It’s January 2009 and the thought of moving into a New Year without a break again haunted my soul. The human body can only take so much without having quality time on tap and the UK, London in particular can wear you out more than you imagine. With the Christmas Jam complete it was time for an experience and the thought of waking up in Sri Lanka every morning with the heat tinged winds of the open Indian Ocean was too good to turn down. Flights were booked, calls were made and within 2 days, the sea air was filling my lungs, the sun burning my skin and the birds were singing again.
Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka is a bliss stretch of beach in the South West of the country tinged with palm trees, coral reef, surfable waves and affordable guest houses. The insanely busy Galle Rd seperates this beautiful setting from the jungle where villagers shelter from the 31′ heat and animals such as monitor lizards and Ox share the land together. This same stretch of beach was documented in Sidewalk Mag in 2005 as a British skater built a mini ramp on the beach for the locals to ride at the A-Frame surf shop. Unfortunately the sea air eroded this structure but it served it’s purpose well and the locals had a load of fun. Meeting new people on these trips is definitely one of the many highlights of taking to the open road as there’s always going to be characters you will bump into that inspire you and it’s very likely you will meet other fellow skateboarders along the way.
This year I was lucky enough to meet a surfer who was living just next door and had a fun tale to tell. Lionel Dufau was attracted to Sri Lanka by the mighty presence of the UK winter, boredom and a bit of fate. On the subject of travel, Lionel has been trying to settle for the last 12 years and failed miserably, so hitting the road was all part of the course. – “I grew up in the South West of France, but I’ve been using Cornwall as a base for about 13 years. However I seem to go back on the road every time the routine gets too much (which is too often). I spent about a year in South Africa (while learning English) and another year in New Zealand. I guess that explains my “peculiar” non-French accent.”
His accent is slightly peculiar. At first i thought he was British and the subject of sessioning down in the West Country became the main conversation but it seemed that the the bulk of his skating miles were behind him. “A couple of nasty injuries and wisdom have forced me to slowly phase out skating out of my life. I’m still not immune to cruising around on a longboard though when the craving gets too much or when I follow my mates with the camera, but surfing gets priority now, and since I’m not good enough to make a living out of surfing, I’m trying to “blag” an existence out of surf photography.”
His surf photography tells many stories. The perfect barrels and bubblegum shots of tanned surfers cruising through bath warm water in various Paradise spots look stunning but the work of a surf photographer can be treacherous as Dufau explains. “I guess it can get dangerous on bigger days, but a little knowledge goes a long way. ‘Observation” is the key word. You need to be aware of what is going on. Scott Aichner, probably the best water photographer out there (in my opinion), compared it to crossing a busy city street at rush hour. To a quiet village-dweller it can look very daunting and dangerous, but there are subtle signs to read out there to help out people that know what they’re looking at. Not to mention that I don’t really go out when it is REALLY HUGE and life threatening. I know my limits anyway, and I have a 500mm zoom to shoot from the beach when the smell of danger is over-whelming.”
But the smell of danger can be homed in on from miles away as the surfers best friend, the shark has proved over many years. I could not help but ask the most obvious question about personal experiences and encounters with these fascinating creatures and the other dangers of the World’s Oceans. “I’ve beaten the paddling speed record in Jeffrey’s Bay (South Africa) when a great white shark cruised through the line up! I got my fair share of stitches delivered by grossly unqualified individuals in remote Indonesia and Australia plus a severe “Bali-belly” episode in Mexico that made me loose a stone in a week. Plus there’s a case of lung-related anxiety in the impact zone that pushed me to the “black dots” stage (moments from passing out and drowning), but I’ve suppose prevailed more or less gracefully and actually learned from that. On the whole, skateboarding has been more gnarly, for 15 years down the line, I’m still paying for little mistakes and slams that affected the basic mechanics of my knee, back, ankle, and thumb forever. At the time, it was worth it and it probably still is now, but 10 years down the line I might have a different outlook on the matter…”
The subject of skating sparked memories of the best skate years between us. Every skater has their own story, their personal favourite spots, trips, era, decks and pros so we shot the shit until Lionel’s laptop was booted up and the photos were shared around the table. He revealed many amazing surf photos, some can be found at www.surftwisted.com but it was the shots of Lettus Bee, the comic star that had graced US skateboard magazine pages over many years that sparked a whole new interest.
The cult comic Wrench Pilot was drawn by Mel Bend aka Andy Jenkins, the Girl Skateboards creative director. Originally turned down by Thrasher, the comic was first published in Transworld in 1989 for 3 years before Bend took a break from it all but it resurfaced briefly in Skateboarder Magazine in 2001. In 2004 the story continued in the newly launched Skateboard Mag and still runs today. In the same year Lakai featured Wrench Pilot in their catalogue and then decided to run a successful series of skate shoes featuring the art in 2006. The ltd edition 9″ vinyl figures were manufactured in 2007 by by Upperplayground and Ningyoushi and instantly became a collectible hit with fans all over the world.
“I can’t grasp at the whole reason why I ended up with the Lettus Bee “Toy” yet… Let’s just say, that someone who knows exactly how much of a sucker I am for that kind of quirky stuff, used it as some kind of bribe/payment to get out of my debt-collection list. He told me that only 500 were ever made and that they were worth 60 quid. And I could not resist it… It is actually really well made, and that face-plant sums up my skating “career” pretty well…. So I accepted.”.
Although Dufau’s skating days were up due to ankles that now swing in the wind, his passion for our great past time continued once the figure was bought. “I found myself with the figurine and my camera in London for 2 days and realised how many amazing skating spots existed for 6-inch people, so under the cover of the night, and at the danger of looking like a fool to the passer-by, I walked around all evening and shot pictures of perfect little spots with Lettus Bee to put them into perspective. It was a bit of fun really, a bit like when you look at a perfect 12 inch wave breaking on the shore and wish you were small enough to ride it. I ended up with hundreds of shots, but as with many skate spots, the best ones were left untouched for they were just off-limits. A 2ft high concrete full-pipe on a fenced-off building site sticks in my mind….real skaters might have broken in for a full-size pipe, but the vision of myself explaining to the site security guard or a policeman that I only broke in to take a picture of a toy had me laughing it off!”
Big thanks to the Hikkaduwa Massive who partied, rolled the dice and surfed the full moon week in January 2009. All photographs owned by Lionel Dufau.