Morgan maassen

Fish Out of Water

Talkin' Rain Dogs with Surf Photographer Morgan Maassen

Words BY:
Ethan Stewart

This Story was originally published in Bomb Snow Issue #24. Buy one today: HERE.

We all know how awful Californians can be; modern day conquistadors with disposable income, Sprinter vans, and Ugg Boots. If they are from the beach, the problem often gets worse. Entitled flatlanders who say “dude” and “stoked” way too much while drinking gallons of gluten-free, vegan, oat milk chai matcha’s with CBD kickers. So you can imagine our surprise when we learned that one of our favorite new, short films of the year, Korua Shapes’s Rain Dogs, was filmed by a young man who hails from the beaches of Southern California. His name is Morgan Maassen and, if you have been paying even casual attention to the various goings-on of the surf universe over the past decade, you likely already know that he is a bit of a freak show genius when it comes to a camera. Be it stills or video, Maassen is an absolute stud. Don’t believe me? Go check out his Vimeo page and prepare to be transported.

The youngest staff photographer ever on the masthead at Surfer Magazine, Maassen walked away from that dream gig before he turned 22. He was on to a much coveted spot as staff shooter with Quicksilver, working primarily with Kelly Slater (For the uninitiated, Slater is hands down the best surfer of his generation, or any generation for that matter.) Still, Maassen wasn’t satisfied. Soon enough, he was calling his own shots and traveling the world over 320 days a year while working for clients like Apple, Nike, Mercedes Benz, Patagonia, Corona and Red Bull and doing regular editorial jobs for media icons such as National Geographic, Vanity Fair, ESPN, and the New York Times. It is a ridiculously stacked resume for a dude that is only 30 years young. But there wasn’t much snow on it. In fact, there was none at all. That is,
until now.

Last February, just before the Covid bomb blew up here in the United States, Maassen linked up with the Korua Shapes crew for a mid-season mission to the Pacific Northwest. Mt. Baker, Mt. Bachelor, and Crystal Mountain to be exact. Lars Popp and Nicholas Wolken made the trip over from Europe. Theo Acworth worked the other camera and assorted local shred lords like Josh Dirksen, Jake Price, Erica Kutz, and Dan Bott joined in along the way. The result is a transcendent 12-minutes of gritty, moody, and arresting on-piste action. You feel this film in your chest. Your pulse quickens. You need to go snowboarding. Immediately. Edited by the Eliel Hindert, Rain Dogs has a big, big vibe for being a relatively short, short film.

Morgan maassen rain dogs photography

Bomb Snow caught up with Morgan after the New Year but before our new president took office. We talked about Rain Dogs and what it’s like going from the beach to the mountains with a camera in hand. What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Ethan Stewart: How on earth did a surf bum like you wind up working with Korua? I mean, it can be kind of hard to snowboard in swim fins.

Morgan Maassen: Ha! I’ve only been into snowboarding seriously for a couple of years, after investing some real time while working in Chile in 2016 and getting into the mountains as much as possible. As I progressed in the sport, I came across Korua online and fell in love with their boards, brand, films, everything. It just made perfect sense to me. So, I started harassing them on social media until they couldn’t deny my presence on their next trip. When they said they were coming to North America to shoot a film and asked me to join, I was elated.

ES: Wow. So previous to showing up to film with Korua, you were pretty much a full-blown snow kook with very little mountain experience?

MM: I had none. Over the last decade, I had done several trips to Mammoth Mountain to try snowboarding, but it never really clicked for me. Plus, I was just too busy working, traveling, or spending my free time in the ocean. However, in 2016 I shot a Corona campaign in the mountains of Chile and absolutely lost my mind with both the beauty of snow and how much fun I had riding. Finally, it clicked. I immediately started plotting how to get back on a snowboard as soon as possible. 2017 saw me spending an incredible amount of time in Chile again and I made huge progress. From that point on, I have found myself taking multiple snow trips a year as well as adding mountain/snow photography to my business’s repertoire.

I always count my blessings that in the world of snow/surf, you are immersed in nature. The shot can be as big as you can imagine it, working with storms and clouds and trees. The opportunity for creation is endless.

Morgan maassen surf

ES: Rain Dogs drips with moments and feelings that are as surf-inspired as they are snowy. Was this intentional? Or just a happy accident when a dude with roots in the surf gets asked to help make a snowboard film?

MM: Spending time with the Korua crew was fascinating. They represent this really pure interest in transcending snowboarding for just the feelings of speed and flow- ultimate carving. My background, being steeped in surfing, is largely represented by appreciating speed and style. While our backgrounds were quite different, our altruistic takes on board riding met perfectly in the middle. Nicholas Wolken, one of the co-founders of Korua, is really interested in combining surf “mannerisms” with his snowboarding, like cross-stepping and big slashes into snow lips. Inversely, I explored the mountain with the same interest I apply to most of my surfing subjects; a board rider navigating a rich and vast world of textures. We would constantly placate each other’s curiosities and ideas with absolutely no expectations, thus making it one of the most laid-back and creative shoots I’ve been on in recent memory.

ES: Being the proverbial fish out of water, what were some challenges you faced in filming?

MM: First, I am still making huge headway with my snowboarding so there were plenty of times where simply trying to keep up with the crew had me in over my head. Way over my head. Mountains and snow kind of scare me. I get vertigo and white out and feel humbled and intimidated constantly. I’m not going to lie, there were some moments on tight ledges that I was wrought with fear while everyone else didn’t bat an eye.

Secondly, we were all excited to get the RED camera up on the mountain, especially for the follow-cam stuff. Even in its smallest, most hand-held configuration, it was a big package to carry around. A lot of versatility goes out the window with a 25kg backpack carrying such precious cargo.

ES: REDs are no joke. What camera set-up were you running?

MM: I shot everything on my Red Weapon. I only had three lenses on me: a 14mm f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4, and a 50mm f/1.2. I’d pack a couple extra batteries, a special handle for skateboarding that I use to shoot follow-cam, and some trail-mix in my backpack. Aaron Schwartz had a mirrorless camera and would shoot stills and some video with it. Additionally, we had a couple Go-Pro’s which we used for some super tight groomer and follow-cam action with the full expectation that we would break or lose them at some point.

Morgan maassen rain dogs

Morgan maassen surf drone camera

ES: Learning curves aside, did all your years of surf work help you anticipate moments in the snow?

MM: Yes and no. There were many moments when I felt like an ignoramus on the mountain simply because I wasn’t well-versed enough with snowboarding to capture things the way I wanted. That being said, there is no doubt that my time and energy spent in surfing definitely helped give me a distinct viewpoint to capture some amazing and hopefully fresh moments in this sport.

ES: As you see it, what are the strongest aesthetic and cultural crossovers with snowboarding?

And where do the two disciplines most sharply depart?

MM: The two crossovers that most excite me are style and atmosphere. For good or bad, style is something that every snowboarder both controls and exudes. The same is true for a surfer... And then there is the atmosphere. I always count my blessings that in the world of snow/surf, you are immersed in nature. The shot can be as big as you can imagine it, working with storms and clouds and trees and textures and light and darkness. The opportunity for creation is endless. I’m an avid tennis player and always joke that that does not exist in the world of ball-sport photography.

To your second question, I’d say these disciplines depart in how much more specific and refined technique is revered in snowboarding. This parleys both to my points of “style” and “atmosphere” as I’ve really taken an interest in noticing how nit-picky the snow community is about one’s technique in both the art of boardriding and the media that results from it. I first noticed this from shooting skateboarding; the community there is neurotic about the technique used in every motion made and how it is captured by a camera. Surfing, on the the other hand, is an absolute wild-west. I can take a photo of a beginner holding a surfboard wrong and the ocean can do so much heavy lifting that no one will care. Personally, I chalk this up to surfing being so appropriated to the broader population for so long now that, at this point, anything goes.

Morgan maassen surf photo slash

Morgan maassen surf photo

ES: With as few dude-bro-isms and as little hand-jive as possible, briefly try and relate the sensations of sliding sideways on a wave to that of sliding sideways on the snow?

MM: The motion of gliding on a wave, taking a highline, and then putting all that energy sharply on a rail is such a remarkable feeling. It is the ultimate in speed and balance. The body works in concert with the board and nature, everything synchronizing perfectly. Snowboarding is a total parallel. It is the same feeling except the water is, of course, frozen.

ES: What was up with the dude riding the surf mat on that hydraulic feature? Backstory?

MM: Bend, Oregon has a river wave right in the heart of town. Nicholas brought his surf mat to try out on the Oregon coastline and ended up having a blast riding the river wave a few times. At home in Switzerland, he does this on backcountry river rapids, hunting for perpetual motion and flow while braving the ice cold water. We’d go to the river wave to relax after snowboarding, play S-K-A-T-E in the parking lot, and shoot the breeze with the Bend locals.

ES: Peeing in wetsuits is a good way to stay warm. Peeing in your ski pants, not so much. Thoughts?

MM: I’m the wrong person to ask. A decade of traveling and working in some of the harshest environments imaginable has turned me into a camel. I don’t need liquids and never have to pee because both will slow you down.

ES: Ha! Sounds crampy. Any plans to get back up into the mountains with your cameras? More snow projects?

MM: I’m dying to spend more time on the mountain to both ride and shoot. I’d do anything to be in the snow right now! The Korua guys and myself are talking about linking up again, but getting to Switzerland is not in the cards for me this winter.

Consciously creating with gratitude matters.

Morgan maassen surf bw photo

ES: The whole theme of this issue is an attempt to answer the question, “What really matters?”. So, Mr. Maassen, from your vantage point right now in the early days of 2021, what really matters?

MM: Health, growth, progress, and gratitude. Personally, I am
trying to enjoy everything I’ve done in the past while also enjoying everything I am afforded in the present. I am so grateful for every morsel of opportunity that has come my way and I am having a blast constructing it all into new pathways for the future. Consciously creating with gratitude matters.

Based in Santa Barbara, California, Morgan Maassen is an artist and visual storyteller. When not out stalking dogs for what is sure to be the world’s greatest canine calendar, he can be found making images of water, be it frozen or otherwise, and the wonderfully weird people who like to shred upon it.

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