Surf Riot By Nick Waplington

Surf RiotSurf Riot

“We’ve got a riot and we’re making arrests,” Huntington Beach Lt. Jack Reinholtz said shortly after the melee began. He said it was the worst disturbance to occur in Huntington Beach since a 1969 Easter weekend riot.

He said in the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that his “group of about 10 officers was surrounded by ‘about 5.000 people. They could have killed us if they wanted to.”

Over time, photographs store up a certain power. Such as the 1986 photographs of Nick Waplington‘s Surf Riot (Little Big Man, $150). Perhaps the value of this photographs as a historical document takes a while to accrue.

The story behind Surf Riot goes like this: On the last day of August, 1986, Nick Waplington woke up late and turned on the news. An Aeromexico DC9 had collided with a light aircraft going to Big Bear for the weekend. Both aircraft dropped from the sky onto residential Cerritas, near Huntington Beach, just south of Los Angeles, killing all those onboard both planes — plus a number of people unlucky enough to be at home that Labor Day morning.

Waplington then drove to Huntington Beach, where he had been planning to watch the OP Surf Pro Championships. Upon arrival, all hell was breaking loose. Having only one roll of 24 exposure film, Waplington documented the chaos exploding around him in 25 concise frames.

The photographs within Surf Riot contradict the standard imagery associated with American surf culture from the 1980s. Gone is the laid-back Adonis figure and his flaxen-haired beach babe, and instead, in full lurid color, we see sunburned teens running wild. Unlike other youth revolts, this surf riot bears little in the name of protest— it’s merely a spontaneous eruption of violence just for the sport of it. Coca Cola cups and radio station promotions lie trampled underfoot, commercial symbols of contentment cast aside.

New York based British artist Nick Waplington has created a number of acclaimed photographic books including Living Room (1991), Other Edens (1993), The Wedding (1994) Safety in Numbers (1996), and Truth or Consequences (2001). Solo exhibitions include The Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, 1992, Photographer’s Gallery, 1995, the Underwood Street Gallery, 1999, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2007. In addition, Waplington’s work was exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale and is held within a number of international collections, not limited to the MoMA, The Guggenheim, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Published by Little Big Man, Surf Riot is released in a strictly limited edition of 300 copies, with 100 specially packaged and containing a hand-numbered photographic edition. ❚