Adventure photographer Scott Dickerson
[by Dave Costello]
When Scott Dickerson wears a suit to work, it’s usually a wetsuit. The 31-year-old Homer-based entrepreneur specializes in surfing photography—in Alaska.
“Most people don’t even know there is surfing in Alaska,” he says, acknowledging the fact that his profession might seem a bit odd, even when viewed within the context of the already eccentric outdoor adventure photography world.
Regardless, it seems to be working for him. Dickerson’s images have been published by The New York Times, National Geographic, Outside, Men’s Journal, GQ, Surfer and more (including Alaska magazine). He also does commercial shoots for companies like Patagonia, Alaskan Brewing Company, Land Rover and ROXY/Quiksilver. In 2013, he was a finalist in Red Bull’s prestigious Illume Photo Contest, which featured an aerial image he took of three standup paddlers surfing the Turnagain Arm bore tide from a paramotor. (Imagine a paraglider with a motor—that’s it.) Alaskan Brewing Company’s new Icy Bay IPA logo, which they released this year, features an image Dickerson took of his brother Frederick surfing a wave in Yakutat.
It all started when Dickerson was 13. “A friend of a friend had a wetsuit,” he recalls. “My friend Mike McCune and I would borrow it, and take turns towing one another around on an old pair of plywood water skis behind a skiff in Kachemak Bay.” It wasn’t typical behavior for young boys in Homer at the time. “The general consensus amongst most Alaskans is that if you touch the water here, you’re dead,” Dickerson says. That didn’t stop him or McCune, however. They each eventually purchased used wetsuits of their own. “Mike found an old boogie board in the dump,” Dickerson says. “And it just kind of progressed from there.”
Simultaneously, as Dickerson finished high school a year early and started working on commercial fishing boats out of Ketchikan, he rediscovered his interest in photography.
“I found this old list I had made from when I was, like, 6-years-old,” Dickerson says. “It was supposed to be a list of everything I wanted to do with my life. There were seven things, I think—a pretty short list. One of them was ‘take pictures,’ so I got a camera.” As Dickerson will tell you himself, “things kind of progressed organically from there.” He started shooting local events for the community newspaper, and within a few years he was being published in national magazines.
Then, Dickerson took to the air, purchasing an ultralight plane (imagine a small go-kart strapped to the bottom of a hang glider) from which he could take pictures and “legally fly without a license,” he says. “I’ve always loved taking photos from different angles. The more unusual, or more unexpected, the better.”
Tired of renting hangar space at the local airport, he switched over to using a paramotor.
“It may not seem like it, but I’m actually a pretty cautious person,” Dickerson says, explaining how he got into paramotoring. He first went to an introduction to paragliding course—one without motors—simply to watch. “I saw them intentionally folding their wings in the air, going into spirals, and coming out of it,” he says. “I figured, if you can survive something as crazy as that, it’s got to be pretty safe.” He now does his aerial photography from a paramotor he purchased online.
Dickerson still surfs with his childhood friend Mike McCune, who now owns a company in Homer called Ocean Swell Adventures. Since 2010, they’ve been taking paying clients on multi-day trips to go surfing on a decommissioned fishing vessel called the Milo. Dickerson goes on almost every trip the boat takes, bringing his camera and often working as the boat’s captain. “I’m about as close to a partner in the business as you can get, without actually having a financial stake in the company,” he says, laughing.
Dickerson has also branched out from his photography business, starting SurfAlaska.net, an online resource for purchasing gear and providing information for people looking to go surfing in the Last Frontier.
“The main part of that business has turned out to be paddleboarding,” Dickerson says. “That’s kind of the natural entry point into the sport, I think. You can stand on the water, without having to get in it.”
According to Dickerson, more people are starting to surf in Alaska. “More people than there used to be, at least,” he says. “The gear has gotten better, and that has certainly helped. Although, the scene is still small, I guess—kind of quirky and unique. But it’s really the same surfing scene you’ll find anywhere: Just people hooked by this feeling of riding a wave, and then going to absurd extremes to do it.”
You can view more of Scott Dickerson’s work at www.scottdickerson.com