bags of photography gear that I’d get overcharged by the airlines for everywhere I went.
BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET
I did a lot of traveling with a lot of the QS guys that weren’t making tons of money. So it was always sharing rooms or staying with some hookup that we knew wherever we were going, sleeping on their couch or on the floor or whatever. Jarrah Tutton and I traveled together for three years straight and we would call it “ballin’ on a budget.” Because, somehow, we were in the best parties, we’re drinkin’ with everyone, living a pretty good lifestyle, and not really making that much money. When you’re on the road and you’re trying to make money, you’re trying to spend as little as you can while you’re out there. But you’ve also gotta get the shot. So you’re chipping in for cars, you gotta pay for gas, you’re eating Top Ramen every day – baguette and cheese if you’re in France, plate lunches in Hawaii. And it’s a great experience. ‘Cause if you go somewhere and you got everything sorted and you got tons of money and you get a nice hotel room and you’re eating fine food and all that, you kind of alienate yourself from the people you’re getting to meet. When you’re traveling without much money you’re forced to meet people and you just end up with this huge base of friends that you know in different parts of the world. People that you’ve developed a relationship with. So when you come through that part of the world same time next year, you just reconnect. You’re back on that couch with them, doing the same thing. And the more you earn their trust, the more they open up their area to you. There’s a secret wave here. This place works on this tide or this swell. Stuff like that.
PA S T R E C O R D
When I was 18 years old I did something stupid and I got caught with a couple of friends, and in the car we had some cocaine. I didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to get anyone else in trouble, and didn’t want to get myself in trouble either. So I went down with the pack and was doing a bit of time in prison. Once I got out back into society, the American justice system never questioned that I was anything but an American citizen (Repo is a British citizen). I had been living there for years and I was speaking with an American accent. So I got out and built my life back up. I ended up becoming a graphic designer, got married, had a family, had a house,
built a business, was paying taxes. I think the worst thing I did during that period was get a speeding ticket. So I had 16 years of living like a normal, good, tax-paying American citizen. And then I came back from Australia one year – it was after 9/11 – I think it was in 2002, and I had my green card taken off me by U.S. Immigration. They didn’t deport me. They gave me the opportunity to enter into removal proceedings, which means that through the court system I had to fight to prove that I wasn’t a morally inept person and I was capable of being a productive member of American society. When this happened in 2002 I was two years into my surf photography career. I was doing really well at the time. I was pretty high up there on the whole TransWorld staff structure, and I was completely addicted to seeing my photos in the magazine – that’s what I lived for, besides my family. During the removal proceedings, one of the restrictions they put on you is you’re not allowed to leave the country. And, unfortunately for me, my lawyer told me I could expect my case to take five to seven years to see through. So I had a choice: get a different job, do surf photography parttime, stay in America and finish out my case to win my right to live in America, and then revisit surf photography full-time after that. But with competition in surf photography being so fierce – always changing, always growing, with all these really talented young kids coming up all the time – I wasn’t willing to do that. So I made a decision to keep traveling. And this is what I did: say I’m going to Europe for a surf trip. I’d get a ticket out of L.A. to Europe. Go to Europe, do my thing. Then when I would fly back, I’d land in Mexico City and I’d fly from Mexico City to Tijuana. And then one of my friends would meet me there and I’d just drive across the border with them and I’d go home. Back then it was as easy as that ‘cause you’ve got Americans driving back and forth across the border all the time – you just show your driver’s license and then you drive back home. I did that from 2002 until 2005.
I made it to my final removal proceeding hearing and everything was cool. Everyone agreed that I was a good citizen – the prosecutor agreed. They were going to give me my green card back. I just needed a signature from my lawyer, who didn’t turn up to that court date. So we made another court date for six weeks later. In the mean time, I had a trip
down to Costa Rica for RVCA. I went down to Costa Rica, did the trip, and came back in through Mexico City like usual. I got on a pay phone at the airport to call my friend who usually picked me up and drove me back to L.A. I’ll see you at 6pm tonight, he said. Then my plane to Tijuana gets canceled. The next plane doesn’t land for another six hours. So I go back to the pay phone to call my friend to let him know, but I can’t find my Blackberry. Someone stole my Blackberry with all my phone numbers in it. So now I didn’t know anyone’s number. I landed in Tijuana at midnight with all my photo gear. I think I had about $100 bucks in my pocket. I took a taxi to a motel where you can see the border, and I just planned on calling my friend in the morning. As I’m getting out of the taxi, two
Mexican policemen jump out of nowhere, search me, go through all my stuff, and take every last penny I have. So I got no money. I got no phone. I can’t even get a hotel. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I spotted this group of Mexicans hanging down by the wall and I could see that they were about to try and cross the border. So I went over, talked to one of the guys and I promised him a little bit of money if he could get me across and get me to a phone. And he agreed to help me. Unfortunately, I made another mistake and I got caught by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And at that point I knew I was fucked.