interview with Mexi

Niceness: Where are you from?
Paul: I was raised in LA. East LA actually. I grew up with a view of downtown.

Niceness: How did you get into surfing?
Paul: When I was a kid, every Wednesday we would go to the beach. I started boogie boarding. When I was a kid my mom would take us. I've been surfing since about 8 or 9 years old. Usually in Huntington Beach or Bolsa Chica. day trips to the beach. I did it for a little bit but when I became a teenager I kind-of got out of it. I got into bikes. And then I got into some crazy stuff. Then I figured that I had to get back into surfing in order to stay focused. I've pretty much devoted myself to surfing since then.

Niceness: Who in your family is from Mexico?
Paul: My mom is from Mexico. She's from Jalisco. From the mountains. By Guadelajara. Since I was a kid we've always gone to Mexico. I still have family in Mexico. I've been to Mexico hundreds and hundreds of times. When we lived in LA we used to go on a monthly basis. Go to the doctor in Mexico. I have a lot of relatives right on the border, in Tijuana. My mom and the whole family had moved and migrated north to the border area. She was actually Miss Rosarito beach. We had a lot of family in Rosarito too. I did a lot of surfing there. My dad is French. Both my parents are immigrants.

Niceness: How did your parents meet?
Paul: Funny! Soo.. my mom was a sweatshop worker in LA. In the garment district. My dad was basically the sweatshop boss. She was illegal. The whole family that was in America all worked at that sweatshop. My dad crossed over and turned a new leaf. The next thing you know he was sponsoring the whole family to get legal. He got them a pension plan. But basically he was the sweatshop runner and she was a sweatshop worker.

Niceness: Cool story.

Niceness: Can you talk a little about what you teach?
Paul: I teach language arts and social studies. In a predominantly… it's really a similar neighborhood to the one that I grew up in. Mostly latino. Right now, with "No Child Left Behind" and all this stuff that's going on, it's not really a good time to be a teacher.

Niceness: You were saying (on niceness.org) that they were even cutting science education for many kids.
Paul: There are kids that aren't going to have science or social studies. They're basically going to have all language arts, math and PE.

Niceness: Is that just because they don't test well?
Paul: Yup. They're just teaching to the tests.

Niceness: How do you think that affects the kid's development?
Paul: I think it's going to make kids burn out. There are kids… that need art… we used to have metals when I first started working there. We had woods where they could work in the woodshop. The reality is that most of these kids are going to be working class people. What they're doing is burning them out of school. They're going to have no interest in school. They're just going to end up dropping out. Then with out a high school diploma there is less opportunity for them. The way the whole no child left behind thing works is that schools like mine are going to suffer and the wealthier schools are going to be successful for a while, until everybody is unsuccessful. Supposedly by 2014 every single school in the country needs to be 100% proficient. Which is totally ridiculous because you're talking about special ed kids. You're talking about kids who've only been in the country for four months, five months. Try to move to China and take a test in Chinese. It's impossible. The government will most likely close my school down next year, then shuffle the kids off to another school, for what?

Niceness: When did you start taking photos?
Paul: In '98, '99. After the El Nino year. What happened was I was snowboarding and I blew out my knee. I couldn't surf for about 8 months and I started taking pictures at that time. I got a couple really nice pictures then. I just started getting into it.

Niceness: Do you see a progression in your photos since you began?
Paul: Definitely. My standards are all different now from when I started. Which is kind-of a good thing and a bad thing because before I used to work on composition more and now I'm more of a perfectionist less composition and more quality of the image and the sharpness. Everything else now comes into play. It's a lot to think about.

Niceness: Are you digital now?
Paul: No. I bought a digital camera. I have a digital body but I still seem to go back to film. I like film better.

Niceness: Why do you like film better?
Paul: I just like the way you can manipulate it. I really like the Velvia. I've used digital and I plan on using digital if I'm trying to get action pictures and I'm shooting with the sun behind me, clear blue day and I'm just shooting people surfing. I'll use digital for that. For portraits and stuff I can't go digital yet. I like the texture of film, the way you can feel it and stuff.

Niceness: You've had a few written stories published in Surfer's Path and Women's Surf Life. What were the stories about?
Paul: One was about Mexico. The other one was about Namibia. About traveling in Namibia. I have a few other stories that I think I'm going to put up on the website. Not just yet but… Surfer's Path said they're going to publish one on Baja but they said that last year and they haven't yet so… maybe they won't. If not maybe I'll just put it on my web site.

Niceness: In your opinion, where are the best waves on earth?
Paul: I don't know. I think there are a lot of best waves on earth. But.. my favorite wave has got to be Jeffrey's Bay. It's just such a fast, long perfect point.

Niceness: The crowds didn't ruin it?
Paul: Crowds can be a hassle but it's such a long point that you can find spots along the point or at the beach break that aren't so crowded. And then there's Rincon and Malibu. I just love right points.

Niceness: Can you give a quick list of the some of the places you've traveled.
Paul: Basically all over Mexico. I lived in Mexico City for a little bit. I've traveled the coast pretty much from Alaska, through Canada. Washington and Oregon. Washington's kinda tough. All the way south through central Chili. A little bit on the east coast of South America too. A little bit in Argentina. And a little bit of Brazil. But, very little. Just weeks. Southern Africa. Namibia and South Africa. The Maldives. Australia. China. India. Pretty much all of Europe and a lot of Eastern Europe. I'm forgetting some stuff. I've never been to Hawaii or Indonesia. I've been to Fiji and New Zealand. New Zealand is gorgeous. I did most of my traveling before I started photography.

Niceness: What about in the next few years. What spots do you think you're going to check out?
Paul: I don't know. I got my trips lined up. I'm going to Alaska this summer and Morocco for a little bit. Then next year I'm planning another trip into Africa. Into southern Africa. I'm going to go to South Africa again and then I'm going to run a tour of Namibia. I'm trying to get about eight people together to pay for this tour. I can charge much less than tour companies and the people can really participate in traveling, driving and cooking. It is affordable for them and gets me and my wife to Africa.

Niceness: You took a bunch of striking photos of the Himba people in Namibia. What's their lifestyle like?
Paul: It's interesting. The women are the only ones that have the traditional garb. The men pretty much wear western clothing. I saw a guy wearing a Nike shirt. They still live completely traditional. Mud huts. Live off the goats, pretty much. Mostly meat. They eat the goats, drink the milk. They had some porridge thing. I don't really know what it was. I think it was like millet. But AIDS is basically just killing them off in a big way. Have you ever heard of "It takes a village?"

Niceness: No, I don't think so.
Paul: Hillary Clinton wrote a book called, "it takes a village." This whole thing in Africa where the village raises the children. It goes beyond that where basically all the women and the men are basically having sex with each other. The tradition is that you have a child before you get married and that your husband isn't necessarily the father of the children. Everybody shares in the raising of the children. So.. because of that, AIDS is basically taking people out. Some of the villages that used to be 30 or 40 people are now down to 15 or 20 people because of AIDS. Also a lot of the men go work in the cities and they come back and…

Niceness: that's horrible.
Paul: Yeah.. but.. they're beautiful people. Just amazing. The language gap was bigger than I've ever had. I've always kind-of been able to communicate. It was really difficult to communicate with them. Also the women really smelled bad. They don't bathe. Not at all.

Niceness: That's not something you can tell by the photos.
Paul: Yeah, they really smell.

Niceness: Thus the dreadlocks?
Paul: Well.. the dreadlocks are actually caked with mud and goat hair. So, it's not all their natural hair.

Niceness: What do you think of the surfing culture here in town?
Paul: You know I think it's changing a lot lately. You have Mollusk and Aqua that are kinda creating an art scene. There's this whole surf/art scene going on now. Wise surfboards, that's the way it's kinda always been. Their still doing what they've always done. In all reality I try to avoid the surfing culture. I avoid the points like crazy. I just don't really go. I usually surf alone.

Niceness: What do you think of the recently proposed semi-legalization of small-quantities of drugs in Mexico?
Paul: I think that some of it's good. I think that small amounts of any drug, legalizing is good. The thing that does worry me though is heroin. Because my brother died of heroin so I think that heroin is kind-of touchy. That's not something that you can play around with. But at the same time if they decriminalize it, which I don't believe they will, I'm hoping that they'll look at it more as a disease and try to treat it. Look at it as an illness but I don't see that happening. They don't really have the infrastructure for that. Then you can also see a lot of people from san diego and texas crossing over and getting their fix in Mexico. But I mean, marijuana and stuff. I think that's great for tourism. It gets the sketchiness out of a lot of people getting busted for petty crimes.

Niceness: I didn't know that about your brother.
Paul: Yeah, It was heavy. He was a good surfer too. When he quit surfing that's when I knew something was up. It's heavy.

Niceness: Do you have any favorite commenters on niceness?
Paul: Yeah, there's a bunch. Honestly I like them all. A lot of them are the anonymous ones that you don't really know who they are. It seems that there are a lot of really smart people on niceness. The ones who say who they are and are genuine. But then you get these anonymous clowns on there who just say stupid sometimes racist shit. Korewin's always good. He's always pretty level headed. And of course.. what's his name?? the tits and ass guy? DSX, 3to5, Bird, Lewis, Kaiser. Kaiser's always pretty funny. Kaiser never gets involved in the politics and stuff. It's always just tits and ass for him.

Niceness: You've voiced concern over the tits and ass. Do you think there's a place for that?
Paul: Yeah, after 3, you know. But I also think that it kind of isolates and objectifies half the people out there.

Niceness: Niceness after hours?
Paul: yeah.

Niceness: Have you ever had problems with locals or people taking offense to the fact that you're taking photos or that you've taken photos of surf spots?
Paul: You know. I can honestly say that I've had one person email, and it was a friend of mine, cause I posted the name of a street and the date. And it was this day when there were really good barrels. I got all these barrel shots and I posted the day and he emailed me the next day. I took down the street and the day. That was really it. One time someone yelled at me when I was driving by. Maybe it was a friend, I don't know. They voice concerns over certain spots and I try not to publish anything that's even remotely a secret.

Niceness: Do you cringe if you see a shot of OB or Fort Point in a surfing magazine?
Paul: Ahh.. that last Surfer magazine I got kind-of annoyed because I have a lot of good shots of OB and they published all those pictures of OB from different people that weren't from around here.. I was kind-of annoyed. But I've never actually submitted to them. I really don't submit much at all.

Niceness: Do you think that article will contribute to crowds?
Paul: You know, in all reality. I think that when Ocean Beach gets good it's already more crowded than a lot of places in Southern California. I mean I've been down to Huntington Beach and surfed the state beach down there when it's good and it's empty. I come up here and it's good and it's just fricken packed. I think that OB's hayday is gone as far as the uncrowded days. Except when it's big but I don't really go out when it's too big.

Niceness: What's an ideal day for you like?
Paul: Getting really good surf. It could be on the road or it could be here. Surfing in the morning, then chillin with my wife, then getting really good surf again. And then being so tired at the end of the day that my body is mush and I lay in a hammock for hours or sit in my hot tub.

Niceness: It probably happens like that occasionally for you?
Paul: Yeah, it happens all the time.

Niceness: Do you have any favorite writers?
Paul: You know, I really like Michael Kew's stuff. I know you just did that interview. I've always really liked his stuff. Makes me want to go to the south pacific. There's a guy name Victor villa senior who writes a lot about Mexico. I like Dave Parmenter's stuff too.

Niceness: What about favorite surfers?
Paul: Definitely Tom Curren. Rastovich. Then there's a lot of local surfers that I like. I like Sean Scallon, the longboarder. I enjoy watching him. John Kitamura is an Amazing surfer. Alex Martins. Ryan Seelbach. I was just paddling over a wave the other day and he was in the barrel. That was kinda cool. I like surfers who are solid, trim, carve and get barreled, I can care less about flashy tricks.

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