Free Riders ~ Alan Van Gysen


Surfer, Photographer, Family Man.

One of the most rewarding things in life is to succeed. Even better is to be a part of another’s success.

It is true that every being on earth has the potential to hurdle obstacles and hardship and go on to become a sustainable and content individual. Although, some circumstances are more difficult to overcome, it is still possible. Our own success is witnessed and shared by others and vice versa.

Alan Van Gysen arrived in Kommetjie in the late 90’s, with a sense of purpose, an open honesty and from the first to the last, most of us would be hard pressed to think of a more positive and amped human. Sanguine to a T and with plenty of genuine warmth, he was a really good influence on us. Being a few years older and an aspiring surf photographer he was swiftly welcomed and embraced by the circle of surf rats that infested the “Goef Balls” parking lot at Long Beach. His presence helped us remain focused on surfing, searching and most of all getting exposure through his ever improving and high quality photographs. That’s not to say he didn’t buy us a couple quarts for an after surf wetty because we all know that in most growing surfers lies a deep thirst for cold beer.

Every so often when the charts and winds would align, some of us would jam into his rusty, yellow hatchback and make the intrepid trek southwards to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. We would do the long, steep walk down to Dias beach or run through the Fynbos to Extensions, Underwater point and Olifants Bos to get some of the best and least crowded waves in the Cape. It was a good time in a lot of the grommets lives because its not often that a young man takes the time to round up the laaities, deal with all their nonsense and then take them to find cooking waves at previously unsurfed spots. Although it has to be said that often we repaid him by dropping into a big (or small) barreling wave and linking up at the perfect moment to get “the shot”. It used to blow me away at how persistent Alan was, swimming for hours in the Atlantic with just a wetsuit and a pair of flippers to keep him afloat, all to nail a picture or potentially get nailed himself. We had a great time with a lot of laughs and it was really a mutually beneficial situation as he gave a boost to a few blossoming surf careers and at the same time made a living doing what he absolutely loved. I can say with certainty that all those hours of practice, trial and swimming has moulded him into one of the worlds most respected and leading water and land photographers and it’s a good feeling to know that in some way, in the early days, we contributed and were involved in him achieving that.

Along the way, he met his lovely wife Heather. It was a very swift and sure courtship. With Alan characteristically and assuredly going after what he wanted. We knew this because one day he just wasn’t at the beach anymore! Not really. So, marriage, house and kids followed, along with the respected position of assistant editor of the Zigzag surfing magazine. During this time, he continued to get in waters local and international and shoot beautiful, vivid images. In 2007, we went on a real deal surf safari from Cape Town to Namibia and with Alans amp and drive we rocked up at a crunching 8 – 10 foot slab with no longer than a 6,3” between us. Frankie O gave a little smile and tuned “ay what you say cuzzies, we go get barreled or what?” The rest as they say, is history. We somehow made it to the lineup unscathed and proceeded to rediscover the meaning of pure Atlantic power. All the while, Alan was swimming chirpily around, camera in hand, just outside the impact zone, almost getting pitched headfirst by solid 10 footers with no more than a smile and a “go, go, go, wooooh!” Classic.

He has exhibited this same behavior at similar heavyweights across the globe and it should also be said that to put ones self in heavy situations on a regular basis, there is a high level of trust in your own ability, fitness and an innate knowledge of the ocean. All those who are associated with it will tell you, its moods and movements are among the most powerful and respected forces on earth.

It is most definitely an inspiration to us all, young and old, to see that it’s possible and attainable to be blessed with a great family and a fun and healthy life – coupled with a job that involves travelling and creativity (albeit with a lot of swimming involved!) and Alan effortlessly rolls it all in his personal brand of youthful, adventurous optimism.

So this is the man who is essentially behind the scenes, creating the images and bringing alive the sport, art, and stoke which is surfing to you and hundreds of thousands of other surfers. Finally, do remember that this is just a humble perspective on a talented person, and if you would like to know more, go up, greet him respectfully and be sure he will be more than happy to tell you himself.

The family Van Gysen.

Alan in action.

One Reply to “Free Riders ~ Alan Van Gysen”

  1. Wow thanks Brett! Seriously appreciate the feature. Not sure what else to say, except thank you and that you are spot on. Had it not been for all talent and enthusiasm from all the Kommetjie groms turned men I would not be where I am today. God Bless bro.

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