If you don’t fancy a slide upon the sea or snowy pursuits atop a mountain, then you likely consider this past winter’s much-hyped El Niño weather pattern to be one big drizzle of disappointment. No ark was needed, and no big-ticket drought relief was delivered. However, if the rain clouds of Central and Southern California missed the El Niño memo, the ocean most certainly did not. This was a winter to remember for surfers everywhere. Big waves, regular offshore storm systems, comically warm water, and the scourge of mild-mannered weather all combined to make this past surf season the stuff of legend.
Santa Barbara’s Seth de Roulet, fresh off winning the much-sought-after Follow the Light Award (an annual grant program for up-and-coming surf photographers), was front and center for the shoreline show of El Niño. Working as a staff photographer for Surfing Magazine, de Roulet was a man on a mission for much of the winter, a road warrior hell-bent on documenting the all-star sessions going down from Rincon to Half Moon Bay. Zooming in between waves bigger than a house on the back of a jet ski, swimming under flawless and empty saltwater caves, and holding his ground in the gladiator pit of a high-performance surf orgy, de Roulet kept getting the shot. “Obviously, we had a lot of waves,” offered de Roulet recently, a hint of his native East Coast sarcasm creeping around the edges. “There was so much work for me do. It was endless.”
And while these efforts led directly to a smattering of printed pages in the magazine and scores of online photo galleries, de Roulet still felt that the lion’s share of his best work from this most memorable winter had yet to be shared. Photos of Santa Barbara’s harbor mouth looking alien, acid-dosed sunsets on the water, Carpinteria’s Tim Davis on “the best Rincon wave I have ever seen” according to de Roulet, huge and flawless Mavericks — the sheer volume and variety of A-grade content captured is dizzying. “Too much of this stuff was going to be filed away and forgotten,” said de Roulet. A former art gallery owner himself (anybody remember Surfbeat in the Funk Zone?) and the budding self-publisher behind the Central Coast Chronicles, de Roulet schemed up an impressive multimedia idea for bringing his work to life. It is called 20@17, it focuses exclusively on our corner of California (From Pt. Mugu to Ocean Beach in S.F.), and it starts this week.
Most immediately, there is a six-week pop-up show at the ART Gallery downtown. Think big: Big waves. Big color. Big prints. Big action. There are empty waves. There are surf celebrities. There are little-known local heroes. There are homegrown pros. And then there is the photo of Santa Barbara’s own madman, Matt Becker, free-falling down the face of an absolute monster of a wave at Mavericks. It is impossible not to look at this photo and have a visceral reaction. I saw it four days ago, and my stomach is still knotted with a clammy dread.
Still not convinced? There is also a limited-edition, high-gloss, coffee-table-book version of “20@17,” a take-home celebration of El Niño with more than 150 photos that will only be available at the gallery. With the dry doldrums of August firmly upon us and Lake Pacific doing its seasonal slumber to our west, this show is, without a doubt, the biggest stoke ticket in town. “This is all about good photos and good waves. Nothing more. Nothing less,” said de Roulet.
The 20@17 opening reception is Saturday, August 6, 6-10 p.m., at the ART Gallery, 9 West Carrillo Street. There will be beer from Rincon Brewery. The show runs through September 26. Visit twentyatseventeen.com.