While most rural areas complain that the young leave for the cities, a growing tribe of around 40 surfers in the Hebrides are bucking the trend.
Some are natural born islanders, but the majority have moved to the islands attracted by the waves and the way of life.
Many of these surfers have travelled the world, surfed some of its best breaks and stayed in places that some would class as paradise, yet they have chosen to stay or move to the Isle of Lewis.
Wave Migration, a new exhibition at An Lanntair in Stornoway by painter, screen printer and surfer Laura Maynard, explores the appeal of Hebridean surf culture to this growing community, and tells their stories through large-scale portraits and mixed media pieces.
Layered and intertwined within their portraits is imagery and symbolism that gives subtle clues to their journey and passion that drives them to become part of this close knit community.
Kev was an engineer in a box-making factory in Hartlepool who beat cancer and moved north. RAF veteran Lynsey’s life changed when she saw a surf sticker in the dust of Afghanistan. Kenny is a local builder whose family go back generations and who became one of the first surfers in the Hebrides in the 1990s.
For the 15 surfers that feature in the exhibition, the welcoming people, unspoiled surf breaks and the lack of commercial surf culture makes the Hebrides a home worth braving the cold for.
Laura Maynard’s intimate portraits capture each surfer’s character and the event in their life that triggered their move north. But the large mixed media diptychs are not just about the surfers and their stories, they’re also portraits of their favourite waves in motion, a celebration of the best surf spots that Lewis has to offer.
Laura said: “For the surfers originally from Lewis this sport, lifestyle and passion was a key factor in their decision to stay - when so many of their peers decided to leave. For those that moved to the island it was the draw of the waves, wilderness and culture that led them to find something different and special on Lewis. It isn’t just about the waves, the surfers have brought with them around twenty kids and counting, bringing much needed youth to an ageing population.
“I wanted to paint a body of work that captures a moment in time that may have disappeared in other more popular and accessible surf destinations. I’ve not travelled extensively, but I’ve always been fascinated why the surfers who have come to make their homes in Lewis chose here over the warmer or more well-known destinations like Cornwall, the Canaries or Australia. Here in the Hebrides we still have wilderness and solitude which are the reasons many people get into surfing in the first place.”
Laura Maynard grew up in Lewis and has an honours degree in Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee. She focuses on painting, mixed media and screen-printing and splits her time between being an art teacher at the local secondary school and working in her self-built studio. Wave Migration is her first solo exhibition and these 15 large-scale portraits have been painted over an intense 20-month period.
Alongside Laura’s work, film-maker, photographer and surfer Jim Hope has created a short film that shows the Islands’ wild coastal landscape, waves and the cold water surf paradise. It will be screened in a VW campervan within the gallery. Mark Lumsden is a surfer and board shaper on Lewis, designing and making handcrafted surf boards in his work shop in Ness. His shaping skills will be showcased in boards specifically designed for the waves and conditions of Lewis surf.
Roddy Murray, head of visual arts at An Lanntair, said: “The sea has defined these islands for millennia. It is a resource on which communities have been dependent for a living as much as it can be seen as an obstacle or a high road to escape or travel the world. For many it is just there, taken for granted. Only now is it being valued in terms of recreation and lifestyle. This exhibition gives us a deep personal insight into this new vibrant, growing culture and the community that it comprises.”
Exhibition Dates: Saturday 6 April – 11 May