Coral Evans is a water baby in the truest sense of the term. It’s as though being named after such an important part of the oceanic landscape set something in motion within her, and through photography, she invites you along for the ride.

coral evans

Despite its plethora of pouty fish-faced selfies and snaps of kale smoothies and particularly bad attempts at recreating Jamie Oliver’s latest dish – Instagram has enabled a swath of fresh faced photographers to be discovered by people like you and me. And, as I learned from looking at Coral’s account, the process of discovering nature’s raw power through surfing and witnessing others truly exposed by the remarkable nature of the ocean, is something that can be captured in time, and shared via an app. So, thanks Instagram, thanks for introducing me to a remarkable member of the froth squad.

Coral captures the moments when cold water surfers dare to experience the essence of the ocean by riding waves dressed head to toe like slippery seals. She illuminates their emotions and captures a sense of how the mist feels on their skin, how their hands are shackled to a board in the wee hours of the morning by ice, anticipation and just a hint of shit your pants fear.

I had a chat to the photographer, sports journalist and (open water) swimming teacher, to find out a bit more about just how this blonde bombshell from Brighton, came to take such extraordinary photos of her backyard. Turns out, as is often the case, her family had a lot to do with shaping her into the aquatic adventurer she is today.

 

Coral:

I had a fortunate up-bringing travelling both the country, and globe with my parents.  Dad was a member of the armed forces, and an avid sub-aqua diver, and mum was a swimming teacher and usually became the manager of any pool complex in the places we moved too. As a result, my brother and I spent a huge amount of time in or around bodies of water.

I remember snorkelling in the South China sea, around 11 years old, following my dad and brother who were diving below. I'd occasionally duck dive to share air, initially to the absolute terror of the boat pilot who ended up giving me the nickname; 'Sharkbait', and it stuck!

 

How did you get into surfing? 

I got into actual surfing quite late, I like to say I'm still learning (aren't we all) so there are no unreasonable expectations of my ability haha.  On good days, I'm usually on the beach taking pictures, which slows progress a bit....

 coral evans

And photography, how did that start?

Dad was a big documenter of our life and worldly adventures, so I picked it up from him really.  Taking a camera everywhere was just part and parcel of any family days out. We did travel to some extraordinary places so no wonder really.  

I guess I started seriously when dad loaned me his old Nikon F2.  I was at Uni, studying visual culture in Falmouth, Cornwall.   I got obsessed with taking pictures the coast and sea life (boats, harbours, fishermen) etc. I got such a buzz out of documenting the beauty of the ocean, and people seemed to be interested in what I was producing — so the passion grew from there I guess.  

 

How big a part of your life is surfing?

It's in my head every day! Both on a work and 'getting in' basis.  I've got two ongoing projects at the moment; 'portrait of a cold water surfer', which has grown into a huge body of work. My intention was to shoot portraits of some of the local surf characters and incredible surfers of Brighton, but it's extended out to the portraits of cold water surfers of the South east and west coast of the UK. I like the momentum of it and have met some incredible people, with incredible reasons and stories relating to their lives, why they surf.   - I'm hoping to exhibit that later in the year.

I'm also planning on documenting an upcoming solo road trip to Ibiza, surfing through France and Spain, so the logistics and practicalities of these alone spin around my head most of the day. Today I'm looking for a van that's going to get me there .... so I'm in the market for a decent second hand surf wagon if anyone's selling!

 

Well, you never know but I’m sure you’ll find the perfect vehicle to help you get there, sounds amazing. A lot of what you photograph is in the UK, and often in the colder months; how would you describe cold water surfing to someone who has never experienced it?

Wow, difficult question. I guess first and foremost you've got to be a decent level of tough to persist with cold water surfing, but there is absolutely nothing like the feeling of being connected with the power of the ocean.    

 coral evans

Do you prefer photographing those cold climates, where you can capture a different side of surfing and of the surfers themselves? 

I tend to shoot cold water surf because it's on my door step, but yes, I like trying to capture natural beauty in even the shittiest conditions.  A heavy hail storm makes for a good shoot, it makes the images look like watercolours. Brighton is great as it's pretty industrial, lots of images I get down here are back dropped with wind turbines or container ships.

It’s edgier I guess, like Brighton, and its surfers. I find a lot of beauty in that. 

 

Does photography help you translate the feeling to others or is it more just something you love to do?

I'd like to think my pictures emote a certain something in the audience haha! Initially I shoot because it's my passion and documenting is what I naturally do. But I'd like to think the form, elegance and power I see when I hit the shutter release button can be picked up, and experienced through the picture. 

 coral evans

What compels you to photograph the ocean?

It's just something I'm almost compulsively drawn to do.  I've lived on the water in a few different boats for nearly 10 years now; I watch the sun rise and set every day.  When there's a big storm I don't sleep, when the ocean's calm it's almost spiritual haha! I'm connected to the ocean in a big way.  My name's Coral ffs! I think it's called nominative determinism? My life seems to have been planned since being named at birth, it's all out of my control! 

 

What is your favourite subject to capture - ocean life? surfers? the waves? 

Surfers, for sure.  In the toughest conditions giving it everything they've got.  Just awesome.

 coral evans

Have you photographed anyone in particular that's helped you push yourself to the next level or that's truly inspired you?

There are so many people I'd like to shoot.  The list is endless, but I met an older lady last summer in Harlyn Bay, Cornwall who I would absolutely love to shoot.  Myself and friends were getting changed by the van in the car park and this older lady walked up to us and asked what the conditions were like.  She was an absolute whirlwind of energy and smiles, she stopped and chatted for a while about boards and suits, telling us she got in every day and did a couple of competitions a while back.  She made a real impression on me.  

A few months ago, I was flicking through Surf Girl mag reading an article on older surfers and saw the lady we'd met, Gwyn Haslock, who turned out to be a 71-year-old surfer and the UK's first competitive female surf champion.  She inspires me professionally as I'd love to photograph her, and personally, as it's just that beautiful no excuses attitude that some older people tend to hang onto, which is insanely inspiring.  

 

Who do you surf with and what's the culture like being a female photographer - do you find everyone is pretty supportive?

I usually get out with my best friend Dan, he's 100% dedicated and gets out in all conditions, we share a love of the water and his two massive Malamutes.  I've worked in sport and photography for a long time, and it's never been anything other than supportive — but you definitely have to hold your own.  I think that's fair to say about any industry though isn't it?  The action and commercial side of surf photography is male dominated for sure, but you're only as good as the images you produce regardless of gender.

 

What sort of equipment do you play with? I imagine surf photography requires some pretty intense lenses and cameras but for anyone who wants to learn, what can you recommend?

I have a Nikon SLR and a selection lenses, a Go-Pro4 but I also take a lot of shots with my iPhone.  I still have my Dad's old F2 although the salt has beaten it up quite a bit.  My advice to anyone interested is just start taking pictures. Create a space to become a photographer, turn up, put in the work and it'll happen.   Take pictures on your phone, on an old camera, whatever you have.  If you're passionate about your subject you can't help but take good images regardless of what model SLR or how much equipment you have - just start from there, and yeah, experiment. 

 

Is there a standout moment or photo that kind of sums up who you are and why you love what you do?

I've got a few favourites, but I did a shoot in a huge storm last year, hail the size of golf balls and some of the biggest waves we've had all year with some of the best of Brighton's surfers out - the timing of everything was insanely perfect and produced some incredible images that got a lot of interest.  Most of my time as a cold water surf photographer is spent waiting, standing in the Baltic cold, drinking irresponsible amounts of coffee and waiting for tide, time and man to work together to present a split second of perfect form to capture. When all the conditions work towards that (like in this hailstorm), it's a pretty magic day.

 coral evans

When you're not surfing you're?

Swimming, floating about on my boat thinking about new projects and ideas.

 

What's next for Coral Evans - what do you hope to achieve/where do you want to take your photography and your surfing? Is there anywhere in particular you'd love to have your work featured?

More travel for sure.  I'm going to do a stint of shoots and write ups in Europe and some warmer waters this summer, then hopefully explore more of the UK, and possibly cold water surf in Scandinavia this coming winter on a freelance basis. I'm a huge fan of Lucia Griggi, her work is on a different level of amazing, she really inspires me...  I'm hopeful her planned underwater shooting boot-camp is going to run over in big wave Morocco this October, I think it's work dependant as she's in huge demand, but fingers crossed as it'll be a comfort zone pusher and growing experience photography wise for sure.

 coral evans

A defining moment in Coral’s career was exhibiting a collection called Brighton Surf, the Storm Sessions and you can find her Brighton Bangers photo featured in Wavelength Magazine.

It seems this wave chaser’s life is packed full of new challenges and epic adventures – who knows, one day you might find ‘Sharkbait’ shacked up in Hawaii, with a protégé child named John John and all the wisdom of the water only years of passion and endeavour can bestow. She’s capable of creating and inspiring a new generation of water babies, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll produce next.

Check out Coral’s Insta and if you happen to have the perfect surf van for her to call home for a while, get in touch.

Author: Elise Kuchel