Photographer Jimmy Metyko was born and raised in Texas. But in his childhood and teens he traveled often, thanks to his globetrotting parents.
“My father had this philosophy,” said Jimmy via phone. “He’d say, ‘You don't take a trip; you let the trip take you.’ And it’s always stuck in my mind that he had this need to say he did something. So if there was a border that’s three hours away, we had to take a detour just so we could put our foot across that border and say we were in that country.”
In 1973, at age 13, Jimmy and his family set off on a three-month, around-the-world trip. These were the days when people traveled with those big, heavy, cumbersome trunks. Before setting off, Jimmy’s mother instructed him to grab a couple of pieces of clothing. Jimmy grabbed a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes and slaps, a tuxedo, and a pair of Birdwells. He ended up basically living in his Birdwells.
“We went to Moscow, where it was cold. And I’m sure you’re going like, ‘How could anybody ever wear Birdwells there in that weather?’ But it was just your identity. And as a 13-year-old kid, all I cared about was surfing. I wanted everybody to know I was a surfer, and I didn’t care whether anybody understood that or not.”
It was on this trip that Jimmy fell in love with photography. “I started shooting because my dad loved cameras, and when we traveled, he was one of these camera nuts that brought every kind of camera possible,” he said.
In Hong Kong, Jimmy got his first SLR camera, and in India, in Calcutta, his father gave him his first assignment: to shoot Mother Teresa’s orphanage. “You saw all the stuff you can’t imagine seeing. And I only took photos of the orphanage and where the babies were, stuff like that. Some things I just didn’t feel right taking photos of.”
After traveling through the South Pacific, where Jimmy and his brothers surfed and bodysurfed over shallow coral reefs for the first time, the Metykos landed on the Gold Coast of Australia. Jimmy was stoked. He surfed fun waves at the beachbreaks around Palm Beach. At his father’s insistence, he paddled out at the legendary Burleigh Heads. He scored rifling, tubing rights. He met funny locals. It was an immersion in surf culture that he’d never had before.
“It was incredible. And the locals were all fascinated with this little Texan kid,” said Jimmy.
After a couple days on the Gold Coast, the Metyko family headed to the Coolangatta Airport to begin the long trip home. Waiting at the gate, Jimmy saw a face he recognized.
“I ran back to my parents and I said, ‘I think I just saw Peter Townend.’ And at that point, he had just become somebody because of the world championships in San Diego. And they go, ‘Well a guy just put some boards in the conveyor rack.’ I go, ‘Did he have like a blond goatee and blond hair?’ And they go, ‘Yes.’ At the gate I never introduced myself. I was too nervous. And on the plane I kept getting up and going to the bathroom and walking by him and staring at him. So finally we’re in Sydney. We’re in the airport and we’re waiting for our luggage, and he’s over there with whoever picked him up. And my mom just goes, ‘I’m tired of this.’ So I had a copy of Tracks magazine with PT on the cover, and she goes over there and she shows it to him and she goes, ‘Is this you?’ And PT goes, ‘Yeah.’ And then my mom waves me over, and so I was just the typical star-struck grom. And PT was uncomfortable being a surf star at that point. He signed my Tracks. It’s a funny story because years later we became friends.”
I asked Jimmy what he took away from this trip.
“On a practical note,” he said, “I learned how to travel; how to take in the good as it is presented, and how to relax when plans and circumstances inevitably go awry on the road. Anyone who has traveled extensively, then and now, understands that such a big part of it is these treasured collections of unique, seemingly once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can never be pulled from any magazine page. These experiences become a part of who you are, and quite often go undetected even to yourself until long after your travels.”
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