“I could stare at myself all day.”
So jokes Timothy Reed Murphy, after some phone issues have us FaceTiming for our interview. That said, who could blame him? The guy surfs and models, and has the looks for both. Those two things alone made him a great choice to embody the spirit of our new surf-inspired S.C. 59 fragrance in our photo shoot, but Timothy is more than the proverbial pretty face: He also devotes his time to surf therapy, helping both special needs children and wounded veterans get on the water. We asked him about his important work, and how he came to surf in the first place, over FaceTime as he walked from Whole Foods to his new home in Venice Beach.
Here’s what he told us.
Let’s start with the beginning: Where are you from, and how did you end up where you are?
I was born in Ohio, but wasn’t really living anywhere until I moved to Lake Elsinore. It’s in this valley where I could surf an hour away or go on the slopes an hour away. And I could skateboard. And when I was 19 I moved out to become a surf bum to Dana Point in the San Clemente area. I lived the surfer lifestyle, then ended up in the Caribbean for two years, being married, then unmarried and came back. Then Dana Point for three years, and now Venice Beach to pursue my passion for photography.
Why did you end up surfing?
Gosh. Just feeling small, and loving that, at any given moment you could be in an adrenaline-filled situation, or calmly floating on your back. The love that I have for it that’s developed slowly over time has been about respect and the healing that it has. An experience where you don’t even think that it’s really happening—on top of the water or below. I’m a free diver as well.
That’s awesome. So what does surfing mean to you?
Freedom and flow. It’s the ability to go do what you want, see what you want to see, but then having the knowledge and the skills to enjoy all that the ocean has to offer in all its different stages. Hurricane swells or small little peelers.
You describe yourself as a professional human. What do you mean by that?
Putting others first, finding out what really works and then dedicating your life to that. My skills and talents really work in the special needs community and the veteran community. I’ve determined that that’s gonna be my life’s work. Now that I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m gonna do in the world.
Which brings us to surf therapy. It sounds awesome. How did you get involved with that and why?
It’s everything I love about surfing, but it’s about somebody else. Surfing is a selfish sport—it’s all about you riding the wave. Helping people who couldn’t have that experience, that’s what draws me—making the impossible happen. Everybody’s facing their fears.
The first time I volunteered at a Walk on Water event, the instructor took out these full-grown adults in tandem, 200-pound adults. As skilled as I am, that was new to me. It never ceases to challenge. It gets sketchy sometimes.
Sketchy? How so?
That’s one of the best things about it. I just did a solo camping surf trip through Big Sur. I was the only one out there, and I was getting ice cream headaches with every duck dive. I said, “Why am I out here?” As soon as I did, there was a break and I made it out there, and it was massive and windy and scary, and I thought about my life, and when you sit there and think about your life, something changes, and it puts things in perspective. I feel small out there. I got three waves and that was all I wanted..
That’s the second time you’ve referenced feeling small. A lot of people choose pursuits that make them feel big.
It’s not about me. A lot of things people do, like drugs or alcohol, make them feel larger than life. But at the end of the day they’re really not. Surfing is the great equalizer. Put anyone in water and it will make a fool out of them, no matter what they are on land. When you put yourself in something that’s bigger than you, you have a different level of respect. That’s why surfers care so much about protecting the environment.
That makes sense. It’s communal.
Sharing that stoke is what’s important in this lifetime. Sharing that ability and that training, whether it’s people who want to be a surf therapist or a child with special needs or a wounded veteran with PTSD. Something that will make them feel good afterwards. That’s the all-around best workout church out there.
What are your goals as a surf therapist?
There’s no real thing as a quote “surf therapist.” There are physical therapists who use surfing as a vehicle. We’re a group of good-hearted surfers who can connect with special-needs children and adults. I’d like to see it be more of a legitimate thing—certifying would-be surfers to safely administer tandem surfing. I have a global plan to visit different surf therapy organizations and bring awareness to that. Every organization needs more volunteers and more donations. For me for now, it’s about exposure.
How can our readers learn more?
You have to experience it. You don’t have to be a surfer, you just have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and maybe get wet. You might be holding a child’s hand to get them to us. But just being on the beach is where you feel it. Anything to find an organization near them would help them experience the magic.
So what’s your favorite place to surf?
Gosh. My favorite place to surf in the entire world is a little island called Dominica. I was one of three people on the island who knew how to surf—me, my friend and a local guy. There were 84-degree Caribbean waves. It was fun and empty. There’s warm water, you find a spot. The island’s not known for surfing but don’t let that fool you, there are good waves.
Do you have a favorite surf movie?
The Endless Summer II has been one of my favorites, but I also like some of the newer stuff like Thicker Than Water and Frame Lines. I also like the funny surf movies like the Drive Thru series where my friends who are pros show off the artistic and the fun side—which is more important, because if you’re not having fun then what’s the point?
You’re also a fantastic photographer, which doesn’t seem fair. What do you like to shoot with? How did you develop that talent, so to speak?
I’m still borrowing cameras because I had my equipment stolen out of my van a month ago.
But talent doesn’t come from the equipment. It’s the user. I had an artistic eye from a young age. What I found fun to draw was mostly waves, even before I was surfing. I try to capture a moment—I’m the fly on the wall shooting people when they least expect it. I was just shooting for the Life Goes On Foundation and took one of my favorite captures of one of our ambassadors hugging a woman in a wheelchair who has just had one of the best moments in her life. It really brings out the immense power these organizations can have not just on the athletes but on those who volunteer.
Any favorite stories from the shoot? I understand the wind was something fierce.
Ha! Dude, the boards were like freaking sails—take one turn into the wind and you and the board were going flying. The wind was the main issue, but the characters who were there—the guy who got the antique woody. Not only did he have a spinny-top hat like the fat boy from an old TV show, he popped it into reverse and he said you feel the gears and the wood? That’s how it should be. He would always get in the way—talking to someone when he wasn’t supposed to. Dugger, that was his name.
Amazing. That car is beautiful.
I enjoyed the surf feel of the shoot—the woody, the surfboard. I tie a lot of things into smell—food, cologne, what that girl was wearing that night.
How was working with Clara?
She’s great. We have a really strong small network now that I live in Venice Beach. She was super-light and easy to work with. It would’ve been great to surf with her, but again .. so windy. Her ability to be raw and share things that she was passionate about too.
She’s a model who started surfing. You’re a surfer who started modeling. Did you exchange tips?
Well, she had something to say about me wiping out on the first wave. [Laughs.] But she’s totally down and wants to help support surf therapy, so that’s good. That’s an aim of mine, to use the influence I have in the modeling world through social media because there are tons of people who have no idea that this is really a thing. Especially with wave technology becoming such a thing, we’re creating the perfect waves—there could be a lot of healing, even if you don’t live near the ocean.
Had you heard of PHLUR before? Did you get to try any of the scents?
I had never heard of it. I did try it. And I was lucky enough to come away with these small capsules of some of the scents. If you have the list, the lightest sweetest smell — I like things that aren’t in your face, like the one that was watery, Hanami.
Did this experience change the way you feel about fragrance or clean grooming in general?
You’re asking the wrong guy. Ha! I’m super-low maintenance. If they don’t like the way I smell, oh well.
Ha. Maybe we’ll change your mind.
Yeah, I mean, who wouldn’t want to smell better?