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The Charlesworths: Living Inspired

Two super-creative and talented brothers from Auckland’s North Shore have found their feet in Otago’s student party culture and thumping line-ups. But for Sam and Ollie Charlesworth, life marches completely to their own beat. They’re not afraid to be different and they don’t conform to any one style. That’s a refreshing approach. Photographer Oscar Hetherington takes us inside their enviable student surfer lives.

Sam Charlesworth in full flight at a recent gig. Photo: Oscar Hetherington

“I remember at one point looking over and Ollie’s strumming the guitar and our mates on the side are handing him a huge container of home-brewed alcoholic ginger beer. They start pouring it into his mouth and he just keeps strumming away,” smiles Sam. He laughs as he recalls the Otago University Boardriders Club party, where he and his brother, and band members played on the tiny deck at a flat.

“At the end of the set I remember high-fiving Ollie and then everyone in the front row of the crowd,” he adds. “Then someone pulled me and I fell onto the crowd and crowd surfed the entire way around and back to the stage.” 

An enviable student-surfer-muso life in the south. Photo: Oscar Hetherington

Sam Charlesworth, 18, and older brother Ollie, 20, are both your typical surfers and all-round frothers with a desire to be free and do whatever they want. The clothes they wear are often from secondhand shops, they paint their nails black, are talented guitarists and don’t give a fuck about what other people think of them.

From crowd surfing at their gigs, through to scoring perfect waves in the Catlins together, they live to be stoked. They live for new experiences and are always chasing some sort of fear or adrenaline.

Sam confides in me that he has a whakatauki that he lives by.

“Tūwhitia te hopo,” he shares. “Which in Maori translates to feel the fear, but do it anyway. And I think that’s something that everybody should remember. Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.”  

“Tūwhitia te hopo … feel the fear, but do it anyway. I think that’s something that everybody should remember. Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.” 

The whakatauki of Sam Charlesworth
Sam Charlesworth deep on an icy cold Catlins runner. Photo: Oscar Hetherington

Watching these two boys do anything they love is inspiring in its own right.

I remember a day last year when their dad joined them for a few days of surfing in the Catlins. For 30-odd minutes we ended up pushing their dad’s rental car out of a snowy ditch that it had slid into before continuing down the road and scoring pumping waves in the snow.

I had only just met Sam at the time, but I remember him looking at me and saying, “this is fucking sick”.

He was not worrying about the cold, or the almost double overhead waves, or the things that lurked beneath them. He was the first one in the water that day – a good 10 minutes ahead of everyone else, but with Ollie right on his heels. I watched on as their dad dropped in on the biggest wave of the day and took a huge beating on the inside and ripped a wetsuit he’d borrowed from a flatmate of Ollie’s.

Sam as casual as at one of his new favourite waves. Photo: Oscar Hetherington

By the end of the day we had a snapped board, we had blown out a fin box and had buggered a wetsuit, but I could clearly see where the Charlesworths got their want for an adrenaline fix from. Even with a few mishaps and broken gear we all drove home stoked on life and just frothing at the experience we had all had been a part of. 
It hasn’t always been like that though, as Ollie tells me.

“It’s funny we look pretty much identical, but in terms of personality and all that we were almost complete opposites,” Ollie grins. “Pretty much just the last couple years through surfing and music we’ve gotten way closer, which has been sick.”

With both boys now playing live music together at student bars around town and surfing as much as possible they have a huge influence on one another.

“Obviously we are brothers, but we are also best mates, and each other’s biggest rivals at the same time,” Sam explains, summing the relationship up. 
I asked both boys how the other brother influences the way they surf or approach a wave.

“I watch the way Ollie surfs and I always think, ‘fuck that turn was sick, I wanna do that’. But then I analyse how he does that maneuver and I think about how I could do it better, and with more style,” Sam smiles.

With their interests so closely aligned they are constantly pushing each other forward in the water and in many other aspects of their life.

That’s what bought them to Dunedin. They chose to live and study in Otago for their university years for the culture and, more importantly, the waves.

Sam is studying a Bachelor of Music majoring in Studio Production, minoring in Marine Science and Te Reo Maori. Ollie is working towards a Bachelor of Science majoring in Ecology, minoring in Marine Science and Environmental Management. Yes, even their courses have some crossovers and show their common interests in the environment, the ocean and the way things work. 
Sam is a singer songwriter. He has written and produced four albums by himself – music is a huge passion and part of his life. Both boys have always had a different taste in music and only recently have found some common ground after leaving home and starting to play at gigs together. Their band, The Beatniks, is a four-piece that plays a mixture of covers, heavily influenced by the original Dunedin Sound greats, and Sam’s original music.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is their shared excitement for waves, music or parties. When driving to the beach conversations are about music, gigs, new songs and what’s on tonight. And then at parties and band practices together the night always finishes off with a yarn about the surf conditions and plans for the next few days of waves. It’s basically just a constant cycle of surfing, music and partying, which is a pretty epic culture and scene to be around.

When I asked Ollie about the culture and why he loves the Dunedin scene he put it simply:

“Our culture is to surf as much as you can, be a good person, make music, party and have as much fun as you can while still getting through a degree,” he laughs.

“Our culture is to surf as much as you can, be a good person, make music, party and have as much fun as you can while still getting through a degree.”

Ollie Charlesworth

It’s fair to say that Sam and Ollie have fallen in love with Dunedin’s ability to cater for all their needs

Ollie and Sam grew up in Auckland, where they learnt to surf before moving to Dunedin to study. They have early memories of being pushed onto waves by their dad at only around three or four years old. They both became hooked by surfing at a young age and they’d often chase any hint of a swell.

“I think living in Auckland my whole life kinda turned me into a full frother, because we never really had pumping waves so that gave me an appreciation for whatever waves we did get,” Sam reveals.

Their love for surfing drew them both to Dunedin – to a corner of the country that certainly has a lot more waves on offer than Auckland’s North Shore. It has been a catalyst for change – Sam and Ollie have both grown as surfers and as individuals in their few years in Dunedin.
Both brothers are at a point in their lives where pushing all boundaries is what they want to spend their time doing. It’s truly inspiring and addictive to watch these two do what they do, on the stage and in the line-ups.

If you’re lucky you can catch Sam and Ollie playing together at gigs around Dunedin and throughout New Zealand. You know they’ll be surfing shitloads as always and just chasing their passions.

As a photographer it’s unreal to be good mates with them and to document what they are doing. I feel like someone has to document such an influential and passionate pair of brothers – brothers who are pushing themselves, social norms and leading many parts of the Dunedin student scene and in many different aspects.

It feels like we’re getting a glimpse into the early days of something that’s brewing into a very special pathway for Sam and Ollie. Photo: Oscar Hetherington
*Sam has a new single coming out in the next few weeks called “Look Mum, I’m On TV”. It is a great tune and I strongly recommend you check it out!

Follow Sam & Ollie Charlesworth Here

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