There are certain names which have have achieved legendary status in the world of surf photography and 49 year-old Dave ‘Nelly’ Nelson is most certainly one of them.
Brought up in Santa Cruz skating and surfing, Nelly was surrounded by inspiring figures of the day including skaters Keith Meek and Steve Caballero as well as surfer, skateboarder and lensmen Tony Roberts, whom he cites has his main inspiration to first pick up a camera.
Photography has been a life saving outlet for me. Keeping life fun and exciting.
After spending much of his youth surfing, skating and partying, Nelly decided photography would be his main focus in life, and soon began documenting the burgeoning scene and talent pool in Santa Cruz and selling shots to the mags.
Nelly has spent the 25 years since travelling the world, shooting for brands including O’Neil and Vans as well as working as a senior photographer at Transworld Surf Magazine for 17 years.
“Photography has been a life saving outlet for me. Keeping life fun and exciting and close to nature. It has truly been a gift in my life.” he said.
Whilst Nelly has held true to his tried and tested style and approach, he has noticed the industry changing rapidly around him.
“We are a dying breed I’m afraid.” he laments of surf photographers “Everyone wants the shots-nobody wants to pay. The rates continue to go down and the magazines are dying. Hopefully things turn around before it’s too late.”
“I want my daughter to skate in front of a surf shop and not order her wetsuits online. Figure it out people.” he continues “There’s no culture in online shopping… and you can’t look someone in the eye, if you’re always staring at your phone! Haha”.
We asked Nelly to select some of his favourite images from his extensive archive and tell us the stories behind them, and what he came back with serves as a unique and concise chronicle of surf culture and its major players over the last 25 years.
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