123: Jeff Johnson/Mountain Of Storms

Jeff Johnson captured via Zoom, May 2020. Photo: Owen Tozer

Jeff Johnson is probably best known for his film 180 South, a film which saw him travel to Patagonia with Yvon Chouniard and Doug Tompkins in homage to the original 1960s odyssey that is such a defining part of Patagonia story.

But there’s much more to Jeff’s career than this admittedly epic highpoint. He’s a surfer, skater, climber, film-maker, photographer and journalist who’s had another one of those questing, roving careers I like to feature on the podcast. As you’re going to hear, Jeff’s tale is yet another example of how a bit of front and a lot of passion can lead you to some extraordinary and interesting places, as the stories of how he got his breaks at the Surfer’s Journal and, later, Patagonia illustrate. 

Jeff, May 2020. Photo: Tozer

Me and Jeff first started chatting around a year ago, so when lockdown kicked in I gave him a shout to arrange this conversation. Have to say, from our correspondence I had a feeling me and Jeff would hit it off and I’m glad to say we did. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, which we recorded in mid-May 2020 – hope you do too.

Listen to the episode below:

Connect With Jeff

Show Notes

  • Intro
  • Tech side of podcasts.
  • Annual British heatwave.
  • Travelling as a a flight attendant.
  • Jeff’s trip to Scotland.
  • Multi-sport travel with Roark. 
  • Smaller outdoor brands.
  • Scotch tours on the trip.
  • UK holidaying.
  • Trips to Europe.
  • “I just wish I did more european travel when I was younger.”
  • Europe surfing routine.
  • Moving back to Hawaii.
  • “For 15 years I just really missed it.”
  • Taking opportunities.
  • Unique Hawaii houses.
  • Changes on the North Shore.
  • Tourist season.
  • Turtle traffic.
  • “I still think it’s the best place on earth.”
  • Shitty but surfable days.
  • Endless water options.
  • Oahu in 1987.
  • Wild West on the North Shore.
  • Changes in the community.
  • “It’s more of a family vibe here.”
  • Jeff’s new book
  • Videos from 1987 skating a pool.
  • Collecting memories through photos.
  • “A great excuse to go visit all my friends.”
  • 1975 to 1989 in the East Bay of San Francisco.
  • A portal into the 70s.
  • The era of backyard pools.
  • Thrasher Mag DIY ramp plans. 
  • Getting caught stealing supplies for ramps.
  • Teenage rebellion.
  • Discovering your identity through music.
  • “We all quit our sports and got haircuts and skateboards.”
  • The influence of skateboarding.
  • Taking a different path.
  • “How am I going to get published in Surfer’s Journal?” 
  • Fatherly advice.
  • Work ethic.
  • The importance of showing up.
  • “I didn’t think I would ever make a living out of it.”
  • The next logical step of storytelling.
  • Getting articles and photos published.
  • Testing boardshorts and producing content for Patagonia. 
  • “She saw something special in my photography.”
  • Accepting your profession
  • “I guess this is what I do now”
  • Building the surf channel of Patagonia.
  • “I didn’t know I was their first staff photographer.”
  • “I learned a lot about photography.”
  • 180° South.
  • Living with the Malloy’s.
  • The original Mountain of Storms VHS.
  • The legendary Fitz Roy trip.
  • Climbing roadtrip in Australia.
  • Re-planning the Mountain of Storms trip.
  • “I just wanted this film to happen.”
  • Casting people for the film.
  • Access to great athletes.
  • “This is our story.”
  • Sailing south.
  • Dragging Keith up the North American Wall on El Capitan. 
  • Taking everybody out of their comfort zone.
  • Reflecting on experiences.
  • Access to the outdoors in Hawaii.
  • “Last year was the busiest year I ever had.”
  • Silver linings during covid times.
  • Photo and writing archives.
  • “I haven’t been on a photoshoot for months.”
  • Interviews on Hawaii.
  • Instagram Live.
  • “I’m busier than I thought I would be.”
  • Thoughts on ‘The state of surfing’.
  • Podcast with Chas Smith. 
  • Switching facts in podcasts.
  • “I think surfing lost it’s subculture edge years ago.”
  • Suf vs skate rebellion.
  • Chas’ provocative opinions.
  • Myth of surfing culture.
  • “I kind of miss the old guard on the North Shore.”
  • Rough times on Oahu.
  • Grassroots surf comps.
  • Not everything is different.
  • “You can’t become one of those grumpy old surfers.”
  • Kids getting shown their way on Hawaii.
  • Surf etiquette.
  • “That’s the new surfer.”
  • North Shore surf conditions.
  • “It’s been uncrowded and good waves.”

People Mentioned



Places Mentioned

  • Brighton, UK
  • Laguna Beach, California
  • Scotland
  • Western Isles, UK
  • South Pacific
  • South East Asia
  • Basque Coast, Europe
  • Portugal
  • North Shore, Oahu 
  • California, US
  • Patagonia, South America
  • Australia
  • El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Brands/Organisations/Companies Mentioned