Outer Banks legend Mickey McCarthy to be honored at film festival

Photographer Mickey McCarthy captures surfers in a swell of Hurricane Gonzalo in 2014.

As a surfer you meet heaps of people. With some people you stay connected in the water, and with some the experience is more fleeting. And then there are those who stick with you no matter where you go. Mickey McCarthy was one of those people. At the mere mention of his name, a smile broadens the face of anyone who ever met him.

Thirty-five years ago you would’ve found Mickey in his shop, New Sun, covered in fiberglass, slinging boards to all the frothing groms on the beach. If you surfed, you wanted one of his boards; they were and still are a treasure.

As a means to promote his surfboard shapes, Mickey began taking photos. From that point his future unfolded in a new path. Photography became his vehicle, one that would help him share his great love of surfing and of the East Coast with the local and global community.

Mickey got a big break with Eastern Surf Magazine, where some of his shots were first published. Those early days were different; when the surf came up you wouldn’t find lenses perched atop every boardwalk and pier within a mile radius. Mickey was usually the only photographer and he was always there, and it’s because of his patience, talent and perseverance that he became of the most recognized names in East Coast surf photography.

Unfortunately, Mickey, often called 2M, passed away on December 23, 2016. But he left a legacy that’s being lived out by a slew of up-and-coming surf photographers.

Mickey will be honored at the Surfalorus Film Festival — which brings an eclectic array of local, regional, national and international surf films — to the Outer Banks.

The free, family-friendly event will showcase numerous surf films at various venues, including Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head (Thursday, Sept. 21), Dare County Arts Council in Manteo (Friday, Sept. 22) and the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills (Saturday, Sept. 23).

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and screenings will start at 7 p.m. each evening.

“Oh man, where do you start?” says Anthony Leone, a local surf photographer, who adds that the first time he surfed it was on one of Mickey’s New Sun boards. “I remember when I first got into shooting surf, 2M was the total inspiration. I spent a lot of time on the beach and piers shooting with him.”

Mickey’s style of photography is unforgettable. His pier angle always captured that perfect moment in time just as a wave was cresting or as a surfer was emerging from a barrel. His shots were a bird’s eye view of our best and worst moments.

“He basically owned the pier angle,” Leone says, “and as long as I’ve tried to shoot those, I still compare all my pier shots to his. It’s basically the benchmark for shooting on the Outer Banks.”

“In fact,” Leone says, “same goes for his slow shutter speed pan shots. He was the first person I saw doing these on the island, and just like the pier shots, any time I shot them his were the comparison.”

The world of surfing can be quite competitive, especially when it comes to photography. But Mickey always greeted everyone, including his fellow photographers, with a smile.

“Lots of photographers get bummed when other shooters show up,” Leone says. “Mickey was always stoked and down to help others out. The fact that I can shoot clear water shots is because of the advice he gave me.”

It seems that when good things were happening, Mickey was there, with his camera and that infectious smile. From parties and benefits to full moons and enchanting waters glowing with bioluminescence, he was able to capture it all so that we will never forget those moments.

“He was and still is, who I want to be,” Leone says. “I don’t think there is a better archetype of a human being to look up to. If I can reach half of what he did I would call it a success.”

This story originally appeared in the January-February 2017 edition of Coast.

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