Interview – Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Being a self-taught journalist and photographer Jeff Johnson has lived a colorful life and still is.  Staff photographer at Patagonia, world traveler, Hawaiian lifeguard, and flight attendant, Jeff has worn many different types of shoes and has been on many different adventures, some documented some not.  My first introduction to Jeff was from his book “Bend to Baja” and it was that about of a road trip, traveling with your friends and looking for some adventure which inspired me to go out and do the same. We hope this interview can inspire others to go out there and try new things.  That DIY/ try everything approach might one day get you to where Jeff is now. 中文

Who are you and where are you currently right now?

My name is Jeff Johnson. Right now I’m in my studio/office in Santa Barbara, California.

I read that you didn’t grow up near the beach when you were younger.  Can you tell me how you got into skateboarding and how it influenced you when you were younger?

I grew up about an hour and a half away from the beach in Northern California. I had a neighbor who was the only surfer in our town. He introduced me to skateboarding and surfing.

Dan Malloy, Travers Adler and Jenkins surfing Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Photo by Jeff Johnson

How did you first start becoming interested in surfing and since you didn’t live near the beach what depths you took just to make it out to the water?

I would often drive an hour or two after school to the ocean just to get 20 minutes of crappy surf as the sun went down. There was no swell forecasting then so I never really knew if it was good or not.

Hawaii with Crystal and friends. Photo by Jeff Johnson

You were a professional lifeguard in Hawaii and also a flight attendant.  What was it about those occupations that interested you?

Lifeguarding allowed me to be on the beach all day and get paid. I also learned about the ocean from some of the best watermen in the world. And saving lives was the best job to ever have. The flight attendant job allowed me to travel the world and have a lot of time off to surf. I had surfboards and gear stashed all over the world.

Hawaii. Photo by Jeff Johnson

What made you want to move out to Hawaii?

I visited Hawaii a couple of times with my family as a little kid. And I loved everything about it- the warm water, the people, the mountains. I just wanted to be there all the time.

Photo by Jeff Johnson

How did you end up meeting the Malloy brothers?

The older brother Chris and I had moved to the north shore around the same time in the early 90’s. So we would see each other around and we had mutual friends. I found out the Chris had tried rock climbing before so one of our first conversations were about rock climbing. We hit it off. Then we all got a house together and the Malloys and I shared a house on the North Shore for 10 years.

Climbing the North American Wall. Timmy Oneill, Dave Turner, Keith Malloy and Jeff Johnson. Photo by Jeff Johnson

Other than surfing, you also mountain climb.  Can you tell us how you got interested in mountain climbing and how it relates to surfing?

I tried climbing before I moved to Hawaii but once in Hawaii I just focused on surfing. But I always read books on climbing and watched movies. So late in life, when I was 33 years old, I started climbing. It’s a lot like surfing whereas you work with nature and not against.

Mikey Schaeffer working on his new route Father Time on Middle Cathedral, Yosemite Valley. Photo by Jeff Johnson

You are a self-taught photographer and writer.  How did you pick up those skills?

I always wrote in my journals while traveling and eventually some of those writings got published. And I always took pictures. I love telling stories and photography was just another medium to tell stories.

Photo by Jeff Johnson

Can you list some of your equipment you use for photography?

For action-based photography I use Canon. For all other things I shoot Leica.

A lot of Taiwanese have seen the film 180 South, but don’t understand the story because most Taiwanese do not understand English.  Can you give a brief summary about the story of the film and tell us more about the six-month sailing, surfing, climbing and filmmaking trip with Chris Malloy.

That adventure was 6 months long. And the project took 4 years to do. It is very hard for me to tell the story here.

Patagonia Team. Indonesia surf trip. Photo by Jeff Johnson

How did you get involved with Patagonia?

I did a surf trip with Yvon Chouinard and his son Fletcher. They said they were working on launching Patagonia Surf. I had some ideas on how I could help. And they hired me and the Malloy brothers to design product and marketing and launch Patagonia Surf.

Patagonia Indonesia trip. Photo by Jeff Johnson

There is a Patagonia store here in Taiwan and from my personal use I’ve been wearing Patagonia boardshorts that I bought in the States for years here in Taiwan but the surfing department in Taiwan hasn’t really affected the surf culture here yet.  What are the stories behind the Patagonia surf department and the story behind the products?

At Patagonia we strive to make product that is functional and lasts a really long time. We make quality.  You buy one pair of boardshorts and they last a lifetime.

Photo by Jeff Johnson

Skateboarding, surfing, or mountain climbing.  If you could chose one of the three to do for the rest of your life which one would you chose and why?

Surfing. It is the easiest on your body.

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?

It changes my life because in order to surf you have to be healthy. So if you surf your whole life you will be healthy.

Patagonia Indonesia trip. Photo by Jeff Johnson

You’ve been traveling around the world, tell us the most memorable trip.

My most memoriable trip is the making of 180 South.

Can you tell us your current surfboard quiver and which board you have been riding recently.

For high performance I ride FCD surfboards by Fletcher Chouinard. I ride longboards and fish’s by Chris Christensen. My favorite all-around surfboard is called the Fark by FCD.

Dan Malloy, Travers Adler and Jenkins surfing Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Photo by Jeff Johnson

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Hopefully a lot of photographs and videos and films I have directed.

Have you heard anything about the surf and/or rock climbing culture here in Taiwan and would you be interested to visit?

I heard the surfing and climbing in Taiwan is great! I would love to come visit!

Photo by Jeff Johnson

Photo by Jeff Johnson

Photo by Jeff Johnson

Yosemite Valley. Photo by Jeff Johnson

Photos for New York Patagonia stores. Photo by Jeff Johnson


Patagonia Surf

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