"I never wanted my career to define who I am; I always strive to keep balance in my life with everything, trying to keep personal relationships as the most important aspect."
Newport Beach, CA is a very special place for us. It's where we spent our childhood - roaming around the nooks and crannies of every beach, canyon and alleyway. While HQ'ed only about an hour north in Los Angeles, it can still feel like a trip to another state when we venture back home. The pace is wondrously slower, the traffic is virtually nonexistent, and the air even smells a bit fresher.
So it's been a real treat these past few years following the Instagram escapades of Alex Swanson. He captures the spirit of Newport better than anyone - and it's also quite possible that we own several Almond Surfboards thanks to his VR-style water shots. Enjoy this very special Q&A with an enlightened fellow.
You appear to be the most stoked personalities on the internet. Do you wake up smiling?
Thank you for that! Honestly, regardless of where I’m at, I always tell people, “I’m just happy to be here”.
Could you talk about your relationship with Newport Beach? Have you seen any big changes there in recent years?
I born and raised in Newport and have spent the majority of my life living here, in between going to college down in San Diego for a couple years. I’ve spent many Seasons working as an Ocean Lifeguard for Newport, and it’s been so fulfilling to be able to give back to the city that shaped who I am today. I think the more you put into your community, the more you get out of it.
I think what makes Newport/Costa Mesa such a special place is the local support and involvement. It’s such a family friendly environment that really encourages creativity and entrepreneurship. The weather is perfect nearly every day out of the year, which allows for a ton of different activities to mess around trying out and perfecting.
Tell us about your professional life, and your love for photography/surfing?
I would say that I’m a full time Firefighter, part time Lifeguard/Photographer/Surfer. I never wanted my career to define who I am; I always strive to keep balance in my life with everything, trying to keep personal relationships as the most important aspect.
My work allows me to continue to serve the citizens of Orange County, while pursing and improving my creative passions in photography and surfing. Each one reenergizes me in a different sort of way, but at the end of the day, I just want to be a positive influence on my environment and help make someone’s day just a little bit better.
"At the end of your life, you’re not going to say, 'I wish I worked more…'"
Let's chat about your quiver. How many boards do you own at this point?
I own somewhere around 10 boards at this point in time. I’ve narrowed it down to just this many, after going through a good number of learning processes, trials/error. I have everything from my surf mat, paipo, 5’2” Almond Secret Menu, 6’8” Lovelace Hull, 8’8” single fin pintail, 9’4” single fin nose rider, to my 12” Bark Paddleboard. I’m finally reaching the point where I have a wave-craft for every condition. It’s hard to say I love surfing one spot more than any other; obviously I love surfing Newport because it’s so convenient and I’ll see my friends in the line up. But depending on the swell direction/winds/tide/crowds/time of day, we will go anywhere from the reefs in San Diego to the perfect points in Santa Barbara for a session or two.
August 2014. How did you spend those fateful days during Marie?
I was working a lot of shifts at the beach during the summer of 2014, before starting a college fire academy that fall (where I would work weekends staffing the towers and lifeguard trucks). It was a particularly busy season with back-to-back massive swells. We lost one of our best lifeguards, Ben Carlson, who passed away making a rescue at the end of the day on a chaotic weekend. It was a summer I’ll never forget, and it definitely shaped the type of first responder I wanted to become, to be like Ben, to serve so that others may live.
Any "causes" you identify with? Philosophies?
Someone a whole lot wiser than myself told me, “At the end of your life, you’re not going to say, ‘I wish I worked more…’ I think that’s a great way to remember what’s important in life. Luckily, I love my career, and it really doesn’t feel like work to me, so I try to continue to focus on building relationships with people around me, and working on my craft.
We recently passed by Matuse in Del Mar on a recent bicycle tour of the coast. Could you chat about your relationship with those guys - and other brands you might work with?
I had the opportunity to work as an intern for Matuse while pursing my Bachelor's Degree at Point Loma Nazarene University, and from there I developed a strong relationship with John and Matt, the founders. They approached me a few years later to be an Ambassador and to test product. It’s been an amazing brand to work with, and I love being able to give feedback on product that gets a ton of different types of wear and tear on it. I’ve been working with OluKai and Tsovet watches as well, and only have great things to say about both brands. Our lifestyle fits those companies so well; it’s a very symbiotic relationship. I always tell people, I wouldn’t stand behind a product that I don’t believe in.
"The difference between adventure and ordeal is your attitude."
How does coffee play into your daily routine? Do you have a favorite coffee shop in OC?
Coffee plays a huge role in our daily routine. I never really enjoyed a good cup of black coffee until my brother made me a proper pour over several years ago, and I’ve never looked back. My wife is a lot more committed with the home coffee; she makes a pour over every morning, even if she starts work at 3:30 am. We love supporting our local coffee shops/owners: Neat Coffee, Hopper and Burr, Hidden House, Daydream, Portola, and Kit Coffee. We like to rotate around to keep it fresh, and we always research new places every month, and when we go out of town and make sure to try different shops around the U.S.
What's the farthest away from the ocean you've lived?
About 10 minutes. I never thought I could live anywhere I couldn’t surf, but after this past year of spending more time in the mountains than I ever have before, I could see moving to a more alpine atmosphere.
Any favorite places to travel?
We backpacked through Europe for about a month, the day after graduating college a few years ago, and that really opened our eyes to different cultures and ways of life. Recently, we’ve really spent majority of our time moving around and exploring the Western United States; Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, and the nooks and crannies within California. Our next adventure is Costa Rica this spring, looking forward to surfing/diving/climbing/drinking authentic CR coffee.
You and your wife (Erica?) appear to be quite the adventurers. What does the ideal day look like for the both of you together?
Yeah, Erica and I try to make the most out of every day we have off work, together. We are morning people, so we like to get going early before the sun rises, and will usually start by Erica making a quick cup for each of us in our Chemex and feeding our 100 lb. yellow lab, Adho. While I’m loading the car with whatever gear that day requires (Surfboards, wetsuits, towels, dive masks, fins, camera, snow equipment, camping paraphernalia, etc.). From there, depending on the weather/conditions/events in the area, will dictate our next move. We are pretty low maintenance people; it doesn’t take a lot to keep us happy, we would rather have unique experiences with each other rather than material gifts. I believe that the difference between adventure and ordeal is your attitude.
Thank you so much, Alex!
Follow him on Instagram: @alex__swanson
Purchase his fine photography here and hang it on your wall.