Those unfamiliar with “ocean cultures” are surprised to hear that surf and dive rarely overlap. It's felt taboo (even divisive at times) to explore diving as a surf brand, but an interest in diving has improved our lives in the most unexpected ways. We found community underwater and were surprised to discover how going below could inspire our creative practice.
Nobody personifies this more than Chef Tae Lee and Photographer and Filmmaker Tyler Schiffman, whose friendship grew over a mutual love of diving. Each of their creative outputs is deeply informed by their experiences underwater, seen in Tae’s approach to sourcing and Tyler’s visual process.
To see them in action, Tae and Tyler invited us to an incredible showcase of both their talents in collaboration - an ambitious sea-to-table dinner for 30 guests based on that day’s catch in the Channel Islands. And to top it off, the whole meal would be prepared on the beach.
We’re excited to share the day as captured through Tyler’s eyes, and talk to him about his dive experiences.
Q: How did you and Tae begin freediving?
Six to seven years ago we were living together. I’d go dive, Tae would see me come back, and there was intrigue from day one. He’d say to me, “I want to get my own uni, my own lobsters.”
I brought him out and right away, he was like “This is amazing. I need to do this more.”, but it was also harder than he thought. A lot of people think it’s so much easier, but it’s always such a learning curve. It took a few times, but when he finally caught his first lobster, he was through the roof. He started to progress on his own. When he got scuba certified, we went to the Philippines together. We’ve been diving ever since. We’re going to Papua New Guinea in a few months.
Q: What role did diving play in strengthening your friendship?
There’s truly a joy of sharing my experience in the ocean with other people. It’s my home. Bringing Tae there was like sharing my home with him. And then bringing back the food and him cooking, was like him sharing his sense of home with me. We grew up in different parts of the US, but with diving, we were coming together to share these parts of ourselves. At the end of the day, we got to share a meal Tae cooked and tell stories about our time in the ocean. It was so nice.
Q: What role has diving played in your work as a creative?
As a photographer, it’s allowed me to slow down my visual process. In photography, there’s shoot and spray. Everyone is at fault for doing that at one point in their career. On land, you can plan how things come together, how to find the best photograph, where the sun is.
With the ocean, it all goes out the door. And no matter what photo you take, no two will ever be the same because it’s constantly changing. As a result, I’m very intentional with the shots I’m taking, the setups, and the framing so that when I sit down to edit, I don’t have 10 million of the same photos.
Q: How have you seen Tae’s creativity/cooking influenced by the ocean?
I get to see him be his fully creative self, in response to what we caught that day. He’s got Dirty Taco and his other concepts going, but you’re cooking the same menu. There’s a routine. It’s creative, but there’s also a formula. When we dive, he’s fully creating on the spot and trying different things.
Q: What do you admire about Tae as a diver and chef?
I think Tae has a huge appreciation for where his seafood comes from because he had the curiosity to go get it himself and he sees how hard it is. As a chef, he really knows where it’s coming from and how much work might have been put into it. That appreciation slows down his creative thought process. He’s selecting ingredients from specific places, knowing exactly the meal he wants to make from it, and how. As a result, I think his food is more refined, more thoughtful, and higher quality.