As the weather turns crisp, surf photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh reawakens our inner summer spirits with images from Nantucket, a small island just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Tell us about Nantucket. What makes it a special place?
Nantucket is an island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod and is infamous for being hard to get to. There’s a saying here that “fog happens” – and it often grounds flights and forces the cancellation of ferries. The trip is worth the struggle, though, and once you arrive, the island will sweep you off your feet.
The landscape itself is stunning: wild beach roses, soft sands, blue skies, and a fresh ocean breeze. Streets are made of cobblestone. The pace of life is slower. Years ago, before I moved to Nantucket permanently, I’d vacation here. I remember feeling awed by the quiet and peaceful atmosphere; being from the city, I wasn’t used to it. Now, as an islander having lived here for years, I feel as though that peacefulness is a part of me.
Describe Nantucket culture.
Nantucket has a very welcoming and loving culture. We are a small town (in the winter, the population is about 10,000), mostly of people who were not born here, but chose to move here intentionally. That creates a unique dynamic: we are extremely happy to be here and very proud of everything the island has to offer. We’re protective of the land because we enjoy it so much and want it to stay as it is for the future.
Most of us islanders know each other well and look out for one other. We extend that same care and consideration to those who visit as well; we want our guests to have a great time and to love Nantucket as much as we do.
A subculture that exists is that of Nantucket’s surf community. We are known as the creative, inspired people on this island. Though we have different day-jobs – we are artists, builders, blue-collar workers, and businessmen – at the end of the day, we all find the time and motivation to unite as surfers and catch a wave or two. We’re best friends, bonded by a love for surf.
How did your love for surf develop?
When I was about twelve years old, I saw some guys surfing in the middle of winter. I actually remember taking a photo of them with my point-and-shoot film camera. I was mesmerized. Later that day, I saw them in a surf shop freezing in their wetsuits and trying to get warm.
The summer that followed, I went back to the surf shop and bought my first surfboard with money I had made cutting lawns. It took me over a year to even stand up on the board. I’d watch surf videos and read surf magazines; I always kept two or three magazines in my backpack at school. I was determined to be successful.
I think that, over time, what I have come to love most about surfing is the connection with the ocean. There’s nothing else is like it. When I’m gliding down a wave, my brain turns off and it’s as if I am completely caught in one moment in time.
How did you get into surf photography?
Initially, surf photography wasn’t something I did intentionally or formally – I’d often just be out watching friends, taking their pictures. Gradually, people started to look to me to capture their moments in the water. Now, when big swells come in, my phone rings off the hook with friends begging me to come out and shoot.
I slowly became humbled by the beauty in the photos; by the shapes of the waves and the textures of the beach. I started to take more artistic shots, often focusing on the sport, in the hopes that I could also showcase the beauty of surf.
So I suppose that over time, living on Nantucket has inspired me to incorporate surfing into my art. It’s something few photographers on the island do, actually; most image-making here involves landscapes – the vast blue ocean; a deep orange sunset – and is often created in a way that appeals to the masses. I now feel a responsibility to move beyond that and expose people to a different side of Nantucket. Surfing can also be really beautiful. That’s essentially the story behind my newest adventure, www.Nantucket-Salt.com. It’s a “surf-marketplace” that I’ve created where I feature my surf-inspired art. The support from the community has been amazing and I hope to continue with this for a long time.
This island doesn’t have any cobblestone, jetties or fishing piers so the sand bars are constantly evolving. Rain, wind and the current make surfing Nantucket an ever-changing wave hunt. As for a particular spot, a surfer never gives away their secret!
We can understand that! Are there any insider tips that you can share for those who want to take a trip out to Nantucket?
Avoid the masses of summer tourists and visit in the wintertime. Rent a 4×4 and drive out to the Great Point, the farthest tip of the island where the currents from both sides of the island collide. It’s a beautiful spot. From there, visit Cisco Brewers and grab a beer with a local. At night, warm yourself by an outdoor fire pit and look up at the best view of the stars you may ever see, being 30 miles out to sea. You will never want to leave.