Urban Surfers by Chris Sembrot

There’s nothing quite like the motivation of a beautiful woman to get you to try a sport that you’ve always wished you could do but never thought you could pick up past your 10th birthday. This is the motivation that I felt three years ago when I met the woman of my dreams who would become my best friend and wife. 

I always knew some of my friends surfed but I never REALLY knew what that meant. Being from Philly, I knew people surfed at the Jersey Shore, which is pretty obvious if you hit the beach each summer. But not knowing the culture and the passion that drives some individuals to wake up at 4 am and drive 1+ hours each way just to get a couple hours in during a swell (which the best surfing in the Northeast is from Fall – Spring), I was basically clueless about what surfing really meant to them. 

This Urban Surfers photography project is directly inspired by three friends of mine: Adrian Castillo, Chris “Cakes” Savaiano, and Jim “Hammer” Hammell who took me under their wings and suffered with the humiliation (that I still bring when I go out with them) of helping a newbie. Their dedication to teaching and insisting I go out with them whenever they go, helped me confidently say to that beautiful girl I met for coffee three years ago: “I surf.”

What inspired you to create this project? 

Three friends of mine directly inspire this project: Adrian Castillo, Chris “Cakes” Savaiano, and Jim “Hammer” Hammell who taught me to surf.

What did you hope to accomplish through this project? 

Initially it was just to be another personal project that I would turn into a promo piece, but it’s morphing into an art show, that will be held next spring. 

How did you get started with it? How did you/do you find your subjects? 

I posted the idea on Facebook asking for people who live in Philly and surf. I got around 10 responses within five minutes. 🙂 

How would you describe your approach to shooting with this project? How would you describe the photo style? 

It’s pretty basic (just how I like it): available light and straight up environmental portraiture. Smack dead center framing.  

What have you learned through this project?  

That the surf community is Philly is alive and thriving yet isolated.

What are your plans with the finished images/series? 

There’s going to be a lot of moving parts, but I have an art gallery in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, lined up to host the First Friday event next May. The show will have a locally famous board shaper, Malwitz Surfboards, shaping a blank on site as well as a band who’s drummer was one of my first photographed. I’m also working on a coffee table book. 

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