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Above are images taken near the beginning of 2020. From left to right: Tommy Cantrell, Colin O'Neill, and Eric Snortum.

The year started off with a bang, but it's hard to really know if anyone knew how this year would turn out. For surf, for life, for everything.  

September 22nd, 2020

Blair Austin

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For the past seven years, I have been working full-time at restaurants in Colorado, South Africa, and California. This year marks the end of that era. I wouldn't have gotten as far as I am with surf photography if it wasn't for long hours into long weeks and pushing my physical limits. Starting out, it seemed like there was no way to make a living or income from surf photography. Little by little investing into equipment and forcing myself into a schedule of constant practice, I figured it out. 

Done with rolling silverware. 

Mid-February this year I worked my last restaurant shift. I had a new job lined up.

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Last September of 2019, I took on a new challenge. I received my real-estate license and began working with Emily through Keller-Williams. We put the time and research in while I was still working at the restaurant, and all while I was still chasing surf and putting in full sessions. Working three time-consuming jobs at the same time is definitely an experience


In January of 2020, Kellen O'Mara, a former co-worker of Emily's at Rusty La Jolla, reached out to us and introduced us to a new opportunity to work with Christian Spicer at a new brokerage, Source Group Realty. We took it and didn't look back— so much that I quit my restaurant job in early February. At that time, I had no clue the world would shutdown and because of that I would've been forced to stop working at the restaurant anyways. The timing was very unreal.

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Here's Emily and I at the "office" week one. Very thankful for technology and the concept of working from home. 

When we all went into full shutdown, the beaches closed and surfing became a fineable offense. We had no choice but to focus on other things. 

I've been in and out of eating meat the past several years, but I'm done with that. We've been experimenting a lot with different vegan recipes, but ever so often I'll sneak some cheese or very rarely milk if it's already in a product. 

With real estate and helping owners find tenants for their rentals, we thought: "Who would want to go out and find apartments or buy a home during this?" Turns out a ton of people. We were extremely busy the whole time.

Funny enough, we even ended up going out and finding a new place to live. I never before had a space big enough for my own area to work on under-water housing maintenance, surfboards, wet-suits, all that. Now the workflow is ever more streamlined. 

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If you've ever been able to spend anytime with me in person outside of the surf, you'd know that there's a bigger factor that always orbits in my schedule and everyday life.

Finn: Emily's ESA dog. Our best friend.

He's a rescue from Tijuana and we have no idea what breed he is. (Maybe whippet/lab?) Anyways, he was born with abnormal elongated kidneys and our vet told us he wouldn't live as long as other dogs— maybe about 8 years old. He turned 3 in February and is still going strong with little-to-no stress.

He's funny, quiet, and loves toys. This has been my "my dog is the best in the world" speech. 

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Before this year, nearly all of my time spent in the ocean was behind the camera and not actually participating in any wave sports. I would very rarely bodysurf. This year I found enough free time and motivation to do new things. I stood up on a surfboard for the first time in January. (But, I periodically tried once or twice a year before that and failed.)

I got a budget 6'6" quad fish and painted it. Added some NVS (Naked Viking Surf)  x Album quad fins, which by the way are awesome. I've even gone a few times on Nick Barringer's Custom-X bodyboard on the lay days. 

There's been a few days more recently where I've had so much fun because of the surf conditions and later realized it would've been a good day to bring the camera instead. Good thing there's only one option for me when the surf gets bigger: swim and shoot. 

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The slowness of spring surf and shutdowns gave me enough time to reflect on what things I want to improve with surf photography and how to keep doing what I do. 

I got a Gath helmet and added some branding stickers with my logo and website, thanks to some great printing from Alex Minch at Ego ID Media. Initially it was just so I can market myself a little more, but, for better or worse, I've already had a couple times where the helmet has come in handy this summer.

Crown City Magazine out of Coronado held a surf photo contest for their annual "Surf Issue". I entered a few decent shots of Nick Barringer. I got second place with some cool prizes and a feature in the magazine. The first place entry got the cover shot. I'll get that next year!

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I decided to invest in a couple new lenses this year: a 10-17mm Fisheye lens & a 2x teleconverter.


For the fisheye, it was a necessary tool to use. For a wide-angle, I had been using an 11-16mm lens, but it is rectilinear— basically meaning that it forces straight lines on objects at such a wide angle. It's meant for architecture, houses, etc. With the new Fisheye, I can playfully distort the edges of the frame and get just a little bit more landscape in the shot to make a more enjoyable scene.

For the 2x teleconverter: this is a fun one. My main use for it is attached to my 300mm lens. This particular 300mm lens is a "Full Frame" lens. The go-to camera I have been using is not full frame, but aps-c. However, it can still mount full frame lenses on it with a crop factor of 1.5x. This turns my 300mm lens into 450mm lens. Now when I attach the 2x teleconverter on it, it goes from 450mm to now being 900mm. To summarize this: it's an extremely lightweight sniper lens and the reach is very satisfying for cool, new, and most of the time confusing angles. 

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While I have always hopped around the county and played around with different surf spots periodically, this year I have spent more time experimenting in places I usually haven't. I told myself last year that I would make an effort to travel back to South Africa in the late spring months. Unfortunately for obvious global reasons, major travel wasn't an option. However, I still managed to get around and find the silver lining with new places. 

So what does the future hold?

Surf Photography and the work it involves has since the start been an extremely high priority in my day to day schedule. More recently, I've begun the very early thought process of a much bigger project. 

At some point, I will be opening up a physical gallery and print shop, open the to public. It could be a few years from now, or even further on, but I'm writing this to put the goal on the table. It is a massive opportunity to be much more hands on with people and for everyone to see these images blown up on the wall, big or small. 

This will be a big endeavor and project for myself, but it is the next dream that I will make a reality. 

I would not be anywhere at all today if it were not for the thousands of people who have guided and supported me in and out of the water, on this website, and everywhere else throughout. Seriously.

Thank you for supporting my work!

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