Enigmatic big wave surfer Tom Lowe has followed his own path from the heart of Penwith to surfing’s highest level through grit and determination – with a little help from his friends. Cutting his teeth in Ireland and pioneering unknown waves with a small group of surfers, Tom found meaning in pushing himself to the limit, and sometimes beyond. In 2023, Tom hit the reef hard at Teahupo’o and sustained critical injuries. “After surgery, lung treatment and a blood transfusion due to internal bleeding, a broken scapula, and many broken ribs, I truly do feel lucky to have made it,” he said.
Friday 26th January at Riverside Studios, London Surf / Film Festival presents a very special screening of remastered cult classic, ‘Free Ride’ Dir. Bill Delaney, accompanied by ‘Let Me Live’ – an award winning portrait of Tom Lowe, Dir. Keith Malloy.
Featuring the likes of Fergal Smith and renowned, multi-faceted creative Mickey Smith, this film is as much an exploration of community and kinship as it is about Tom. Ahead of the screening, we spoke to Mickey about Tom, his drive and his draw.
You talk about Tom having a special quality, a fire in him. As a photographer and a fellow waterman, what does that look like in the line up and what made you train your lens on him?
For me Tom has a natural cosmic way he can override instincts and open himself up to different dimensions of being human. In the sea that becomes like an innate ability to feel senses and fibres screaming no, weak with fear, and still override all that and be able to give it 110%. I feel like it’s a pretty rare skill. I’ve seen a lot of water folk who are pretty comfortable floating around in the heavy salt over the years who can’t do what Tom can.
It’s hard to explain how or why, but there’s moments amongst scary waves where things switch to another level, the sea gets primal. Situations where it’s far less than perfect, things are hectic and escalating, walls closing in type panic where there’s a uncontrollable fear that your life is at risk. Most of us tap out at that point. There’s not many who can deal with all that without survival instincts preventing us doing what Tom is able to open himself up to experiencing. To turn and go. It’s some kind of natural language for him maybe. He’s a wizard.
What do you think sparked that fire?
I just think it’s a part of Tom’s heart, right down deep. I have so much respect for what he’s achieved against all odds. Tom’s an incredible human, born to push himself in whatever way and thankfully it’s worked out that surfing is the way. He’s stoked when things are wild at sea, he’s happy, comfortable, at peace. He can handle that other level of adrenaline and all that goes with it. It takes its toll on him in many other ways for sure but out there in the salt he’s at home and he’s free.
Ireland, during your time there, and Penwith too seem to have sparked a special brand of creativity and a different type of surfer. What do you think it is about that time and place that is so special?
I don’t know really, energy is fickle but you can’t ignore how it affects our lives. It wasn’t easy or all roses but both Penwith growing up and Co. Clare when I lived there, these areas created a wild momentum through unique windows of time. Where the natural world & human interaction connected hearts through our weird little outcast sub cultures. Small scenes with good and pretty freethinking hearts around, all pushing each other to look for something beyond the every day for a while? Or just a little luck and enough spark to give it a crack maybe.
Tickets for LS/FF Presents include a free beer from the good folk at Sharps while Yeti and Foundation Roasters are sending up some goodies to stave off the winter chill. This is what dark January evenings were made for… gathering together with a crew of like-minded individuals for the finest cinematic surf session to salute the season ahead. See you there!