Our new LA intern, Kelton Woodburn, has hit the ground running. A week in, he looked at our site and in a polite, round-about-way, he insinuated that his friend takes better photos than some of the people we had been featuring. We said, “Oh yeah, really? Show us what you got.” And he put together this feature on photographer Dylan Gordon. And then we said, “Oh, yeah. You weren’t kidding. You can stay.”
KW: Tell me about the time your water housing broke while shooting in Australia.
DA: couple months ago I had the opportunity to shoot in West Oz with Yadin Nicol for Surfer Magazine. This was my first trip out to Oz. I fell in love. Epic waves, beautiful girls, zero traffic, and insane landscapes. And it doesn’t get under overhead there?! Insane. After two weeks of shooting, it was our last day to get some shots before Yadin had to go back to California. All of the other SurferMag fellas had already left. We packed up early and ended up heading north to check out this slabby beach break. Of course, it’s pumping. Oz doesn’t disappoint. Yadin was making a pig of himself all morning, catching bomb after bomb. It’s amazing to watch a guy like Yadin go to town day after day in waves like these; he sits deeper than anyone and has zero hesitancy. Anyway, it got pretty slow and a little weird and Yadin needed to get out soon to pick up his family and catch a flight back to the states. Of course as soon as we thought about leaving, this massive set rolled in.
It was easily five feet bigger than anything else that came through. Before I know it I’m standing on dry reef in knee-high water. I’m fucked. There’s no way I’ll make it out far enough if I try to run or swim before the wave detonates, so the best option I can think of is to wait for the explosion in front of me and try to hug the reef and let it go over me. It doesn’t work. I get fucked. Rag-dolled. Luckily the reef is just a sidewalk with no big holes or coral sticking out. So when I come up I’m a little rattled, but of course there’s another and it detonates on my head. I can’t quite remember if it was the second or third wave I took on the head that ripped my housing out of my hand, but one of them takes my housing and slams it on the reef and snaps the entire front port in half. I come up for air and find that I’m holding a big ol’ jug of water with a camera in it.Sweet. Oh well. What can you do? I get to shore as fast as I can to try and save the card. There’s one more wave, same thing. I take it on the head and by this time I just let the wave drag me as close to shore as possible. I run on to the sand, borrow a towel from Jack Robinson’s mom (thank you!) and rip apart what’s left of my housing. Somehow when I pull the card out, it’s not too wet at all (nice job nikon). But I’m sweating balls, terrified that I may have lost all the shots from the session of the trip. Yadin comes in laughing, saying some Ozzy BS about how worked I just got and then realizes the housings busted. So he starts tripping. Haha, the whole way back we’re both laughing but crossing our fingers that the card is okay. We get back to the hotel and he’s frantically packing while I’m trying to get my damn half-busted laptop to start up. Moment of truth, we plug in the card and ALL of the photos are there. YES! Scored. He takes a couple screenshots and blasts them out to Taj and anyone else he wants to rub it in the face of, like a true buddy.
Tell me about the time you were on a surf trip in Northern California and you woke up to six inches of snow outside your van with your arm out the window.
I was on a road trip for Iron and Resin. We had five or six days to go to Oregon and back. No plan–just a van full of skateboards, surfboards, a motorcycle and a couple of good pals heading inland toward the Sierras. On the first night, we jumped in some hot springs around Mammoth and then cooked up to Mono Lake to camp. We found this sandy, 4×4-only road and took it pretty deep so that no one could find us and we could just camp for free. Smart idea in a two-wheel-drive van loaded down with dumb toys. We made dinner and passed out early so we could hit it hard in the morning. It was a starry night; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Around 5AM I wake up, freezing. I look over and my arm is hanging out the window of my van covered in snow. Delirious and confused, I kind of shake it off and sleep for a few more minutes until I snap out of it and open the door to realize that we got snowed in. There’s easily 10″ of snow packing our van in. FUCK! I’m tripping. We’re on some 4×4 only road, far from anything, in a foot of snow. The road disappeared. It’s just some whiteout bush land. I wake the guys up, tripping, and probably throwing snow in their faces. Haha, strangest thing I’ve ever woken up to, especially after falling asleep under a clear, starry sky. I turn the van on, tap on the gas and immediately, we dig. That’s not going to work.
So everybody grabs some skateboards, swim fins and surfboards and starts digging around the van. Treading gently, we start to push the van to face the direction of where we think the road is. Fingers crossed, we gun it. The van starts going, plowing the fresh powder. The thing looks like a spaceship from Star Wars floating across the snow. I’ve no idea how the damn thing did it but #rooneythevan charged it. Ben and I run and jump back into the van as it’s tanking through and we ride it all the way out until we make it to the paved road. I still can’t believe the thing actually made it. I thought for sure we were going to be stuck there for two days digging out a mile of track so that we could get out. Epic.
How often do you find yourself making photographs on trips that you didn’t expect? How do you adapt as a photographer when the situation changes on you?
See, that’s my favorite thing about photography. I love the unexpected and the unplanned. I think that’s why these trips are special. They really push you to capture unique moments and situations as they come, the good or the bad; it’s just going to be a good story in the end, so why not go all in? I find it inspiring to constantly be on your toes, explore a little further, or go somewhere you typically wouldn’t.
Tell me about the time you were on a surf trip in Oregon and there was a “victory at sea”. Where did you go to find waves and how was that experience?
That was an interesting one. We got stuck in the middle of a typhoon on a ladies’ long boarding trip. The typhoon brought 20ft+ seas, some of the roughest looking ocean I’ve ever seen. But some friends we made up there said that occasionally when the seas are that rough, a few river inlets filter down the swell and have manageable waves. We didn’t need much; little peelers would do. So we made it a mile up this river and find this perfect standing A-frame on the edge of the Columbia. It was pretty surreal. Rain, lightning, thunder, and huge freighter boats passed behind perfect little peelers. The girls just went to town nose-riding their hearts out. Absolutely absurd, but beautiful. That’s one of those times when you’re getting shit lemons thrown at you and you manage to make a sweet glass of lemonade, a good story and some really unique images.
What was it like living in Troy Mothershead’s driveway for a while? How did he rub off on you?
Troy is THE best long boarder I’ve ever had the opportunity to surf with. What he can do on a log in any manner of waves baffles me. I lived out of my little dodge van for about a year in his driveway and during that time I was constantly stealing him from work and going on little lunch/surf breaks with him. No matter what the waves were doing we always managed to have a good time. This also transferred over to me getting out and shooting more than I ever would have simply because we knew we could get interesting shots regardless of if the waves were pumping or not (and for the most part they weren’t).
Where do you find the line between documenting what happens and living the experience?
I never quite know where that line is. The main thing is to know yourself well and never push yourself too far one way or the other. It’s all about balance. The more you simply put yourself out there openly you figure that out. I definitely have too much fun sometimes, but I also have a hard time ever putting my camera down.
You meet a lot of interesting characters making photos. How has being a photographer influenced your interactions with other people?
The people I cross paths with constantly inspire me and photography has only magnified that. It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to meet so many inspiring humans. To be able to learn more about them and share their stories to the best of my ability is an absolute dream.
Between Canada, Australia, Chile, etc., you’ve been to a lot of unique places. How do you prepare yourself for a trip?
I honestly don’t do too much prep. Most of the time I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants. So long as I’ve got a camera in my hand and my feet under my head I’m good to go. It’s always good to have an idea of what you want to get out of a trip but I think too much expectation can lead you down the wrong path. I’ve always tended to just follow my feet and so far that’s lead me pretty well.