Surfer|Volume 61, Issue 1
During the winter in the Scottish Highlands, daylight hours are limited. The sun, after it rises at nearly 9 a.m., spends the rest of the day hovering low in the southern sky, casting a warm glow over rolling green farmlands dotted with sheep and the occasional tractor. Beneath this sort of low-lit amphitheater of rugged cliffs and endless farmsteads on a cold, windy morning this past December, Byron Bay native Torren Martyn sat in the water alone over a shallow slab. Waves traveling from the northwest would hit a low shelf and furl over into cavernous shapes before closing out in the shallows on the inside. Martyn had been tucking his long-limbed, 6'1" frame into tube after tube for about 45 minutes—then things went a little sideways.
Standing atop the cliff overlooking the slab, I could see Martyn take off on a particularly diabolical-looking wave. After getting to his feet, he caught a rail and went down hard. When he surfaced, his board—an elegant 6'4" twin fin—was severed in half. Martyn ran back up the cliff, shaking his neoprene-covered head. “Ahhh, I’m so bummed!” he said, before riffling through his big white van in search of a 6'6" with a triple stringer, also a twin. He looked at the beautifully-crafted board, then back at the snarling slab out at sea, doing a quick risk/reward calculation. It was his favorite board. “I’ll be super bummed if something happens to this one,” he said. “But I can’t not get back out there…”
I’d only just joined Martyn in Scotland the night before, but he and his best friend and videographer, Ishka Folkwell, had been wandering Europe in search of waves for a month already. They purchased the van, a 2008 Ford Transit, on the cheap in England and retrofitted it into a makeshift home-on-wheels. It had looked road worthy enough, but after doing a closer inspection post-purchase, they realized their chariot wasn’t exactly ready to cross continents. It broke down en route to the mechanic, who informed the two that it would need a new clutch, a new timing chain, a new water pump and the removal of a huge panel of rust. “We’ve basically got a lemon on our hands,” Martyn had told me earlier.
Inside the van, they jerry-rigged a kitchen up near the cab, complete with scrap-wood shelves. A camp stove sat on one shelf, with what looked to be a month’s-worth of rice, beans, tortillas and muesli shoved beneath it. A small, wood-framed loveseat they found at a thrift store was nudged against the opposite wall. Toward the rear of the van was a bunkbed, with a top mattress that seemed barely large enough to accommodate a small child. Above it all, little droplets of condensation perpetually clung to the ceiling.
This would be Martyn and Folkwell’s home for the foreseeable future. They planned to explore waves along Scotland’s rugged, slab-laden coastline for the next week before driving across southern Europe, down through Morocco and finishing, hopefully, along the shores of Senegal. This itinerary had no real schedule, and they’d roam at whatever pace the swell set, trying to get each zone at its best and hopefully ending up with a full-length surf film on their hands by the time they headed home.
This wasn’t Martyn and Folkwell’s first rodeo when it comes to creating films from feral surf hunts. The pair have been friends since high school, traveling around the world together on trips like this one in the years since—Folkwell behind the camera, Martyn out in the water. Back in 2016, the duo spent three months circumnavigating Australia in a red 1987 Land Rover Defender, with their adventure eventually becoming the online series, “Lost Track”. In 2018, they purchased two 400-pound Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycles in Auckland and spent another three months zigzagging around New Zealand with nothing but camping gear and surfboards in tow, often sleeping in soggy tents amid torrential downpours. “This is full-on glamping compared to that trip,” Martyn had told me. A film from that trip is still in the works, slated for a whenever-they-get-around-to-it release.
Last year saw the release of perhaps the most pivotal film for Martyn. In filmmaker Perry Gershkow’s “Tesoro Enterrado”, Martyn is seen threading Mexican tubes so hollow they curve below sea level. In each cylinder, Martyn gracefully steers a hulking 7'2" channel-bottomed twin fin down the length of empty, sand-bottomed points. His tall, sinewy frame dances along the stretched-out craft, going from hard turns offthe tail to fluid tube stalls and cat-like cheater fives. The whole thing looks like a study in the economy of movement, linking everything together without appearing to use any effort at all.
The waves in the film are mesmerizing, but it’s the novelty of seeing them ridden—and ridden exceptionally well—on a low-rockered, dual-finned mid-length that makes the footage so arresting.
Over the past few years, Martyn’s name has become synonymous with twin-fin experimentation. Much like how San Diego’s Ryan Burch changed the way people view the performance potential of fishy boards in 2015’s “Psychic Migrations”, Martyn’s video parts are flipping the conventional thinking surrounding longer twins on its head. He rides ‘70s-style templates combined with modern design upgrades at waves normally overrun with conventional high-performance thrusters: think double-overhead Nias, kegging Desert Point or 8-foot Jeffreys Bay.
But it’s more than just the outlines of Martyn’s boards that echo another era. Before I met up with him in Scotland, I’d been thumbing through some old issues of SURFER at our offices, doing research for various projects celebrating the magazine’s 60th anniversary. At one point I’d landed on a 8-spread travelogue published in September of 1969—when design ideas were being flipped on their head daily amid the Shortboard Revolution—that chronicled a group of surfers who bought a VW van in Europe and spent a couple months wandering along the coasts of France and Portugal, appraising their own experimental craft in exotic waves. Much has changed since that article was published, of course, but the spirit of that time felt very much alive in that damp van loaded with strange twin fins rolling through the Scottish countryside, with Martyn testing ideas and letting the surf lead the way.
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Volume 61, Issue 1