Now working as a freelance writer and photographer, his work is focused on documenting pollution in some of the farthest corners of the Earth through his initiative: The Plastic Project.
What do you love about being out in nature?
“I honestly believe it is where we are meant to be. I have never felt very at home in towns and cities, and it’s that feeling of actually belonging which is ultimately what I love about nature. I also love the fact that you are in control of your own destiny when you really get out in the wilderness. I think that’s quite hard to do on land, but as soon as you’re in the ocean, it makes you feel so much more alive.”
A surfing photographer seems like a dangerous occupation, constantly swimming in heavy surf. Have you had any near misses?
“You learn so much about the ocean when you swim in it, that you’re actually in pretty good control most of the time. Whenever I swim somewhere, I’ve studied exactly what’s going on with the currents and I always have a couple of plans for getting out of the water, so I think naturally, through a sense of self-preservation, you limit the risks. Having said that, you can never take anything for granted; if you’re at a reef break, it’s critical to know the way in and out, and as beach breaks especially can get to a good size, you have to be really calm when it comes to riptides and such. Fitness is crucial, and ultimately that will get you out of trouble; you’ve got to be able to take a few sets on the head, and be quite happy about that.”
How do you find balance between working and nature? Do you ever feel like you can just switch off when you’re outdoors?
“I’m very disciplined when it comes to work. If I’m going somewhere shooting, I shoot and I don’t take a board. My sole purpose is to document what is going on. That’s actually quite easy from a surfing point of view, but is tougher when it comes to being part of expeditions, as you want to help in some situations, but you’re really there to document. Then, when I go out for my own pleasure, I leave all my gear behind, except maybe one small camera.”
What is The Plastic Project about, and how did it start?
“I have spent the last 15 years going to the remotest coastlines in Iceland, Canada, Scotland, Ireland and Norway, and over that time I have seen the amount of rubbish on the beaches just go up and up. So while I was writing and talking about the adventure, I added in the environmental aspect, and found that it really hit home, and especially inspired young people to want to do something about it. So now I promote alternatives to plastic, document the real life problems through adventure, and get out there and educate people in a fun way about the extreme issue of plastic pollution that we face.”
Are surfers especially well-placed to notice the effects of climate change?
“I think surfers are right on the front line; there is no other group of people who spends so much time in, or next to, the ocean, and we watch the weather and changing climate fanatically. Surfers really notice any change, and we have a history of speaking up about it as well.”
What are your current ventures with The Plastic Project?
“We are making a series of films that are for general consumption, and designed to be pulled apart and used as educational resources; from primary school up to university level. This, and the photography, are the key elements of the project, and we take the talks to as many people as possible; face to face is by far the best way to talk to people about these issues.”
“It’s phenomenal in the UK how bad littering is...we are such an urban country that we take green spaces for granted, and think someone else will clear up our rubbish”
In your opinion, are we doing enough to protect the outdoor spaces we love from pollution? Is it possible to back the tide?
“Simply: no, we are not. We protect certain areas, but it really wouldn’t take much to make everywhere better, and a lot of the problems stem from litter. It’s phenomenal in the UK how bad littering is, and I think one of the main problems is that we are such an urban country that we take green spaces for granted, and think someone else will clear up our rubbish. I think the tide can be turned, but I don’t think it will be easy. It’s a big psychological shift, but the answer is getting people to love their environment.”
How do people react to your message about ocean pollution? Are we blissfully unaware of the damage we are doing?
“It’s interesting because, as I am totally engrossed in ocean activism and have social media streams full of the latest in marine pollution, it’s easy to think that the message is getting out there.” However, the reality is that 90-95% of the global population have no comprehension of how severe the problem is, and when I do talk to people who have little connection with the sea, they are visibly shocked to see the state it is in- especially in wild places.”
What are some of your favourite surfing breaks?
“I love northern Scotland; it’s wild, remote and the waves get really good. I also have a great fondness for Iceland, although the surf is not really that great up there. I used to spend a lot of time on the west coast of Ireland, and I love the wildness you find when you get out into the north west of Donegal, and far west of Mayo; they all have a special place in my heart.”
To follow Tim's work, visit https://theplastic-project.com/