The last few years have seen an emergence of a new kind of collective within surfing, where lensmen and surfers join together to form their own branded channels, through which they produce and distribute their own content.
Although generally still funded by the surfers sponsors, the content being created is sculpted by the creative visions of the surfers and cameramen involved, opposed to the marketing division of the companies who fund them. Since the content is distributed online as opposed to in magazines or through company channels, this structure has ushered in a new era of virtually unprecedented creative control for the surfers and film makers who make up these collectives, whilst also offering surf fans the ability experience surfing in a more raw, unfiltered and authentic way.
Whilst there numerous examples of this model from around the world- with TV/Dion, Marine Layer and Last Name First being some of the most notable- it’s a structure that is yet to gain popularity within The UK. Enter Tea and Cake Productions– a collective made up of 5 friends in their late teens and early twenties from North Cornwall, who’s content has recently began to garner international attention online.
Wavelength caught up with the the group, which is made up of surfers Toby Donachie, Rhys Barfield and Ben Avery, photographer Ollie Sweet and filmer Olly Fawcett, to find out about the advantages of being part of a self run production collective.
WL: Toby, why don’t you start us off by telling us about yourself.
T: My names Toby Donachie, I’m 23, from the north coast of Cornwall. I live in a small village and make surfboards and work in the local restaurant. I used to be a pro surfer and now I’ve got to work to live the dream.
WL: Yea, I noticed that you’re just riding for Fluid Juice now, can you tell us about when you parted ways with your sponsors?
T: I parted ways with my sponsors a few years ago now and since then I’ve been working up at my step dad’s factory, making boards, learning new skills and really involving myself in that aspect. I almost get to be a more integral part of the surfing industry now which is what I love and I can still surf whenever I want because I fit my work around my surfing.
WL: What about marketing yourself as a surfer? Do you miss doing that? Do you still do it? Or do you feel like its a bit of a weight off not having to do that anymore?
T: I miss elements of marketing myself as a professional surfer and as an item for a company, but there’s elements of it I don’t miss. I don’t miss being on other peoples time and having to abide by certain rules because I ride for a company. Now I don’t have to be a presentable image all the time- I can just be me which is rough round the edges sometimes.
WL: Do you feel like Tea and Cake is a kind of middle ground then? Where you still get to market yourself a bit, but you can decided how you do it?
T: Well yea, Tea and Cake was something I started when I was riding for Quiksilver and it was a way to market myself on social media without running a Toby Donachie surfer fan page, because I found that to be extremely big headed and it doesn’t generate as much publicity as most people think. So I tried to be clever about it and created Tea and Cake productions to micro market myself, because it is such a small market that were hitting. After I parted ways with Quiksilver I didn’t touch it for about 6 months but then I got speaking with the boys and we thought fuck it lets get everyone on there. Now there’s more content to put up and more people to have a laugh with, because at the end of the day, its just a group of friends coming together and doing what they love to do on a daily basis.
WL: So are you happier now surfing now without sponsors?
T: Yea.. because I struggled with the pressures that surfing for Quiksilver gave me. I just feel freer and its just nicer to have no pressure from an outside force, now it’s just what I want to put out there and it’s me leading the way. I do love riding and promoting myself and would still love a company to help me out but I’m not trying to push myself in that kind of way, because I’ve lived it and I lived it very nicely, but now its time to move on and surf because I love it.
WL: Ben, tells us about you and how you got involved with it all
B: So I’m Ben Avery, live in St Merryn, the same little village as Toby, and I’ve been surfing from a young age around here. One summer I met Olly and started filming a few sessions with him and then I was hanging out with Toby and Rhys quite a bit so linked them up with Olly and it just kick started from there.
WL: Ollie, tell me about your photography.
OS: Well I grew up in Trevone, and basically got into photography when I was about 13. I started off shooting nice waves and sunsets and stuff and then I met Toby, and we’d go surfing together and obviously he got really good really quick and that made me want to push my shooting more and thats when Tea and Cake started up. It gave us a good way of showing people what were doing.
WL: Rhys, tell us what you’ve been doing recently.
R: Well we’ve just come back from a trip to Scotland, where we released our latest edit ‘Northern Nuggets’. Its been getting some really good attention and currently sitting on 26k plays after being shared internationally by guys like Stab and Surfer, so we’re really stoked with that. After not doing as well as I’d hoped in the Pro Juniors, the back half of the year was a complete turn around for me. I got an invite into the RedBull Unleashed contest in Snowdonia which was a game changer, seeing how the likes of Jack Freestone approaches the lip and all those other boys was an eye opener, but also I feel as if it made me step up my surfing to a new level. Then there was the World Juniors in Cali. I managed to win a couple heats and make a few rounds out there and It was such a fun trip, we scored so many good sessions. I feel as if everything is starting to come together now with contests and filming for the next edit.
WL: And what about your involvement in Tea and Cake?
R: Tea and Cake is so good for me to have as an aside to my competitive surfing. I can come home, have a laugh with all the boys and film it all instead of me having to try and do it all myself every time because It’s really hard to do that on your own.
WL: Obviously self marketing is pretty key, particularly with social media which seems to play such a big part in sponsorship deals nowadays.
R: Yea social media plays a massive role, it’s whats got me to where I am today. I’ve had the odd result but I haven’t been a consistent contest surfer, so I’ve always made sure my social media pages are up to scratch, because I know for a fact that these companies are looking for contest results but social media means just as much to them.
WL: So do you feel like you rely on the Tea and Cake lensmen to give your social media output the production values that might set you above some other young surfers?
R: Yea, its great to work with them because they’ve got amazing ideas. If I’m about to put something out, I get them to all watch it and then I’ve got 5 different peoples views on it. And with competition and stuff around sponsorship, I can go to Toby because he’s been through all of it with every company, and that feels like a massive advantage for me.
WL: So Olly tell me how you got into filming.
OF: I moved down from London to Cornwall, and started taking photos of surfers. About 2 years ago I got myself a new camera and decided I wanted to do some filming, and I started to really enjoy it. Back then I only really knew Rhys and Toby from magazines, I used look up to these boys before!
T: Don’t fucking look up to me I’m not a good role model!
OF: When I got introduced to them we started hanging out and filming loads and really enjoying it and we pumped out a couple of videos early on. My style is inspired by photography, I enjoy all the hand held stuff and making my own stuff, like my crane rig. But the editing side is my favourite, like I really get into that, I can just lock into an editing session and I can rattle it out and get really creative. I’ve learnt with these boys you can make so much of a better video when your collaborating with the people your shooting.
WL: Toby, I feel like it was your generation who bore the brunt of one of the big surf industry dips, around the mid 2000’s, you must be mindful that if this is something you want to grow and carry on into the future then theres got to be a way to make money from it. Is that something all you boys think about? Or are you just trying to make good surf edits at the moment?
T: At the moment the main thing we want to do is create good content, but I have thought about how we could monetise it because we would love for it to go down a route where we were being paid to go on trips. It’s not an exclusive project, this is a load of friends at the moment trying to build something and then possibly inviting other people in to feature in the edits. If surfers with sponsors want to throw Ollie a little bit of cash and use the platform of Tea and Cake we’d encourage that- we’d say utilise it as a platform that we’ve all created.
OS: We’re trying to be something coming out of Cornwall as well, I think we need to push it out there because you don’t see enough of UK riders.
OF: Also the world loves cold water surf, you know in some of the biggest international surf films most recently, like Strange Rumblings and Cluster they shot in Iceland, and we’ve got access to those world class waves which people want to see. Scotland’s only a drive away and the waves up there are absolutely nuts. We want to bring UK and european surfing and film making together to make something which at the moment is fairly unique.
T: Outside of the production side, its about a willingness to come together and help each other out, we want to push each other. Rhy’s has got the best opportunity out of all of us and all the rest of us are so keen to help push him and promote him. I’m always keen to big up Rhys up on my instagram and push his edits out because it comes at no cost to me. In a way it feels like surfing as a sport is very individual and it feels like people- like I know I did when I was younger- take that attitude from the ocean onto dry land and become very inward looking and not willing to help other people out in the way that we are trying to do with this group.
R: With us everyone wants everyone else to be doing well. I’ve noticed when I’ve gone away with different surfers, often they don’t want others to do well because it makes them look bad, where as in this group I want everyone else to do as well as they can, and it’s so good that we can all come together and it can be like that.
WL: There used to be a big tradition for UK crews going on little group missions, where as now guys tend to go away somewhere for the whole winter by themselves. Why do you think that shift has occurred?
T: I think its the lack of money in the UK, there isn’t a big enough surf market.
B: Its so much cheaper to go to Indo- you can go there for the whole winter if you’ve saved some money and just surf and not worry about anything…accept getting the odd disease off a hooker or something
OF: Couldn’t fucking help it could you, had to drop the hooker bomb.
T: It seems like with the fact that back in the day we had a golden era of surfing and there were some companies who had more money than sense- you know where everybody had a company car for example! I mean you think about how many British surf companies there were then who were established and that encouraged the UK surfers to stay around the UK more. There were more British surf mags as well, with more of a focus on UK riders, where as now in the mags now its mostly international riders so there’s not the pushing of UK surfers there used to be.
WL: But maybe that content, featuring UK surfers on UK trips, doesn’t exist as much anymore because there aren’t as many riders who are getting paid enough to be able to afford to stay in the UK over the winter and do those trips.
OF: The main thing for us is online content. Although we still love to get stuff in mags, the internets a bigger place and if something goes up on there the possibilities are endless. But personally I like having a mag, I like reading them in the bath.
WL: Yea, you cant take your laptop in the bath.
OF: But as a content creator, we feel like we want to have stuff in serious places on the internet, and its an opportunity to show the world places like Scotland.
WL: Is it important for you boys to have the control over how your being represented as well?
T: Without a doubt, I think the most important thing for us as a group is to stay individual and stay interesting to people and the way to do that is by being in control of what were putting out rather than having a company decide for us. Because we can plow out weird and wacky stuff and not piss anybody off. It’s genuine rather than controlled and thats what lacking. The only people doing it at the moment are people like Koa Smith- from Lastnamefirst, who’s running his own online thing which is not controlled by the companies. Even though they’re riding for huge ones like Hurley, they’re putting out what they want, so I think if we can retain our individuality we’ll be appealing to people.
WL: Thanks guys, we look forward to seeing much more of you in the future.