Jakob Gjerluff Ager likes being cold. The Danish photographer and surfer spends his life documenting awe inspiring sights and witnessing the effects of global warming first hand. Ager shoots for companies with an eco-friendly mission, donating 1% of his income to preserve the planet. He explains why:
UNITY: People might be surprised to hear that there’s surfing in Denmark.
We have a spot here called Cold Hawaii, it’s getting more and more famous and where I come from, for surfing in winter it’s one of the best spots in northern Europe.
Why is environmental campaigning so important to you?
A huge part of why this means so much to me is because I’m out in nature everyday and seeing plastic. In these colder regions too, I think [the effects of global warming] are more obvious because there’s always talk about ‘there’s less snow this year’ and ‘glaciers are getting smaller’.
It’s impacting us and it’s a huge part of our day, everyday. Every time we go to the beach to go surfing or to take pictures there is plastic. We have to do beach clean-ups every month.
What changes have you noticed in the place you grew up?
I definitely think there is more plastic on the beaches. That’s what I tell myself I am seeing, at least. It’s hard to tell for certain, perhaps it’s a symptom of being more and more focused on it. But then you talk to people who have been here their whole lives and they’re saying there’s more. In Norway some of the older guys are talking about the seasons getting shorter, more unreliable, and there’s bigger storms, more snow. I think that the highs and lows are getting more extreme. Some seasons you’ll have no snow at all and then some seasons you’ll have tonnes.
Do you still think there is something we can do?
It bums me out that every time you go to the beach there’s plastic there but I honestly think there is something we can do about it. I think there are a lot of things going on in my communities and it’s spreading out so it’s not just people who enjoy nature that are aware of these things, it’s everyone.
Every year I feel like the scientists are coming back with even worse news. We’re doing a lot but it’s just not enough at this point.
Hence working for more eco-conscious brands…
I got bored of shooting products and building huge brands, instead of doing something with purpose. My friends were doing things to better the planet and I wanted to do that too. Right now I’m working with a bunch of companies that are trying to do that as well and I joined the 1% For The Planet Foundation, and I am an ambassador for a Norwegian plastic solution organisation called Empower who basically give used plastic a value.
When are the best times to surf?
The winter time is what we are all waiting for because in the summer all of the tourists are and it’s crowded. In winter it’s dark most of the day, it’s cold, windy, raining, snowing, its just horrible but storms bring big waves and that’s what we live for.
And what’s that like exactly? Cold, presumably?
People get surprised just how nice it is and when you’re wearing the suit it’s honestly not that bad.
The water in winter gets down to just above freezing. Sometimes we have snow, too. We wear a 6mm wet suit, the thickest you can get, gloves, boots and a mask so it’s only your eyes that pop out. If you’re wearing this stuff it’s perfectly fine and you can be out for maybe two hours. Eventually you burn up all of your energy so there’s nothing for the body to heat up from so you start to get cold
Do people think it’s strange?
It feels so cool to go out in the water when everyone is like “what is going on?” Every winter there are three or four hurricanes that come through Denmark. There are always warnings on the news saying ‘don’t go out’ ‘stay inside’ and then there’s always these news crews that record us surfing.
Has surfing changed your perspective on nature?
It really feels like you have no control when you’re out there and whatever you do, nature doesn’t care. You need to learn how to flow with nature because there’s no way you can fight the wave, current or wind, you’ve just got to ride the waves. It also makes me believe in the end that global warming is about nature kicking back at us if we don’t figure it out. Sadly we are going to take a lot of other species with us but nature and earth as it is will live on without us.