This is an interview with a hero of mine Ed Fladung. A talented photographer, writer, artist and surfer. Ed migrated to Nayarit, Mexico 4 years ago. Check everything out at his blog and his flickr stream.
Q: Where are you originally from; How did you end up in Mexico?
I’m from a little bit of everywhere. Born in Philadelphia. Raised in Croton-on-Hudson, NY – a little suburb about 30 minutes north of NYC. My family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when I was 15 and so I went to high school there. Upon graduating, my parents moved to Berkeley CA. and I went off to school at CalArts in Valencia, CA – outside of Los Angeles. After graduating CalArts, I moved to Hollywood and stayed there for 7 years or so, before moving to Mexico. So to answer the question, I guess I’m from New York, most of my family lives in the area and I spent my formative years there skateboarding, making artsy crap and stickering/tagging municipal property.
Ending up in Mexico – the short story: Around 2002, my parents had retired to a small town 20 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, called Bucerias, in the Mexican state of Nayarit. I was in LA, producing websites and online marketing collateral for movies. During the day I handled client requests and put together presentations and pitched for new projects. At night I designed the websites and worked with freelance designers and programmers over instant messenger. The work was hectic and I was slowly starting to burn out. My mom (ex-marketing exec) couldn’t stay retired and got into the business of remodeling houses, which lead to designing and building houses, which lead to larger projects. For this she needed help. So she called me up one day and asked if I would like to come down to Mexico for a few weeks to see if I’d like working with her. I took a few weeks off and tried it out. Michael, a family friend was staying with us as well. He and his girlfriend were in town, surfing. They took me out to one of the local breaks and taught me how to surf and I spent the next 2 weeks working and surfing. I was hooked.
Upon my return to Los Angeles, I rented my house out to my cousin, who coincidentally was coming to LA for an MFA at CalArts. I sold my car, finished work obligations and politely notified my clients I’d be taking a six-month “sabbatical” in Mexico. On August 23rd, 2004 I moved to Mexico. For the first 3 months or so, I rarely touched the computer and when I wasn’t working, I was either in the water surfing my brains out or searching out new surf breaks.
Q: How often do you go surf? What do you ride?
It kinda depends on the season. In the winter, the waves are more consistent, so I go out on a daily basis for at least a few hours. In the summer we have huge swells, with longer lulls in between. I generally try to get out at least every other day, if there’s no swell I drag the longboard out. If there’s swell I’ll stay out until my skin starts to crisp. I’ve recently discovered the usefulness of the “all-purpose utility surf hat”, it gives me at least another half hour in the water at mid-day full sun strength.
- 9’6″ San Miguel noserider
- 6’2″ Al Merick Flyer II (needs retiring)
- 6’2″ Michel Junod Single Fin egg
- 6’0″ ATL (total potato chip and awesome ride)
- 5’7″ Twin Keel Zippi retro fish (needs serious retiring)
I ride the ATL, Junod and San Miguel 99% of the time.
Q: Did you ever surf when you lived in LA or NY? Or did you start when you moved to MX?
Never surfed in LA or NY. Don’t ask why, me knows not. This August makes it 4 years I’ve been surfing, so I guess in the grand scheme of things I’m still a little grom or a big kook. I grew up skateboarding and then snowboarding so it wasn’t too much of a stretch. Imagine living in California and never learning to surf, what was I thinking? [rhetorical question]
Q: You live right in the centre of a surf rich area — friendly sheltered breaks to the north and open ocean dredgers to the south; How much have you explored? Any advice on traveling Mexico?
I have a handful of local breaks that I frequent and I’m pretty familiar with the 20 or so breaks in my area – the Bahia de Banderas (we’re situated on a large sheltered bay). I’ve explored a few spots to the north and a few in Jalisco and Michoacan to the south. But truth be told, I haven’t explored nearly as much of Mexico’s Pacific coast as I’d like.
There’s generally two ways to explore Mexico. The first is by picking a base and doing day trips. Sayulita, San Pancho, Punta Mita, Bucerias, Troncones, Zihuatenejo and Puerto Escondido are good places to start for those kind of trips.
Road trips are a whole different story. I highly recommend road-tripping Mexico. You will see ten times more scenery and it will give you the option to find those lesser known breaks that are most certainly empty 99% of the time. Traveling by car means camping most of the time and navigating Mexico’s horrendous highways (or lack thereof). Advice: know exactly where you’re going and approximate distance and travel time between where you are and where you’re going. Only travel during the day and bring a surfing guide. One or two of them are very detailed and have kilometer markings for the larger spots and what you can expect for accommodations. Remember, Mexico is still very wild in more ways than one. Be respectful of the locals.
Q: Have you been hassled exploring and trying to reach some of the breaks that have been cut off by development?
Yes, the Vallarta/Nayarit area has seen an explosion in real estate development over the past 5 years as the government has been ramping up the Vallarta/Nayarit area as the next major tourist destination after Cabo and Cancun. Despite what local/state/federal government officials and local news outlets say, the development is not planned at all and it is still very much the Wild West here. Money talks. As a result of this, we’ve seen access to a few local surf spots and public beaches being choked-off. The major problem is that development is happening so rapidly and under the public radar. On the positive side: there are a few developments that have a status quo that allows a small number of surfers and bodyborders to slip in to the breaks under the radar. For this I salute them.
Q: You’ve recently become a stronger advocate for preserving access to the ocean in your area; what can you tell me about this? How big a problem is it in the “Riviera Nayarit”? Does a Surf Rider Foundation chapter exist in MX?
I guess I would be considered an advocate although to be more precise, I’m just a loud mouth with a soapbox to shout from. I do have friends who’ve started a civil association advocacy group whose goal is to bring awareness to beach and surf spot access. I’ve created some designs for t-shirts and bumper stickers and things to raise awareness. Any beachfront area being developed needs to abide by a proper zoning plan which requires “windows” to the ocean every few kilometers or so. Depending on whom you talk to these access points are slowly being choked off, legally or illegally (the line is blurred). Again, there is very little public oversight of these developments, so there’s no way to tell what is legitimate and what is not. It’s mostly just whispers and hearsay. That’s why it’s hard to be an advocate. The whispers more often than not turn out to be true.
The silver lining in all of this is that Mexicans will always find a way, with regards to trespassing and getting to spots that have been choked off. Barbed wire and security guards be damned.
I’m not aware of any local Surfrider chapters, I’d love to help set one up. Hint hint.
Q: How hard is the choice – Shoot (photos) or Surf on the good days?
It’s the hardest. I agonize over the decision. If the waves are too big or just too gnarly then obviously I shoot, but most of the time it depends on the spot or who’s with me. If I can safely leave my gear on the beach with someone to watch over it, I always surf first, then shoot, and then surf some more. I hope to eventual start shooting professionally at some point, so in that case, this will change. But I will always shoot through the prism of my surfing experience. This is probably true for most photographers who surf as well.
Q: How good is shooting with your current camera? What’s your go-to lens? Ever thought about buying a waterproof point and shoot or a housing for your G9?
I shoot primarily with a Canon 5D. I use two lenses most of the time: a EF 24-70mm and a EF 100-400mm, both L series. I love the clarity of the image and the pop of the colors. I’d love to buy an underwater housing for it one of these days, they’re expensive though like 2-3k and custom made. My sister is gracefully letting me borrow her Mamiya 645, a medium format film camera. I’d like to eventually transition my photography to both film and digital, but living in a remote corner of Mexico I either need to send film to LA or Mexico City to get developed. It’s a hassle and there’s something addictive about the immediacy of digital, although I personally prefer the look of film more. I found myself shooting with the 645 more and more but to have to wait a month to see any of the shots is killing me.
Q: I find Mexico is an inspiring place; The “do it yourself” mentality permeates everything. How inspiring is that on going further with your photos/design/architecture?
I love Mexico’s DIY aesthetic. Mexicans are an inventive bunch; they excel with working with what is available. I’m constantly having my preconceptions smashed with regards to ways of doing things. But that mentality is a blessing and a curse. I’m constantly in awe of Mexico’s abundance of hand-painted signs. They are omnipresent in daily Mexican life, from the taco stand to the small business, to the “slippery when wet” signs at the airport. Conversely, the DIY aesthetic applies to things like infrastructure as well. One day our municipality tore up the perfectly fine paving stones on our street and it took them 3 months to finish the job; with no direct car access to our house. There are no words.
Q: Everyone seems to love your blog; Where did the name “Quality Peoples” come from?
Thanks for the blog love, man. I appreciate that. While I was working at Mostasa http://www.mostasa.com (a web design company I had founded with a friend of mine), I got an idea to create a mini-site, where I photograph and write little blurbs about all my friends. I called it “Quality Peoples” and I registered the url. This site never made it to the live url, but I kept the name. When Mostasa folded towards the end of the dot bomb days, I started freelance producing websites and used the “Quality Peoples” name for the business. When I moved to Mexico and started the blog, it was hosted briefly at BlogSpot, when I got in to the self-hosted version of WordPress, I moved it over to the Quality Peoples url. At some point, I wanted the blog to be a multi-author format, with several different friends of mine all writing about our lives. But no one showed much interest.
Q: Can you tell me anything about your upcoming projects?
I receive emails pretty regularly from people who are inspired by my decision to move to Mexico. I’ve been documenting my experiences on the blog for almost the entire 4 years I’ve been living here. I’ve spent the past 4-5 months putting together a book version of “Quality Peoples”. It’s very similar in construction to the blog, organized into chapters by year. The posts are more concise and to the point and there is more emphasis on the photos. It’s one part coffee-table photo book and one part travel journal. There are three main areas of focus in the book: my experiences as an American living in Mexico, learning to surf and embracing the surf culture ethic and lastly the story of meeting a Mexican girl and falling in love. There are several sub-themes that weave their way through the book as well. Culling through the 2000 posts I have to-date, making sense of it and editing my terrible writing was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m really excited about it and I’ve been slowly sending it out to various publishers and editors, hoping it will find a spot at a publisher who sees it for more that just a blog book or surfing book. I’m really hoping it finds a permanent spot in bathroom reading collections worldwide.
Q: You’ve got an addition to the family on the way; is a small foam-topped surfboard already being shaped?
Yes, the seedling is on the way. The male variety. His due date is January 12th, but he could be born any day now, so we’re super psyched. Young gromling will be well rounded in knowledge of surf craft: retros, thrusters, logs, etc. for sure. And he’ll spend his days playing in the sand and the surf and when he’s thirty he’ll discover web design and sit in front of computer his whole life. [little joke there].