Christopher Bickford’s “Legends of the Sandbar”: A Book About Us

"This is, and isn't, about surfing," says local photographer Christopher (or just Chris) Bickford," describing his new book Legends of the Sandbar. "I'm not really comfortable when I get introduced or labeled as a surf photographer, because shooting surf is not my main gig, and there are so many guys here on this beach alone that are really surf photographers. I just happen to be a photographer working on a project that involves surfing" Be that as it may, Legends of the Sandbar captures the essence of the surfing experience on the Outer Banks like no other book has before, and embeds it solidly within the windswept barrier-island environment that makes a life of surf on the Outer Banks so special. Starting with a satisfying dose of action photography, shot mostly in the water, Bickford weaves in photos of strange dune formations, angry seas, and towering cloudscapes, visuals that Outer Bankers live with, day in and day out. "There's a symmetry to the elements here," he says. "The dunes can sometimes look like waves, a perfect barrel can look like the eye of a hurricane, and whitewater closeouts can look like cumulus clouds. It's this dance between sand, wind, ocean, and clouds that makes our visual and sensory life here so dynamic. The landscape is always changing, and always dramatic. This place makes you want to be a photographer; matter of fact I got my start here as a photographer. I'd kind of landed here by accident after about ten years of bumming around the country, and while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I borrowed my dad's old Nikon, bought a bunch of slide film, and started shooting dunes and clouds and snow and marsh-grass. It was just instinctive." "So even though I knew from a long time back that I wanted to do a book about surfing, I was coming at it from that kind of perspective. I wanted to include as much of the environment in the project as I could, because if you surf here you live and breathe the unique elements of this place with every wave you catch, every fall you take and eat sand, every long drive you take up or down Hatteras Island, every storm you sit through wondering if it's going to bring good surf in its wake. We're immersed in nature here, and while that's not unusual for surfers, our environment is a lot different from, say, Hawaii or Indonesia, or any of the tropical paradises that locals escape to in the winter. It's grittier, and darker, and less predictable. And that's what I wanted to capture." But the book is as much about culture as it is about nature. While Bickford is quick to point out that the book is not in any way a comprehensive historical or anthropological study, Legends includes a good helping of photographs the local crew engaged in what he calls the "in-between moments," whether that be hanging out in the parking lot, checking the surf from the dunes, waxing boards, or rinsing off in fading light at the end of a good day. Interspersed between the images are essays about the experience of living and surfing on the Outer Banks, writings on the geology and meteorology of the area, and several bits of oral history as told by local characters like Jesse Hines, Jim Bunch, David Rhode, and Brett Barley. Bickford also managed to squeeze in, a few weeks before going to press, a remembrance of the late Mickey McCarthy, as told by his friend and protegé Rascoe Hunt. As many locals may know, Rascoe started his surfing career as a teenager on Mickey's New Sun team, and learned to glass and shape boards under Mickey's supervision. The story of how Rascoe first met Mickey as a wide-eyed grom in the early 80's makes for a great read, and his detailing of Mickey's eclectic life and career pays homage to a man who was truly dedicated to supporting and promoting surfing on the Outer Banks. "It was a big loss for everybody when Mickey passed," says Bickford. "Mickey was without a doubt the most prolific surf photographer on the Outer Banks, and as anybody who knew him will tell you, he touched more people in the surfing community than anyone else. Last month's paddle-out was evidence of how well-loved he was. He knew everybody's name, always had a kind word for everybody. Anytime I ran into him on the beach, my mood would just instantly improve, no matter what was going on in my head. He had that kind of effect on people. Just always encouraging, always smiling. Really selfless. A true legend in every sense of the word." "In many ways Mickey's presence set the tone for the local vibe. He made everybody feel like they were part of the scene, whether they were groms, kooks, old guys, pro's, it didn't matter to him. And I think most locals will agree, after traveling around the world to other spots, that one of the things that makes this place so special is the kindness and closeness and civility that prevails in the water. It's a real community, and even though we've got our share of localism and aggro jerkoffs, friendliness and inclusiveness, for the most part, rule the day." "I think that's why we always lose in contests against Virginia Beach. Everybody's just so nice around here, there's almost an instinct among the crew to say 'go ahead dude, you got this one." In the back of the book, there is a portrait gallery of over 70 locals who make up the community here, including Noah Snyder, Lynn Shell, Jeff Myers, Quentin Turko, Delbert Melton, Barry Price, Sterling King, Mike Rowe, Craig Watson, Jesse Fernandez, Leanne and Nathan Robinson, Jim and April Vaughn, Scott Busbey, Dallas Tolson, Mary Schmaeder, Brett Barley, and the recently departed Bob Holland. "When I started shooting the portraits, it was just going to be a few guys. Some of the pro's and semi-pros, guys that were just hardcore surfers, maybe a couple of my own surf buddies. But it just kept growing and growing, and as I collected more and more portraits, I realized that I was only scratching the surface. In the end there were so many people I couldn't get to, so it's halfway between being a small sample and a comprehensive collection. I think to really do the community justice, there would be about 300 portraits, but it was starting to look like a yearbook in the back, so I had to just take what I had and go to press with it." Bickford takes pains to acknowledge the influence and contribution that certain people played in helping him get the book done. In particular, he cites Matt Walker, Jeff Myers, and his publisher and mentor David Alan Harvey. "Without those guys, I might never have finished this thing. But there were so many people along the way that just had nice words for me, and it really helped to know that the community was behind it. I definitely started the project as a bit of an outsider, and while I'm still kind of a fringe character on the scene, it helps to get those high-fives and fist-bumps from the central characters." "The biggest compliment for me is when somebody comes up to me and says 'You get it.' " Because there really is something about "getting it" that is essential to capturing the spirit of a place and a subculture. It's not just a documentary thing. It's about translating the experience into words and pictures in a way that it resonates with peoples' collective imagination. To give a sense of what it feels like. That's what I'm really out there to do." Legends of the Sandbar ($45) is available for purchase online at and AMAZON. You can also pick it up at DVO, Wave Riding Vehicles, Island Books, Duck's Cottage, Downtown Books, Banks Surf Shop, Buxton Village Books, Rodanthe Surf Shop, Buxton Village Books, and other retail shops in the area. Or you can contact Chris through his website at to arrange for a personal delivery and signing. If you're in the area, shop local! You can also come to Duck's Cottage on July 28 and Downtown Books in Manteo on August 1st for book signings. Get on the Legends of the Sandbar Mailing list for the chance to win a free book, and to be updated on future events, shows, signings, and parties.
Christopher Bickford, Writer/Photographer
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