Two Birds Blog
Episode 1: Sam Howard

Meet Sam. Photographer, surfer and coffee drinker. In the first in our Two Birds Life series, we caught up with Sam about his pathway into photography and Scottish surfing.

Two Birds Life - Sam Howard

How did you get into surfing and where are your favourite spots in Scotland?

I first tried surfing about five years ago when I was on holiday in Morocco. I then ventured out in the North Sea with some friends from university. We had a couple of good surfers in our group who knew a lot about surfing in Scotland and the different breaks. I spent a couple of years trying to keep up with them, getting pushed out of my comfort zone and taking regular beatings by the waves. We travelled a lot of Scotland together and a few other countries including Sri Lanka, France and Spain. Those lads are definitely the reason I developed such a bug for surfing and the ocean.

I love surfing and shooting along the North Coast. The scenery is beautiful and the waves are more consistent there than the rest of Scotland. I can’t name my favourite spots with respect to the locals. But there are countless reefs and bays and one main road that runs along the top of Scotland linking the majority of them. If you look well you will find some gems.

What do people not know about Scottish surfing?

I guess a lot of people don’t really know you can surf in Scotland. But it is definitely becoming a more accessible sport with surf schools popping up around the country. The waves in Scotland are pretty inconsistent especially around Aberdeen where I live. To find good surf you really need to understand the coast and when and where the waves are going to work. Having to plan and go on regular unsuccessful missions makes the days so much better when it all aligns. There are places in Scotland you can get world-class waves and I have definitely had some of my best sessions at home.

What made you get into photography?

I got into photography when I went on a surf trip to South Africa just over two years ago. I bought myself a camera, as I wanted to capture my three-month adventure, and started to teach myself as I went. Capturing the surf and the wildlife there was amazing but it pains me a bit to think of how many potential photographs I missed. I really found a love of photography when I got back to Scotland and started shooting the seas during the Scottish winters.

A number of things throughout my life that guided me towards photography and the style of photos I like to take. I always enjoyed more creative subjects and sports growing up. With art I could drift into a mindset where I could work for hours and didn’t feel like it was strenuous or hard to concentrate. Photography has allowed me to combine my love of sport, art and the outdoors. I find shooting and editing therapeutic and it makes a good distraction from everyday stresses.

What type of shots do you enjoy taking? Is luck a factor for getting the perfect shot?

I really enjoy a variety of photography and want to keep developing in all areas. My favourite place to shoot is from the water with my camera housing. It’s very freeing like surfing. There are no distractions, phones or thoughts about other things you should be doing. You’re fully focused on trying to create a shot, stay in position and avoid getting pounded by the next set wave. Being fully immersed in the present helps me reset and release any anxiety or stress. I guess that’s what I try to capture when I am out in the water, calmness amongst the chaos. When looking at shots after a session it’s beautiful to see the textures and colours of the water when it is frozen in the still. It’s something you don’t really take in when you are out there with everything moving and changing so quickly.

Where was your last trip to and what were the highlights? Do you find it hard to split your surf days between surfing and taking photos?

The last trip I went on was to Thurso on the north coast. It was a last minute trip to capture photos of the big swell of Hurricane Epsilon and a chance to capture some shots for Two Birds. I think this is the first big trip I have done where I fully focused on shooting and didn’t go out on my board. My van had broken down so a legend of a friend lent me his car to blast up the road (thanks so much ma man!). I arrived late at night after a seven hour drive to a calm sea. We chilled in a mate’s van looking at the charts getting hyped for the next day.  Going to sleep when it’s flat and knowing a big swell is arriving the next day gives you such a good buzz.

We woke up before first light to get things ready the waves sounded small and as the sun came up it was a bit underwhelming. They gradually grew throughout the morning until a defined bigger set arrived out of nowhere. It was definitely a highlight seeing that first big set come through. It really kicked off throughout the day with a really high standard of surfing and big waves. I juggled shifts of photography with some hours of engineering work throughout the day, which was quite full on. Again my favourite part of the day was swimming out with the camera. I timed it with sunset, which turned out to be one of those lucky moments. The sunset was really vibrant bringing out highlights and shadows in the waves and illuminating the lip with colour.

Unluckily I managed to fill my memory card pretty quick after getting out there and didn’t quite get the shots I planned. But it was nice to take the time float, watch the waves and lads and ladies tearing up some colourful tubes. I’m sure there will be some shots from that session coming up with Two Birds.

I always find it tough to choose between shooting and surfing. I try to balance it by surfing most local sessions to spend time with my pals and save shooting for when I go on trips where the scenery and waves are more beautiful. I am definitely starting to be drawn more towards photography. With lockdown I have been day dreaming more about shots I can take locally and have some to share soon.

 Do you have any tips for anyone visiting Scotland to surf?

If you are a complete beginner go for it! Enjoy some summer waves and get a lesson with North coast water sports or jump in at Aberdeen with Campbell at Scot Surf School. You are guaranteed to have a good time with these guys. For more advance surfers I guess it’s probably a destination you would come to last minute on a good swell forecast. Do your research and time it right and you could find some amazing points, bays and slabs. But you might also be met with some onshore mush. I think that’s what keeps Scottish waves relatively quiet and it’s definitely a bonus of surfing here.

Enjoy the waves, respect the local surfers and chat to people in the water!


Follow Sam on Instagram here.