If you obsessively hoard coffee table books like I do, you might want to check out the soon-to-be-released hardback photo essay written by Ed Thompson and shot by Julien Roubinet. At 192 pages of glossy photo goodness, “Ice Cream Headaches” takes a visual dive into the eclectic surf scene of New York and New Jersey. Thompson and Roubinet, expats who now live in New York, spent 4 years and 4,000 miles worth of road time interviewing and profiling surfers, shapers, artists and local legends who call the frigid lineups of the northeast home. We recently caught up with Thompson to hear more about his new book.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Did you grow up surfing on the east coast?
I’m originally from England and grew up in landlocked High Wycombe, outside London. We used to go on family vacations to Cornwall in the summer and I began to build a relationship with the ocean, learned to swim in the surf, progressed to bodysurfing and, as soon as I could get my parents to let me rent a board, surfing. Julien is originally from Toulouse, so he grew up skating and learned to ski, but he first surfed when he moved to New York about six years ago, about a year before I moved here.
What motivated you and Julien to create this book?
We met through a mutual friend who invited us both to the beach at Rockaway. We all surfed this sandbar that was working really well at the end of a street that nobody usually surfs. Julien and I bonded over being expats in NYC and our mutual visa woes. We were both really hungry to enrich our surf experience and making surfing a bigger part of our lives in the city. It was such a great way to get some distance and some headspace from the intensity of New York life. We wanted to explore the area and learn as much as we could about the culture here. I got to know about Julien’s photography and one day I just asked him, ‘Why don’t we make a book about the surf culture here?’ Amazingly he said yes, and then we kind of had to start making plans and bring the idea to life.
What’s unique about surfing along the east coast that made you want to tell the story of surfers in that region?
It takes a lot of commitment to get up at 5 A.M., dig the car out of the snow and drive to the beach to throw on a 5mm wetsuit in the frozen parking lot (and it takes a whole lot of commitment to wait for the heaters to warm up in the car after a session). That said, the landscape is beautiful and is always changing throughout the seasons. Surfing with snow on the beach is magical, but you can run across the same beach in board shorts in the summer and fall. In the right conditions, the waves get really good-stand up barrels good-so it’s a pretty special combination. I think we both felt deep admiration for the commitment people here have to surfing and to nurturing the culture, knowing the history, respecting the past and looking towards the future.
The book tells the story of a few dozen local surfers? How’d you choose who you wanted to showcase?
From the beginning, we wanted to try to meet with people who had shaped local surf culture in some way. It was a very loose definition, but it gave us a jumping off point to be able to meet with people who would have interesting stuff to say about the culture as a whole. The first person we met was Michael Halsband and he kindly introduced us to a bunch of other people. We basically started there and followed the thread fairly organically. We’d hear the same names come up over and over and then we’d know that person would be good to meet. We augmented that with a bit of desk research to learn more about people. One of the things that I find the most satisfying about having completed this project is that you could literally make the same book again, with equally interesting but entirely different people. It shows there is a really healthy, vibrant surf culture here, full of people who are passionate about the history and context in which surfing takes place, beyond just the surfing itself.
What were some of the most unique and interesting interviews you did?
One of my personal favorites was interviewing Linda Davoli. She came to surfing at such an interesting moment in the history. She lived on the North Shore, fixing boards for Gerry Lopez and crew, explored Indo with the first wave of people who went over there and surfed Grajagan with New York lightning rod Rick Rasmussen. She went on the inaugural US team tour to Australia and later won the Bells trophy 3 times (it would have been 4 if she hadn’t accidentally dropped in on Rell Sunn). Linda was a huge advocate for women’s surfing at a time when the level of chauvinism in the culture must have been dismal. She’s just an all-around badass and she’s so fully stoked, even in her sixties.
We had a great time meeting Charles Mencel, a shaper from New Jersey who perpetuates the tradition of surfing, lifeguarding and shaping boards. He’s got a great sense of humor and we got some wonderful quotes from him. Charles has invested a lot of time and effort into carving out a career and a lifestyle for himself that is 100-percent functional in a normal, adult way and also completely built around the ocean and surfing. In his words, “surfing is a life. It’s not like bowling or mixed martial arts-it’s a sacred thing.”
I think both of us were completely in awe of interviewing William Finnegan. He’s surfed all over the world his entire life, in some of the heaviest waves you could find, and yet even during our interview, he was checking the forecast for a bump of swell that might hit Puerto Rico, weighing whether colleagues at the New Yorker staff holiday party would miss him. He’s something else.
When and where can people find your book?
It’s available to pre-order from Amazon right now, but if folks want to help us out, they can pre-order it directly from us at www.icecreamheadaches.nyc/store. We also have some limited edition prints from the book up there. They are hand signed exhibition quality prints and we’ve only made them available in very small runs. The book will also be available in bookstores in the UK, France, Australia, USA and Canada and maybe Japan (not sure about that yet though).