Behind the Lens with Mr B

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

To most people, surfing in the UK just doesn't exist. Ask the average international surfer, and chances are they've never  even heard of surfing in the UK. But our humble shores boast not only surf spots up and down the country but in fact, on their day, world class waves at that.

Today, the wave riding community boasts more than 500,000 surfers with that number ever increasing, but to find out how this surf scene was born, it was necessary to trace those footsteps back. The Endless Winter's is just that. A journey around the country and coastlines of Britain, from the tourist trap Newquay to the bleak, Scottish coast, to find the people and places that are shaping what surfing is today.

We caught up with Anthony Butler, one of the UK's most established surf photographers, who was there for the ride as the surf videographer throughout the Endless Winter. We asked Anthony, or Mr B, what The Endless Winter was like and what he learned from the history of British surfing.

But not before he had to quickly run down the road to check the surf.

“It's pretty small.”

Anthony started off just buying a camcorder to film him and his mates surfing around Wales, where he grew up. The first three films he made were painstakingly edited by VHS player to VHS player with an audio dub button. This early venture into film-making led him to take a course in Moving Image Production at Plymouth College of Art and Design. During his time there, Anthony acquired his first digital camcorder, complete with cheap water housing and started attending BPSA (British Pro Surfing Association) surf competitions to film the action.

By just being in the water all the time he started to get to know people and made a name for himself. “Putting the time in the water I think is one of the most important aspect of starting out in the industry, when you're out in the water with the surfers, you talk to them when they paddle past and you start learning how to hook up with people." It was through this experience that he was asked to travel to Sri Lanka for the BPSA Champion of Champions event, to shoot the competition. He was unpaid but his expenses were covered and Anthony's first film to feature professional surfers, Performing Monkeys, came from that experience.

Anthony claims there was a bit of a gap in surf films at that time, “Lee Evans' Land of Saints had just come out and was focusing on just a particular collective of guys so there was a whole group of other surfers that weren't being filmed, but the standard was really jumping up at that time and nobody was capturing it." But Anthony found it difficult to juggle both Performing Monkeys and his production course at Plymouth, “I just didn't have the time. I decided to take the plunge and leave the course and just go full into making Performing Monkeys."

Being a surfer primarily, it can be difficult watching your mates getting all the good waves when you have to sit back and film, but Anthony sees it differently; “You're out there amongst it, doing a bit of body surfing. If the waves are like the heavier slabs in Scotland and Ireland, I probably wouldn't be out anyway. There's been a lot of days watching perfect Thurso, North East or Porthleven and I'm just stood on land filming, it drives me insane.”

The boom in popularity of video uploading sites such as Vimeo and YouTube prompted a dramatic increase and availability of surf films, but Anthony doesn't necessarily see this as a good thing, “I think I'm one of the only people who thinks its a bad thing! It feels like to me a lot of films have to pack a punch instantly or people will just move on and I don't think that's always a good thing in surf filmmaking.” But it's not all bad. The live streams of the ASP (Now WSL) World Tour made Anthony find these much easier to watch, “you know its happening live, not edited, you can see full waves and on a more personal level, even though probably not what I should be saying as a surf film maker, I quite like just watching all unedited footage.”

On The Endless Winter, directors Matt Crocker and James Dean approached Anthony needing surf footage They had cut a rough trailer and needed surf footage to finish it off so they could seek funding for the film. Anthony gave them what they needed with a deal that if they secured funding then they'd bring him on-board to get involved, as he really wanted to shoot the in-water footage. After the project was given the green light, Anthony got further involved with not only filming in the water but also editing parts and shooting more of the lifestyle shots.

The Endless Winter has inspired Anthony to really look for stories rather than just going for the high quality surfing all the time. That's not to say he isn't still trying for that, but pushing the quality of the actual filmmaking has become a priority. Which has been made easier with the way technology has advanced, both the change from film to digital and easily accessible high definition cameras has helped. His inspiration now comes more from the stories and the people involved, now he feels he's drifting away a bit from performance surfing. As Anthony had always been caught up with capturing the best surfers and the best waves in this country, he now has a different outlook. “I've started to move onto more story based things and things that hopefully have a bit more story or depth behind or at least try to say something about things rather than just showing surf porn.”

“If I can bring bits of that into surfing then that's what I'd like to do. But it is quite difficult to do that as there is only so much you can say about surfing. I think there are things that the more general surfer does get a little left out a bit with just the giant monster waves in Ireland.”

He learnt a lot about the history of British surfing from the film itself, even from just watching the first rough cut of The Endless Winter: “It's insane, I didn't realise how much history there is in British surfing. I've always known what a massive impact Russ Winter had and how important he was but I didn't realise the extent of European dominance the way we had through the 60s, 70s and 80s. Not to mention the mark that the British surfers did make and also how it started and all these different stories around the country that have now been documented, it's a fantastic thing really.“