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Josh Allen

5 minutes with a Surf Photography legend - 'Swilly'

Simon Williams, better known as ‘Swilly’, has been in the line up with lens in hand for over 30 years now. His work has been splashed across hundreds of surf magazines, his camera has captured some of the most influential surfers of our time. If you’ve stumbled across an image that tugged at your adventurous spirit and made you want to leap into the picture and paddle for the horizon, chances are it was a ‘Swilly’ snap.

We caught up with Swilly recently, camera aside and got to know the man behind the lens.

Swilly in a Snapshot

  • Years as a Surf photographer: 30 years
  • Favourite destination(s): Indo, Pohnpei, Maldives.
  • Number of overseas trips under your belt (estimate): No idea? Many 100.
  • Where’s home: Mermaid Beach Gold Coast, Australia
  • Age: 54
  • Preferred equipment: Canon, Aquatech.
  • Website: https://swilly.com.au/ | Instagram: @swillpics

Stoked: You’ve been in the lineup, camera in hand for over 30 years now. What inspired you to pursue surf photography and what keeps you motivated? 

Swilly: The love of the art and being a part of the ocean. I took up surf photography because I love surfing and photography. Just seemed like a damn good idea. 

Stoked: Pohnpei (P-PASS) has been a regular stop for you during your busy 12-month schedule. Why? And are there any standout sessions that have stayed with you over the years?

Swilly: P-pass is an amazing place that offers some of the best waves in the world. It's become almost like a second home to me and my good friend Allois keeps me wanting to come back year after year too. There have been so many great sessions over the years. For me, I have to say the 2009 trip I did with AI (Andy Irons) and Kelly is up there for sure. Those guys had such a chemistry in and out of the water and it was a pleasure to shoot.

Stoked: Being a surf photographer seems aspirational, but we know it comes with its fair share of narrow misses, disappointments, hectic lineups, crazy waves and painful leg cramps, is there any advice you'd pass on to a newbie?
Swilly: That’s a really hard question. Our industry has changed so much since the digital era. The print media is on the decline. Hence its a lot harder to make a good living out of my profession. I guess the main advice I could give is - keep positive, always enjoy your art and constantly think outside the box for new ideas. 

Stoked: You’ve shot a lot of destinations, Indo, Pohnpei, PNG, Maldives and way more. Is there a destination that keeps you coming back, why? 
Swilly: The simple answer to that is they are all amazing places and one visit is just not enough...As a surfer myself, I am always looking to get my fix and as surfer, we should never stop searching.

Stoked: There are a few ‘legends’ on your site, have you got a favourite surfer to shoot? 
Swilly: I get asked this question a fair bit and to be honest I haven’t really got any particular surfer that I prefer to shoot. I guess the top 44 are always amazing and then all the great free surfers Asher Pacey, Rasta, Chippa Wilson, Matt Meola. I loved working with AI (Andy Irons) and Kelly. Mick Fanning and Parko are always so much fun. All the amazing surfers who live on the gold coast and NSW coastline let's not forget the likes of Steph and Tyler. The girls are so much fun to work with and God they can surf! 

Stoked: You shoot abroad A LOT, what’s the one piece of travel advice you’d pass on?
Swilly: I guess to make sure you have pre-paid all your weight limits. Have backups for all of your gear. Pack smart. Never get into a flap if things go bad. There is usually a way around things. If things do get stressful, take a step back, take in the amazing place you are so lucky to be in and thank your lucky stars you aren't stuck in traffic jams, answering to your boss or chipping away on the building site in the hot sun all day. Travel is about adventure and relaxation so enjoy every moment I say!

Stoked: Is there one shot, that you’ve captured which sums up the ultimate surf adventure? 
Swilly: There's no one shot that jumps out at me, however, I think this shot tells a lot about the whole surf adventure. This is Dingo (Dean Morrison) in the Telo islands.

Need More

If you want some water inspiration on your wall? Swilly has made his prints available for sale online. Cataloguing over 30 years of images, this gallery brings his magical water world into yours - Visit Swilly’s site here.

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