A few years back we launched an investigation into the origins of the internet’s favourite fake lineup shot.
While we managed to draw a few concrete conclusions back then, we fell short of identifying where the image actually came from. Then, last year, after we’d all but forgotten about it, we discovered that our article had been shared by someone on Facebook claiming responsibility for the creation of the iconic image. Furthermore, that person happened to be a world-renowned artist and surfer, known for work that often focusses on exotic pastiche set in the Island of the Gods. Convinced we’d found our man, we hit him up for an interview, which appeared alongside some of his work in Vol 260. Here, we’ve shared that feature in full, re-releasing the story back into the internet wilds from whence it came. For more strange, intriguing and enlightening tales from the full spectrum of surf culture, subscribe to our print edition today.
Ashley Bickerton is one of those people with an accent you just can’t place; the strange lilt of a man who sees himself as an outsider wherever he goes. Born in Barbados, his father’s job saw the family living across four different continents before Bickerton’s 12th birthday, at which point they finally settled in Hawaii, where he promptly learnt to surf. After attending art school in California, he moved to New York in ‘82, where his central role in the emerging ‘Neo-Geo’ movement saw him lauded as one of the most important new discoveries in the international art world.
However, after 12 years in the city, with what he describes as a career and marriage in ‘tatters’ he upped sticks and moved to Bali, where he’s resided ever since. Nowadays, he works largely in mixed media, combining photographic elements with paint and found objects to create bright, garish pieces that trade in parody and exoticism.
In this interview though, I’m not going to ask him about any of his critically acclaimed works, like those that hang on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate or the Whitney. But rather an image he knocked together on his computer at some faintly remembered time back in the late 2000s. An image that’s never attributed to him, but is almost certainly his most-viewed work. It’s the image he calls ‘The Endless Wave.’
An early version of ‘The Endless Wave’, created on Photoshop by Ashley Bickerton.
LG: When did you first have the idea to create this now-iconic lineup shot and what was the thinking behind it?
AB: While I am in no way self-taught as an artist, I am pretty much self-taught in Photoshop. One way I honed my skills in the early days was to create slightly pornographic, but highly idealized female forms. The best of these would be nude sand-covered and glistening hula girls lolling on white-sand beaches with flawless aquamarine tubes peeling across the reefs in the background. While I was well aware that this was both corny as hell and highly indulgent, and that I might never exhibit it in a formal art world context, the painstaking task of making them nevertheless had the power to hold my interest for literally hours on end, sometimes through the night. With this as a driving force, I learned the sleight of hand skills that constitute what must be considered a contemporary form of cultural shamanism; the ability to bend perception, and thus alter reality. Once I had ‘mastered’ the creating of the perfect nude, as a lifelong surfer, the next obvious choice was to construct the perfect wave. My perfect wave. To give flesh to the unattainable.
LG: In the past, I’ve attempted to figure out how the image was made and what photographic elements comprise it. Am I right in thinking it was based on an image by Alejandro Plesch of ‘Impossibles’ in Bali and that it was originally a four-wave set that has been chopped up and repeated above and below it?
AB: Some of that is correct. That was one of the base images I used, but only one of several. All were shots of ‘Imposibles’, a wave I know very well having owned one of the original shacks in front of the break for years. What I have learned in Photoshop is that it is most effective not to add too much of one’s own information, but to source from multiple images of the same subject, shot from the same vantage point, and with more or less consistent lighting. There are actually several versions of the image floating around out there, all at different stages of development. The final one was a two-way peak breaking down either flank of an endless triangular sandbar.
Ashley in his Bali studio in 2005. Photo courtesy of the artist.
LG: What else can you tell us about the photographic elements used to compose the image?
AB: The tubes themselves are all lifted from multiple images of Padang’s inside bowl section. Unlike the supposition offered by a poster on your previous [online] article, no clone stamp was used. That’s just laziness. Each tube shot was unique, in some cases, two shots ended up being used for each tube and its offshore spume. There were all carefully stitched together on top of the base of three or four Impossibles line-ups stacked one on top of the other.
LG: And do you have any idea why it is so widely attributed to Chicama?
AB: Lazy or wishful thinking, confirmation biases in action, the usual suspects. Many, many waves peeling in mechanical unison and shot from a high angle with an apparent rocky littoral equals Chicama. Why go further? The truth is, there probably has never been a wave at Chicama that has pitched from crest to trough, and there probably has never been a set in the history of oceans that has been able to pump out a 12 wave set that will uniformly light up with perfect balance the entire length of a kilometre long reef, point or sandbar.
The most widely shared iteration of the image.
LG: Where did you first publish it?
AB: It was never published. I was very curious about cyber memetics and the potential of images and ideas to go viral. This image was made with precisely that in mind. I just let it out into the cyber ether about a decade ago and I suppose the fact that we are having this discussion is testament to its success.
As for how I let it out, a bit foggy, it was a while ago. Probably FB, the Surfer Magazine Forums, and I am sure other places. All were posted under my own name, but I knew that once the image got loose, my name would not matter, it would take on a life of its own. I was not interested in getting credit. It was an experiment, one that would hopefully spread some pleasure in the world.
LG: How did you expect people to regard it? As real? As art? As fantasy? As a joke?
AB: I personally don’t care. I just wanted it to live in the cyberverse.
A reverse google image search for the image returns thousands of results.
LG: I’d say the image pops up on my social feeds about once a month at least, posted by different accounts. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s one of the most shared surf images of all time. Did you have any idea when you made it that it would still be doing the rounds all these years later, having captured so many millions of imaginations?
AB: I had hopes, but no expectations. This was the plan though. As for why it has triggered the imaginations of so many, I suppose it’s the same as the images of the women I originally started with. (They are too risqué for general publication here). Fantasy constrained by credulity. If you construct a fantasy, but have the overarching details hew very closely to the known contours of empirical reality, of the known understanding of the mechanics of breaking waves and the range of real possible manifestations, but push it just those steps beyond, you have people wanting to take that journey with you, because you have kept it teetering right on that edge of credulity.