The Surfersvillage Interview
San Clemente charger Rusty Long has a new book out, The Finest Line
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 5 April, 2015 - Rusty Long is a skinny guy from San Clemente, California who just so happens to be one of the most talented and interesting Renaissance Men in surfing. A big wave charger, barrel hunter, and lensman of the highest order, Rusty's humble beginnings can be traced, somewhat surprisingly, to Lowers, T-Street, et al.
He and his brother, Greg, dominated as amateurs, grovelling to the tops of podiums alongside a handful of surfers now at the crown of the CT's ratings. But instead of a grinding it out on the QS, pursuing what surely would have been a great professional career on tour, Rusty set out on a different path, searching out the biggest, hollowest waves on the planet to either push himself into, or point his lens at.
We got ahold of Rusty just a few days before the publication of his fantastic new book, The Finest Line, to ask him a few questions.
You grew up no stranger to having a lens pointed at you. Did any photographers in your life contribute to you wanting to pick up a camera?
Rusty Long: The two guys that inspired me to get a proper camera were Patrick Trefz and Jason Murray. I met them when I was 18, and began shooting photos with both of them. I really admired how they documented with a very attuned eye, and didn't try to stage too much. Like, being invisible while producing imagery can hit the deeper senses. That's how I have always tried to approach photography. Jason and Patrick helped me with gear suggestions and tips when I got my first SLR camera.
You and your brother have pushed each other in ways only brothers seem able to. Can you remember any particular moment where your brother's presence was particularly important?
The first time we surfed 20-foot Todos Santos together, when I was 18 and he was 16. I knew he wanted to get a big wave, and so did I. At that early stage in life you still have that thing as an older brother, where you have to be Alpha. I managed to keep that in place, catching a 20 footer, one of the bigger waves of the day. I ate shit, but at least I went. The following sessions that were big were like that too, but we both were catching big waves, so really we just had each other to keep company, which is huge in big surf. Having a solid surf partner.
Not all Southern California kids end up charging XXL waves. What drew you to big wave surfing initially?
Natural progression drew me into the big waves. Our Dad used to take us out on the biggest days here in San Clemente at Cottons, which is a deep water wave, where we had a lot of sessions in 10 to 15 foot waves as teens. Then we wanted to try Todos. All the best Todos surfers were from San Clemente and we got to know them and just worked our way up in size out there. By the time I was 18 it was all in on whatever.
How would you describe what you do for work to a very small, inattentive child?
Ha. Well I'm going to try and simplify this here. I ride big, scary waves and travel the world to beautiful places and relay those experiences through different forms of media in which my employers hope will inspire people to use the products that they make, which I trust and use, because they are all good products which people need to to do these exciting things I do with. So, essentially I'm a salesman. And now I made a book for people to see and hear about all the exciting things big wave surfers do, which I am selling. I also write for magazines and websites and shoot photographs.
All time favorite surf photograph?
Mikala Jones at Apocalypse in a giant right tube that is beyond perfect, shot by Dustin Humphrey on a roll of black and white Kodak film, I think Tri X which Mikala had to lend Dustin.
What is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?
There is a lot of preparation and foresight and thought about a multitude of things that leads to eventually getting onto the really memorable waves you catch and being there for these incredible sessions feeling totally prepared. I've focused on doing that over my surf career and I'm proud I've taken a responsible approach to it and helped facilitate great experiences for other people too.
Share with us your biggest Rocky Balboa moment (punching frozen meat and then running up the stairs of the Capitol, music blaring).
I go Rocky mode during different times of the season all the time. I have a route from my house where there are multiple steep beach trails I wind sprint up, and a life guard tower I do all my dips and push ups and sit ups at. Only takes me about 30-minutes to do my lap and have a radical workout that is fun. I always do it leading up to big sessions and it gets me psyched.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? (Selling shoes? PE teacher?)
I'd probably either be a full time Lifeguard, a full time Photographer, or a full time Farmer. Or maybe all three part time.
OK, you get to drop into five moments in history—surf or otherwise... Go!
1. An epic swell at G-Land in the early days with Gerry Lopez and crew. As a surfer that feeling must have been pretty hard to top discovering something like that.
2. Sometime in the 1500's around my home of what is modern day San Clemente where I could see the thriving, prosperous Native American communities around this beautiful zone, when it was undeveloped and there was no unrestricted access to the land, how it is now with Camp Pendleton. Living right here i often wonder about those times. I could imagine having a thriving farm in the Trestles river valley and walking down to the beach and plucking abalone and lobster from shallow water.
3. An epic swell at Puerto Escondido in the late 70's when it was still just a sleepy village with very few surfers around. Equipment was good enough to really ride the waves well too. I probably would have never left.
4. The year of 1969 in California, one of the biggest El Nino's of all time that winter and a free flowing society.
5. Ancient Greece before the Santorini Volcano eruption in the 1600 BC time frame, that changed the world. It was a prosperous time in frame on that region of the Mediterranean. I like prosperity and I like a Mediterranean climate and always am curious about living in the old world ways before the Industrial Revolution screwed up the natural world.