doing what the wave gives you the chance to do, and doing it freely.
Of course on your first wave you drop down, knees bent and legs squatting metres apart, face filled with water. But when you get a kooked-out stream line going and you hand windscreen wipe the water out of your eyes, you’re left with an ear to ear smile that reflects across your entire body as surfing claims yet another stoked out victim. No matter what happens through out your life, this feeling of absolute belonging will always be there to fall back on. And the ocean, even though maybe a mad mistress at times, will always be there with open and willing arms. This is your place, for your mind and your escape.
One man who has embraced this natural beauty of the sport is featured surfer, Asher Pacey. Being one of the most humble and appreciative surfers, taking the natural route of free surfing, and in this staying true to his roots, is on his merry way to being one of the most celebrated free surfers around today.
After being to all ends of the surfing world and back again, with a good few momentous occasions along the way, Asher decided to take a trip back in the much redundant traditional surfing progression line to a point where points don’t matter, and this is where he chose to stay. With sponsors of fortitude like Rhythm backing him all the way, the support was there in return for his priceless supplementation of their brand, as he proceeded in taking the dive into the ironically risky world of free surfing.
In following this recalled genetic way of life, we’ve watched not only his surfing, but also his image climb the popularity charts exponentially. All in the mean while he has remained one of the most humble, laid back (not to mention the maddest lay back snap in the business) and appreciative surfer there is today.
Firstly, Mr Asher Pacey, what essential are a must for your Trunk?
I’ve got an old truck so it’s home to many different things like surfboards, fishing rods, wet wetsuits, clothes and a whole heap of sand. I’ve got all sorts of useful stuff in there actually. Sometimes I’ll throw in a mattress so I can have a lay down after surfing if I’m not close to home.
Please state your sponsors?
Rhythm, D’arcy surfboards, Xcel Wetsuits, Etnies, Surf 100%, FCS/Gorilla Grip
30 years old.
The number of years you’ve been surfing for?
I started surfing at about five, but moved to the beach at around 10 years of age. So been in the salt for most of my years.
I Can’t really remember, but I’m sure it would have been one of my dad’s single fin.
Definitely a knee high white water somewhere on the mid north coast.
I read in your profile on the Rhythm website that you “grew up in a beach shack… with out electricity…surviving on a staple diet of fish and vegetables”. Please talk us through this if you don’t mind? I would imagine that this is where your humbled nature would have come about.
Well, the first ten years of my life I was in the bush not too far from the coast, but still spent plenty of time on the coast with my family. We lived a simple, but very rich life; most of which was spent outdoors. My mother is and was an extremely creative and loving person and my dad was right into surfing and hang gliding. Both my parents have a great love for the land and the ocean so I guess through them I learned to appreciate and observe the things going on around me.
When I did move to the coast I was fortunate enough to have access to an amazing beach shack that was built by a very close family friend, which he originally built to meditate in. Eventually, he moved away and passed it on to my brother and me. It was hidden in the sand dunes about 2 km from my house, but at the time we were very smart about it, managing to keep tight-lipped on its location and how incredible the place was, with only a handful of our closest friends having been invited.
As a teenager it was nothing but a dream come true; surf out front, carpeted floors, two made beds, water collected off the roof, matching cane lounge, hammock, board games, all the cooking utensils we needed, and some beautiful oil paintings on the walls. Anyway, it’s sad to say that someone eventually burnt it down and I had to move on.
I’ve been living in Coolangatta now for close to ten years, which is quite a contrast to my earlier years, but I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had on my journey. To this date, we have a family farm where we have (over time) planted and grown numerous food sources, so it’s never hard for us to gather up a feed or a nice piece of fruit at any time of the year. It’s quite hard to put things that mean so much into words and convey those feelings that come with them.
So we understand you’re a free surfer, what made you decide that was the path for you?
It wasn’t something I originally had in mind. I started competing in my early teens and really enjoyed it! I loved surfing with people who were better than myself and fortunately my best mate lived next door to me and we surfed and competed together for many years.
I guess I never really had that competitive drive that people talk about. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, surfing new places and meeting different people. After realising the cost associated with doing these contests, I figured it could be much more productive to focus on doing photo-based trips and come home with something to show, doing it in a relaxed situation with minimal pressure.
At the time my sponsors were happy with the job I was doing so I guess that’s where I made the transition. I actually never dreamed of leaving the country so I still take with me the appreciation of the life I get to live and consider myself very fortunate to have the continued support of the people around me.
What pushes you to be progressive as a free surfer? Competitive surfers aspire to be the world champ, as a free surfer what do you aspire to?
I think it’s healthy to always want to improve in whatever you put your heart into. In this day and age there are so many people to draw inspiration from in surfing. You see grommets with that super stoke that we can all relate to and is always refreshing to see. Then you might see someone who is a really polished surfer and draws nice lines on a wave or has their own creative approach. The ocean itself is ever changing and is never the same so that keeps things fun, interesting and challenging. At the end of day I just want to use the opportunities I have in the best way I can, while I can and feel as if I have done a good job of it.
In a way you’re an underground name, do you ever plan on going mainstream like some of the other guys or do you just take it as it comes?
It’s a tough one because to be successful you sometimes have to put yourself out there and for me I’ve had a bit of an inner struggle with that, as I don’t really like being the focus. To go ‘mainstream’ there is a lot of factors involved. Things like being media savvy, you need plenty of talent, really good support from your sponsors and you have to be appealing to the general public, and above all you have to be marketable and sell stuff. It also helps if people want to work with you. For me it’s really up to my sponsors on how much they want to promote my name, as it’s expensive to send someone on these trips.
Actually, seeing as there are some people that don’t really know you, what five things define Asher Pacey? We think that you’re one of the best guys to look up to in the industry, you lead a good example to an industry that needs it.
Well thanks for the compliment. It’s not an easy task describing ‘you’, but I’ll give it a shot:
1. I love being outdoors and most of my days are dictated by the weather.
2. I have a lot of fun fishing out to sea when the weather permits. I enjoy the things I see on the journey, laughing at my stuff ups, sharing and cooking the catch.
3. I do my best to stay young at heart and have a pretty good sense of humour and enjoy a laugh at any given time.
4. I still have to pinch myself every now and then because I still can’t believe I’m doing things I never dreamed of. I still appreciate the little things to.
5. I really enjoy learning about the world we live in, mostly about the plants and animals here in Australia. A lot of those things I share with my family, as they are very knowledgeable in those fields.
Do you still dabble in competitive surfing?
Yeah, occasionally for sure. Mostly team events, which I surf for with Kirra Surfriders. I entered the trials for the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast in March . The top two places go into the main event and I managed to get third unfortunately. I would have loved to qualified for that as its right here in my back yard and I feel comfortable surfing out there. Besides that, I won a single fin contest in Bali this year. That was a fun day! It is still fun for me as it’s not my main focus and you tend to surf in a different way. I love watching the contests online these days to. Especially when you can throw a few lazy bets on, always makes it interesting!
How do you actually convince your sponsors to let you do something like free surfing?
I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there who would like to hear the trick to breaking away from the forceful nature of competitive surfing. It’s not really a matter of convincing them, it’s more productive for both parties and I seem to have found my niche with what I’m doing. I guess my timing was good when I first merged into it. There are so many good surfers these days and it’s getting harder to find a slice of the pie. I still think highly of competitive surfing and the level is just going through the roof. It depends on what floats your boat, but I’m happy and grateful for the support I have.
All this talk about free surfing versus competitive surfing, what is your over all opinion of the surfing industry?
There are so many aspects to the sport and I don’t see it as one being better than the other. I think the general public can relate to free surfing easily, but the quality of the surfing and the locations of the events make for some really good viewing. Competitive surfing is of such a high level and it’s really pushing these elite athletes to put in 100%. The surf industry in general is growing quickly. There are so many people in so many countries finding something special in the surf. It’s crazy to see all these ads on TV that seem to integrate surfing in their marketing as oppose to ten, twenty or more years ago when surfing was seen as something only no-hoper bums would do. I guess they’re suggesting a free and healthy lifestyle. It’s all well and good, but I guess one negative would be that there’s going be more and more people in the water and that un-crowded surf will be harder to find. As good as it is for sharing we can also be a selfish bunch at times.
What or who have been your main inspirations over your surfing life?
That is a really tough one. Inspiration is a transient thing and it comes in many shapes and forms. Like I said earlier, I get super stoked to seeing a grommet or an older member of the surfing community have that genuine happiness that comes with the joys of surfing.
To mention just a few people who have inspired me: people like my family who have taught me how to appreciate things and to do the things I love: my best friend Paul Evans who I grew up with and surfed with through most of my youth and still do to this day, your obvious ones like professional surfers at different times, and people that have told me that I’m wasting my time surfing!
It’s a really inspiring sport, with each and every day being so different, so many characters involved, the shear beauty of the ocean and its moods, the sensation that comes with the feeling of being at the right place at the right time.
What does it mean for you to be focused?
On a surfing level, my main focuses are the weather and maintaining good health. As opposed to someone in the competitive scene, I may not pay as much attention to detail. I understand that as fun as this lifestyle is, it’s still a job and you cannot maintain it if you don’t pull your weight. So it pays to be aware of opportunity when you see it and utilise the things you can when you can.
Does free surfing pave your way, or do you have to do some work on the side?
It is the dream to be able to live off what you love to do completely. Fortunately for me, I’ve been lucky enough to get by with what I’m doing. I can’t say its been smooth sailing and during the GFC [Global Financial Crisis] I had to make a decision whether to throw in the towel for a real job or use some of my savings to try and maintain face in the industry.
Luckily for me, with the help of my sponsors and people who believed in me, I’ve managed to come out the other side. For me I kind of sacrifice the job security of a career with the quality of life I have, which I believe is worth it. There’s plenty of opportunity in this world and I’m happy to be doing this while I’m still in good health.
So you’ve been working with Matt Kleiner and Circulate on the new ‘The Way of the Ocean’ flick. How’s that been?
Yeah, I’ve spent some time with Matt and his brother Ryan, working together. It’s been super cool taking some time to get some interesting shots. They have had the patience to hang out here in Oz with me and I hope that they have enjoyed that journey as much as I did.
I took them to a few special places to me, both on and off the coast and they managed to capture a bit of that feel. We had a good run of waves at first, but it went dry on us for a while. Matt’s got a real talent with what he does and seeing the way he puts it all together gives me a real appreciation for the time taken. I’m super stoked to have had the opportunity to work with these guys and it’s been a good push for me and we’ve had some great feedback with some of the shorts they have done. I think they are almost done so I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product soon!
What does the future hold for Asher Pacey? What’s the next best project?
Only time will tell. I’ve been through a few changes in my life recently and things are usually of a spontaneous nature for me. I really look forward to working with talented and enthusiastic people and trying to do my best at whatever I put my heart to. Besides that, I’m just going to sow a few seeds for the future and hope they grow.
For more on Asher follow him on his Facebook page.
Photo credit: Simon Williams
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© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016