Shooting from the hip – Joe Cockle windsurfing photographer profile

Words and pics: Joe Cockle

Joe Cockle is one of those understated heroes. Always on hand to document wave sailing action that takes place in and around St Ives, Cornwall, Joe shoots from the hip whatever the weather. With the UK’s wave sailing epicentre of Gwithian on his doorstep he’s one of a handful that has his finger on the surf shredding pulse. Windsurfing UK caught up with Joe for a chat.

I’ve been shooting now about 15 years but over the last 10 years it’s been my main job. I’ve always had a passion for the sea and I spend a lot of my free time around the ocean, either surfing or fishing, so when I got into photography surf shots seemed the way forward. It soon became apparent that if the surf was good then I would go surfing meaning I’d never really get decent photos of people riding. About this time one of my closest friends, Lee ‘Pasty’ Harvey, was windsurfing and kitesurfing so it was only natural to start documenting these sessions. I got into it straight away as the basics were the same as surfing and there were lots of people to focus on locally. You also have the visual effect of massive airs which drew me in and the more I shot the easier it was to get good photos –  it was win win for me. I was close to the sea and doing something I loved at the same time.

I’m based in Penzance so I shoot Marazion, Gwithian and The Bluff mainly. It makes it special because it’s Cornwall. It’s not always sunny though so you have to make the most of those bright days. When it all comes together, as they say, there’s no place like home.

You can’t beat a good wipe out. There’s nothing quite like shots of your mates getting nailed. But wave riding has to be my favourite thing. Massive sail down bottom turns or smacking the lip in the pocket, it’s all good.

I spend a lot of time shooting Andy King. He’s a great sailor and we’ve become good friends over the years. If there’s even the slightest ramp then he’s going to hit it. He’s so consistent with back loops, push loops and forwards and one of the best riders down here. He’s always willing to give people advice and help as well.

Then you have people like Steve Thorp. Thorpy is so dedicated to the sport and travels thousands of miles chasseing a good forecast just to get that one good wave. You’ve got to respect his attitude. I’ve watched him put his body on the line to get a few really good waves from a session that he’s driven miles to get too rather than take the easy option and get a load of mediocre waves somewhere closer to home. When he’s in the water you always know something’s going to happen. There are also a load of great local guys like Ian Black, Andy Fawcett, Ian Ross and Steve King just to name a few.

I’ve shot a bit of surfing when there’s no wind in recent years but to be honest if there’s no wind then I’m more likely to be fishing somewhere. I’ve always got a camera close to hand so will snap the odd landscape or just things that catch my eye. A few of my friends play for local sports clubs so I’ll quite often photograph them if it’s a nice summer evening and the club house has a good draught beer on tap.

I love the winter in Cornwall. It’s so rewarding when everything comes together. Wind, waves and sunlight make for great photos. I love the winter search; looking for new spots that have been scoped out over the summer and come good during winter. But if anyone out there wants to pay me to move somewhere sunny for the off season then my bags will be packed within the hour!

I use Canon cameras and lenses. It was an easy choice as when I went to university they had lots of Canon kit you could borrow so I would’ve been stupid to use any other brand. I spend a lot of money on camera equipment but I upgrade regularly. I also shoot weddings so need to have kit at the higher end of the spectrum.

There is inspiration everywhere. I wake up with a house looking over St Michael’s Mount and realise how lucky I am to have grown up in Cornwall. Not many people can say they live less than 100 metres from the beach.

You have to get inspiration from people who do what they love everyday for a living and are always happy. I think too many people forget how short life is and working all hours under the sun is never going to make you happy.

I grew up surfing with Mickey Smith – he’s an amazing photographer and one of the most humble guys you will meet. He’s just happy living the life he lives. I love his dark, gritty black and white photography and some of his films from his time living in Ireland are well worth a watch.

My brother Jacob was an amazing photographer and great inspiration. He saw the world in a different light and loved surf photography until he passed away. He lived life one day at a time but it was great to have someone to bounce ideas off and share tips.

Ron Stoner photos from the early 1960’s surf scene in America are also great. The colour and composition are brilliant at a time when photography was pure film and no auto focus lenses. He was the leading light and pushed documentary surf photography to where it is today.

Then you have modern day photographers like Ben Thouard. He captures some of the most beautiful pictures of waves I have ever seen. Sean Davey has an amazing collection of surf and lifestyle photos and also is a great guy happy to talk about his work and share a few tips.

I sale a few images from days at the beach so yeah I make enough to make it worth the trip. But it’s something I enjoy so it’s not all about the money. It’s more about being out with the camera and being close to the sea.

I shoot weddings for a living, as I’ve mentioned. It’s strange to say but it’s very similar to sports photography as it’s all about capturing the perfect moment. That spilt second of gold. I’ve been doing it for a long time and still enjoy the buzz. It’s nice to know people put their trust in me to record such an intimate day in their lives.

I think the Cornish windsurf scene is pretty good. There are lots of local riders but if I’m honest I don’t see many younger riders on the water. I shoot wave riding when it’s going off so there’s a good chance those groms are out there but not quite up to tackling the bigger days (yet). I think windsurfing is an expensive sport to get into. Something will have to change to bring in the younger generation. It’s not surfing where one board and wetsuit will be enough. It’s a big investment and surely for the long term future of the sport it has to become more affordable.

I don’t think the UK scene gets enough exposure. We have world class venues and riders but you never see much coverage in magazines. A lot of that is down to the fact we get the best waves and wind in the winter months when the light is poor. But you used to see local write ups – that seems to have come to an end. I just don’t see how we can encourage new generations into a sport if the coverage is not there.

We need more magazine coverage, more online coverage and we need to bring the PWA here – I’d love to see world tour pros in Cornwall. The Red Bull Strom Chase got a lot of local and national media attention. That was great. We need more of that.

Cornwall’s such a chilled place to live, I don’t think anyone really cares what craft you ride. 99% of the time if the conditions mean you’re out windsurfing then not a lot of people will be surfing so there’s no hassle factor.

I really like Ireland. The coastline is stunning and like Cornwall it’s very much about searching. There’s lots of potential and very few sailors. I’d love to travel more shooting but at the moment I have a wedding photography business making me a decent living so life is good.

A really memorable session was when I’d just started to work out the sport and how to get the best angles and what settings worked best. It was a one of those days you get in Cornwall where it was going from perfect blue skies to wet every half hour. It must have been 10 years ago but I remember getting home and checking through the photos I’d taken and having a load of good great shots. Some sick bottom turns, a few good aerials and a brilliant wipeout photo of Andy King – it’s still one of my favourite pics to date.

We recently lost a local legend Mel Sedgwick. He’s been shooting West Cornwall beach life for longer than I care to remember, be it windsurfing, kitesurfing or surfing. So this goes out to his family. He was generally one of the happiest guys I’ve ever met. Whenever there was a chance to shoot he would be down the beach, rain or shine, smile on face and coffee in hand. It’s not often you meet someone who spent their life doing something they loved every day. He was always surrounded by his family and he was one of those great people. A true gent and someone who will be missed by everyone who spent some time with him – RIP mate.

See more of Joe’s images at



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