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Cold Water Surfing: Meet The Filmmaker Chasing Waves
When it comes to surfing, most people think of hot sand, the temperate sea and sunny skies. Not Ben Weiland.
The filmmaker has made a job out of documenting the world’s best cold water surfing spots, from Iceland to Alaska and beyond.
Formally trained as a graphic designer, the filmmaker and photographer is a rare jack of all trades. His fascination behind the camera started with a writing assignment about cold water surfing in New Zealand, and it was on the job when he discovered his love for cinematography.
The 30-year-old German native sat down with us to tell us about his creative inspiration and why he finds cold water waves so enticing.
How did you get into filming and documenting cold water surfers?
I’ve been interested in filmmaking since I was a kid when I’d make stop action movies on my uncle’s camcorder, but the first time I began to see it as a job was while I was working on a story about surfers on the South Island of New Zealand.
I was there as a writer, but I had a friend’s camera with me. I was documenting everything that happened and that’s when I realized that filmmaking could be something I could do for work. Since then, I’ve looked for every opportunity to improve.
Why cold water surfing?
It first started as an interest in remote surf spots – searching for undiscovered waves. World class waves around the world are crowded and often have resorts built on them.
I wondered whether places like Alaska could have perfect waves that no one knows about because no one would want to deal with unpredictable weather and extreme temperatures.
Had you surfed before?
The first time I surfed in cold water was when I was 21 and living on the South Island of New Zealand. I headed to the beach to check the waves one morning during winter.
Snow covered the roads and sand, but I didn’t mind the cold because the surf was empty and perfect. It takes a while to get used to wearing a thick wetsuit, but when the waves are good it’s definitely worth enduring the cold.
You’re the founder of Arctic Surf, “a creative endeavor to research waves along the coldest, most remote coastlines on the planet.” What inspired the project?
I would spend hours on the Internet, combing through photos of coastlines to see any sign of a good surf spot. My friend suggested I write about these findings, so I started the Arctic Surf website to share them.
To me it was for fun. I didn’t think anyone would actually want to surf in those places. But a few months later I got a call from a magazine.
What does a normal day look like for you?
It usually involves working on whatever project is most important for that day. My day-to-day is always different, which I really enjoy. It can involve writing, working on design, or planning ahead for a trip.
Are you a full-time cinematographer?
Most of my work currently is in filmmaking. I still have projects come up that involve design or illustration. I studied graphic design in school and thought I’d be doing that forever.
But I enjoy so many creative things – it’s hard to commit to one.
Tell us about your favorite project so far.
A few years ago I worked on Cradle of Storms, a film about surfing in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. It involved years of planning and many letdowns.
When it finally all came together, we ended up staying in a remote hunting lodge on an island with a population of 8. There were no paved roads, and we used ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) to access the coastline.
We found a world class wave breaking near a snow covered volcano. It’s something I’ll never forget.
What are your tips for beginners who want to create films like yours?
For me, it’s taken a lot more practice and patience than I anticipated. It is helpful to study the work that inspires you, and learn how it is created.
Any tips for filming in bad weather?
Preparation is key. Making sure you have the gear and resources with you when an unpredictable situation comes up.
What do you wear when you’re out in the field in bad weather – and what kind of gear do you never leave home without?
I try to bring enough right layers, but not pack too much stuff. It’s hard to pack efficiently. It usually involves waterproof boots, a rain or snow jacket, rain proof pants, and warm gloves.
Where are you based now?
I’m living in San Diego. It’s not the coldest or wildest of places, but I’m okay with warm water, too.
What inspires you creatively?
Being in the outdoors, maps, scientific charts, old photo archives from Antarctic explorers, and true adventure stories.
You lead an untraditional lifestyle – what led you to pursue this kind of life?
It’s been a gradual process for me. There is no guarantee of success. But I think I would rather take a risk and fail, than to not try at all.
Rather stay on land in January than brave the cold water? We don’t blame you. For the coldest and windiest days, bundle up in our men’s gilet and jacket. For ladies, we recommend our women’s rain jackets and vests.