Jeff talks skateboarding in California, his ingredients for the perfect downhill photograph and the philosophy of leftover dinosaur bites.
Good morning Jeff. How are you this morning?
Good morning! I’m doing as great as possible, for a Monday morning. Had a fairly lazy weekend trying to recuperate from the weeks before. Did grown up, boring stuff like buy a washer and dryer (I’m secretly super excited).
What happened in the preceding weeks?
Bakersfield Outlaw race, the Saturday before. Great race held by Daniel Engel (who ended up winning) Then, we left there and drove to Santa Barbara to check out the new race course. Camped in a turn out at the bottom. Met up with Tom from Santa Gnarbara. Rode luge down it a few times, that road is super fun.
Xtreme Bacon Soda?
Good plan, but it would have to be Xtreme Bacon Soyda for me.
Do you skate?
Yes. I prefer stand-up, but I try to stay conservative… have a son, and business to take care of, still.
How did you get into luge?
Following better riders than me to hills I couldn’t skate stand-up. Still wanted to ride and luge is a bit more controllable. It can be ridiculous, too.
“Downhill is all the good part of surfing but, for 9 miles instead of 9 seconds.”
What do you enjoy about going fast?
It’s amazing and requires absolute concentration and clears my mind for the rest of the week. Plus, it’s a challenge to get faster and better. I used to surf everyday, but this has replaced it. Downhill is all the good part of surfing but, for 9 miles instead of 9 seconds.
Usually, skateboarding is the methadone to the morphine of surfing. Why do you prefer this?
I skated vert and street most of my life and never progressed in any meaningful way. I’ve had backyard ramps and skated ditches forever, but other people have a better connection to that side of the sport than I ever will.
Where do you feel more connected to?
Huntington Beach. It latches onto you more than other places. Maui latches onto me every time I end up there though. Also, Leucadia and Encinitas. I’d probably live there if I didn’t own a company in HB. Basically, beach cities with great community pride and a laid back atmosphere. Although HB is getting away from that.
Are you a Glendora local?
No, I’ve lived and worked in Huntington Beach, Ca. for the last twenty years. Before that, way too much of the 909 and Garden Grove. I’ve moved a lot.
How did you discover the DH skate community?
My brother was involved in it first. I rode his Landyachtz Switchblade and fell in love. Got one, rode it everywhere, started going to the ASRF and SDDRL races. Hurt myself a lot haha.
What is the ASRF?
American Skateboard Racing Federation. They throw outlaw races fairly often, those were the first I went to. The other one is San Diego Downhill Racing League. Most of the closest races to me are in San Diego. Don Sheffler and Stretch were at those races, I started paying attention to what they were up to then trying to copy the results.
Broke my finger up and over the top of the bone behind it, that was fun. Also, broke ribs hitting a pine-cone cruising down a flat street to the park and two bones in my hand hitting a crack in the sidewalk… stupid little things get me the worst. I currently have road rash all over my stomach from crashing at GMR. My fingers are munched right now too. My wheel came off due to my lack of bearing maintenance. My fault.
Has skateboarding brought you and Ryan closer?
Absolutely. He’s 13 years younger than me and for a while we didn’t have much in common. I moved out when he was a baby, so there’s a big gap in our lives around each other. Now we have adventures all the time. Too many ER visits maybe.
What would your relationship be like without skating?
I think our love of adventures would keep us close, anyway. Just helped revive the relationship quicker after years of being somewhat apart. Without skating, I wouldn’t be worried about him as much, crazy bastard.
What’s a perfect Jeff day?
Waking up in a tent looking out over the central coast of CA. Getting some pics while the light is great. Skating whatever road after it’s too late to shoot. Driving home along the coast to hang out with my son, watching American Ninja Warrior.
What’s your favourite kind of road to skate?
I love fast-ish banked roads that don’t require a ton of thought. I just like hauling ass for a long time thru trees. The redwoods was one of my favourite trips for that kind of road.
Nature + Travelling = Happy Jeff?
For sure. Travelling without a plan though, if I need to be somewhere by a certain time it ruins it. Preferring to sleep in a tent makes it easier to not have a schedule.
Travel-wise, how far have you gone?
France, Hawaii a few times, Mexico, the left half of America and N. Carolina, but I need to really spend more time on a plane. There’s so much to see out there. I want to go to Prague, Chile, Costa Rica; haven’t found way to go yet. Been to NorCal and Catalina Island a bunch this year, I love Catalina.
Number 1 reason to travel?
Need to escape, I love to be on a beach or in the mountains. Whenever I can get there it’s greatly appreciated.
How did you get into photography?
I’ve been experimenting with it since a friend gave me her old Sony DSCV3 which took decent pics and had a lot of functionality I hadn’t been exposed to yet. Once I got into downhill, there was something specific to aim at and cool shit happening all around me, so it took off from there.
“Tried a lot of taking pics of regular people doing regular things, but I’m awful at it. Didn’t really take photography seriously until after downhill.”
What were you shooting before DH?
Just super basic experimenting around town with anything that looked interesting. Mostly around the river paths and beaches. Birds, water, symmetry. Tried a lot of taking pics of regular people doing regular things, but I’m awful at it. Didn’t really take photography seriously until after downhill.
How serious do you take it now?
Getting good shots is something I put a lot of time and effort into. I care about the pics that make it out into the world enough to say ”I’m serious about this”.
Would making big bucks from your hobby change it?
Enough money would definitely make me do it. I’ve done all kinds of unpleasant things for money, why stop at a career doing something I like? But, I don’t think anyone is going to be paying me what it would take.
“Getting good shots is something I put a lot of time and effort into.”
Why is downhill different?
It looks crazy. Downhill is extremely interesting to people, even non-skaters. Watching someone fly by at 60 on a skateboard is amazing, that was unheard of when I was a kid. Trying to capture the feeling you get when you see that is extremely challenging. That’s what makes it fun. Speed blurs are cool and show motion as well but , they get boring. Extremely fast shutter speeds capture the moment clearly but are difficult to get to look exciting. Fish-eyes are extremely cool, like twice a year but easily overdone. It’s hard to come up with new ways to impart speed in a still photo but when it works people are stoked.
What makes a great DH photo?
I don’t know exactly, but I’ve been trying to figure it out. I know bad shots look like someone standing in the middle of the street on a skateboard and I try to avoid that. Scary, fast, fun and pretty- that’s what I’m usually trying for.
How do you balance skating time and shooting time?
It’s tough at races, hard to compete at all then switch back to photo mode. Usually I end up regretting taking less shots. A lot of times I don’t race, then ride the hill after or poach runs during practice heats. There’s a couple places I go regularly and leave the camera at home. Helps hit the spot. Really though, I need to skate more.
“It’s hard to come up with new ways to impart speed in a still photo but, when it works, people are stoked.”
What do you enjoy shooting?
I like getting shots my friends are stoked on. It’s cool looking thru the pics and saying, “Hell yeah, they’re going to love this one.’’ I like getting random nature shots; animals, flowers, textures in rocks and clouds, little bugs are fun.
Top identifiers for a photo with ‘like appeal’?
Usually who the skater is (if it’s a pro or not) dictates the attention level more than anything. But after that, my more popular ones have been speed blurs of pack runs and extreme depth of field shots where the focus really locked. Crashes always get the easy likes but I try not to show people screwing up unless they’re going to be stoked to see it too. Not trying to bum anyone out.
What are the favourite shots you’ve taken and what’s the story behind each?
Matt Kienzle taking a barefoot run down the race road in Catalina on a pintail. May, 2015
Mitch Buchite framed by powerlines on a favorite run called Gates. This was an epic day hanging out with good people in cool places.
Marisa Nunez and Marie Bougourd in Catalina. This is one of my favorites, really happy with the way it turned out.
Max Capps at Santa Gnarbara, 2015. Should’ve stayed around this spot a little longer, there’s a few that I like from this 20 minutes.
Caitlin Yong at the last Bakersfield Outlaw race. I love the grass and rolling hills out here. So many cool places I never thought existed a few miles outside of the city.
Andrew Tucker at GMR. Love the colours in this one as well as the reflection of the road in his visor.
Podium shot from Santa Gnarbara. Alex Charleston looking pretty stoked about the outcome.
My favourite crash shot. Ali Nas and Brandon Tissen mix it up in Catalina.
I love this one of Ryan at GMR. At first I disregarded this shot because I clipped his feet and headrest but it’s really one of my favorites now. The flowers in the foreground are everywhere on the mountainside there, such a pretty place.
James Kelly and Joe Gutkowski in Catalina. Joe was so close that James couldn’t see him. Exciting racing moment to watch James searching over his shoulder while hauling ass thru this chicane.
Fun morning on the mountain with Mitch Buchite. It was cold and I almost got myself run over on my luge. A lot of shots I really like came from this dawn patrol adventure, good colour in the sunlight.
Who’s work do you admire?
Stretch, Max Dubler, John Huey, Les Robertson, Don Scheffler, Louis Pilloni, Alex Ameen, Michael Alfuso, Khaleeq Alfred, Tom Flinchburgh, Aaron Breetwor as far as contemporary photographer/videographers go. Lately, I’ve been trying to look into the roots of photography and some of the people behind the more famous images stuck in my head. Dorothea Lange’s dust bowl images, Robert Capa’s war photography, Larry Burrow’s Vietnam era work etc. seems appropriate to explore why the most famous images are considered great.
Is photography evolving?
Absolutely. It’s much easier to get good shots with consumer level gear. The pro gear is getting smaller and easier to travel with. I think more pics are being taken, and those pics are being effectively distributed so other people get to enjoy them too, not just one pic out of a thousand that happened to make it into a magazine.
“…I’m definitely open to collaboration...”
Have you collaborated with any skate photographers?
Not yet. I’m definitely open to collaboration, but I was never one to excel in a group project. Not sure how that would work out.
With technology and market dynamics making it easier for hobbyists to shoot high-def images, how does the ‘pro
skate photographer’ stay relevant?
High def images are clear enough to post, but there’s still a major difference in the look of a pic from a pro setup vs. the average consumer level gear shot. Especially with sports photography. I think people still appreciate that difference and the content stands out from the rest.
What makes your work stand out?
Most often I try for super crisp shots with a really narrow depth of field. Also try to show where the skater is coming from or where they’re going to impart the feeling of speed. I spend quite a bit of time editing, a hugely natural look isn’t something I’m too obsessed about.
“…there’s still a major difference in the look of a pic from a pro setup vs. the average consumer level gear shot...”
What was the first event you shot?
I think the first one I bothered posting anything from was an event in Central California called Roscoe’s Wrecker, I’m pretty sure that was 2013. That was a fun weekend. Most of the adventure was after the race though, exploring local mountains, sleeping in the park across from the lighthouse in Santa Cruz.. Woke up to Sea Lions barking and judgemental stares from the local old folks on their morning walk.
What do you want people to think/feel when they consume you work?
I’m happy when people are stoked to see themselves or their friends doing what we love to do. I’m just trying to convey the feelings that I have both watching and participating in downhill. Maybe sharing some of the moments we get to experience because of this incredible sport.
“I’m just trying to convey the feelings that I have both watching and participating in downhill.”
What have been your most intense years of DH photography?
Definitely this last year. I’ve shot a lot more in the past few months then ever before.
Has the community been welcoming?
Absolutely! The downhill community is full of great people looking to share the sport with everyone. That’s one of my favourite things about this scene.
Do you see your role in the community evolving?
At this point, I don’t see myself trying to expand beyond what I’m currently up to, but you never know. It would be cool to put on an event someday. Right now I’m just trying to go to them.
Does being a rider influence the photos you take?
I like to try to take pics everyone can appreciate. There’s a few that I love because I understand how intense the situation was, but I don’t know if it translates to people that don’t skate. Being a rider makes me second guess if a pic is interesting or just interesting to me. Also, I rarely use a flash because they bug me when I’m skating that’s probably changed the way I approach low light situations and speed blurs.
Light – is it a canvas or paintbrush?
It’s the paintbrush, but it’s a finicky tool that’s hard to use effectively. Also, I hate it for making me get up so early all the time. Light is the key though, if it’s not perfect you really need something extremely interesting going on or the pic is useless. Good light is required to make the camera function mechanically too. Auto-focus hates the dark or shooting into the sun, high iso’s look grainy and flat, so I try to avoid them.
“Light is the key, if it’s not perfect you really need something extremely interesting going on or the pic is useless.”
What’s on your skate/photography bucket list?
Want to go to Maui again and to finally make it to Tahiti. Should get a good back up camera body and a better tripod. Need to go fast thru tunnels and past waterfalls.
How was Maui, first time round?
Maui is the best place I’ve ever been. Beautiful land, cool people, volcanoes, waves like the cover of a magazine. The pace is slow but it doesn’t feel like everybody is holding me back. The only place I’ve ever been happy to go the speed limit.
What are you shooting with right now?
Canon 1d MarkIV, usually with a v1/non IS 70-200L 2.8 lens.. 16-35 L series too, but it rarely gets used, having a hard time getting anything I’m happy with out of that one. 28mm Zeiss Distagon is my newest thingy I’m loving but it doesn’t have auto-focus so fairly limited from a sports photography stand point.
Are you having a fun year?
Skateboard and camera wise I’ve had a lot of good adventures. The year as a whole is one of the worst… I’ve lost two of my best friends. Drunk drivers suck. Diabetes is a dick, too.
Hugs. How do you keep the stoke up?
Photography and skating have been my only outlet the last few years. I play guitar, but haven’t been spending time with it lately. Just bought yearly Disneyland passes for the family. The kiddo is so happy, they’ve gone a bunch already.
What are your plans for the upcoming years?
Mostly just need to focus on work. Last year, along with my partners Chris and Shaun, we purchased the company I’ve worked for since 1999.
“A camera is just a transducer, like a speaker or microphone. It takes energy and translates it into a communicable medium.”
Is playing with sound as fun as playing with light?
Sound is the same thing at a lower frequency. A camera is just a transducer, like a speaker or microphone. It takes energy and translates it into a communicable medium. I feel a lot of the same principles apply to both fields. At the heart of it, working in audio.. mixing great live music or recording a really good band is extremely enjoyable.
Who should we interview next?
I think you’re going to see a lot more from Jake Groove (@jakegroove on IG) and Stephen Gill (@stevengill33_bfc) in the future.
Pick 3 numbers between 1-20.
10, 13, 17.
10 – who’s your favourite skater?
Hard to narrow it down to one. Louis Pilloni is a great skater and super nice. That 14 min. raw run from Europe should be part of my reply in the bucket list question. Zak Maytum is obviously on another level.. Gotta put Tony Hawk on that list.
13 – what happens when a zombie bites a shark?
I’d say, nothing, sharks have an extremely good immune system. Also, is getting eaten by a zombie shark hugely worse than being eaten by a normal leftover dinosaur?
“…is getting eaten by a zombie shark hugely worse than being eaten by a normal leftover dinosaur?”
17 – What is Victoria’s secret?
Just guessing, but I assume it’s that she’s really a group of extremely conservative 60+ year old males at an investment firm.
Mr Suchy! Thanks a lot for taking the time out for this. I’m a big fan of your work and I’m stoked to share your photos and story with the world. Hope we meet somewhere, sometime!
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, this was a lot of fun!
Any last words?
Just thanks to everyone involved in making this community such a fun experience. It’s nice to be part of a sport that is as exciting as downhill and it’s such a privilege to do it with some of the greatest people I’ve met.
@godofbiscuits1 on Instagram
That’s the end! No more photos. 🙁