At 22, when his pro surfing career ended, Stephen Friedman had been chasing waves for half his life.
As an 11-year-old growing up in Ballito, South Africa, Friedman was gifted an old hand-me-down board by a neighbour. One nudge from a Ballito barrel was all it took — Friedman spent the next decade traveling the world, winning competitions and making a name for himself in the World Surf League.
Then his career was cut short by an injury, and for a while, he lost his way. What lifted him out of the hole was the love of travel that surfing had taught him — he decided to take up filmmaking as a way to feed his drive to explore.
We talked to Friedman about waves, wandering and why 360 cameras make for surprisingly good surfing coaches.
1. Where are you based now and what are you up to?
As of now, I live between London and the USA. I own a TV and film production company based in London. So I travel a lot, which is a good thing, as it keeps me on my toes.
2. You’ve been surfing since you were 11 years old. What motivates you to keep paddling out?
Fun and being able to just be who I want to be. No rules, no worries, no system. You get to step off the continent, away from all the nonsense that surrounds us all on a daily basis. You get to let your mind drift off to a realm of pure joy that nothing can compare or come close to — the simple gesture of what a riding a wave can give you. Bottom line is surfing makes me happy.
3. What do you think of 360 cameras as a tool for capturing surfing? What has your experience with the Insta360 ONE been like on the waves?
It’s a great tool to capture unique content and moments in general — in and out the water. On the surfing side, you can use 360 cameras to help with your technique and work on improving on certain points of your surfing approach. With the 360 capturing, you are able to focus on where your eye line is when you are going to do a turn and on your body positioning. So that’s a big plus — using an Insta360 camera to improve your surfing.
4. Along with surfing, you’re a seasoned traveler with your own travel series on Nat Geo. What advice do you have for someone who’s looking to break away from a 9-to-5 and make the jump into more world travel?
Well I started traveling around the world when I was 16, competing on the World Surf Tour. After an injury that ended my pro career at age 22, I lost my major surf sponsors and I was in a bad place. I didn’t know what to do, as surfing and traveling was all I knew. I started looking for other ways to continue to travel and surf. So I wrote out my first TV show concept, which of course was a travel show. I had no idea what I was doing as I had never produced let alone created a TV show before. But I had an idea and a game plan and I took a chance and went to London to go and sell this concept to a major TV network. I managed to set up meetings with a bunch of TV networks and, long story short, Fox Networks made me my first offer and gave my my big break and introduction to an industry where I was able to let my imagination go wild.
I started my production company, called Save Your Day Films, and we have produced and created over 28 titles to date. The travel series you mentioned that airs on Nat Geo is called “Chasing The Sun” — it’s a passion project production as we get to travel and create stories from around the world. It’s a unique series with a lot of heart. We are busy gearing up and prepping to film the next season, where we are focusing on Asia. So my advice is: If you have a passion for something, motivation and believe in your self, just do it and push your own swing in life. There are dozens of ways to go about it — for me, it was creating my first TV show 10 years ago. But for someone who wants to get a quick fix to travel somewhere around the world and have a unique experience, I would suggest a volunteer program — they offer so many rewarding life lessons and you get to see the world and the people in it.
5. You’ve been all over the world. What have your travels taught you? Any experiences that have left a particularly lasting impression?
Wear sunscreen, never forget your manners, be kind and open to new ideas. Don’t litter and help stray animals in need.
6. Top three destinations?
I’ve been to 80 countries so it’s hard to pick my favorite. But off the top of my head, I would say, Rwanda, Berlin and I love Bali.