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Paddling Pals - Salcombe Profile

PUBLISHED: 15:48 21 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:35 20 February 2013

PHOTO: Nick Philbedge

PHOTO: Nick Philbedge

Anna Turns meets two best friends whose lifestyles and careers have both been inspired by the sea and a shared passion for underwater imagery

Photographer Nick Philbedge and Cameraman Scott Tibbles both have jobs most boys only dream of, and their fascination with the ocean and their friendship has gone deeper with the years.

Scott and Nick met thirty years ago while studying photography at the Plymouth College of Art and Design. As Nick puts it, Scottie was always up for a splash so we hit it off straight away. Today, Nick is a commercial location photographer, taking still photos above and below the waterline, and Scott is a freelance lighting cameraman specialising in filming underwater as well as on dry land for programmes such as BBC Springwatch and BBC UK Oceans. Their careers have taken each of them around the globe to far-flung places, often in opposite directions, but now Scott and Nick once again live in the same place, on the shores of Salcombe Estuary in South Devon.

Scott has always loved the sea. I spent three years studying next to, on, in and under the water. It just felt like such a normal thing to do. And for Nick, the chance to study photography by the sea was a dream come true. He explains, Salt water has always run through my blood from stories of my dads travelling adventures in the Navy, sailing square riggers, Sea Cadets and summer holidays in Salcombe as a young teenager.

I grew up in Leicester, where I was rationed to only one seaside holiday a year! says Nick. After spending three fabulous years at college in Plymouth, and having loved Devon and the sea, I worked between London and California for a number of years, always yearning to return. Even our wet and misty honeymoon in Salcombe couldnt prevent my ultimate desire to return with my family, so moving here in 2007 felt like I had come home.

Bristol-born Scott moved to live in North Devon at the age of 11, and after college, he trained as an assistant film cameraman in Plymouth. Although my work takes me all over the world, I have lived in Devon for most of my life, then back in Bristol for a few years. For Scott, Salcombe ticked a lot of boxes in a big black marker pen, and finally in 2008, he followed Nick back to Salcombe with his wife and young family.

On meeting them, it is very apparent that the pair both love the fact that they live minutes from the water and they feel so connected and in tune with the sea. For them it brings an inner calm. Scott and Nicks friendship seems to be entwined with their shared passion for the underwater world, with Salcombe as the perfect backdrop. And Salcombe in particular holds a very special place in their hearts. It doesnt get better, says Nick. Blue water, sandy beaches, a great hard-working, fun-loving community linked by their passion for Salcombe and the sea. And every day I see, hear and smell the sea.

Saltwater has always run through my blood

Its the most beautiful place, agrees Scott, although it can be mad in the summer with tourists enjoying our back garden, and then tumbleweed blows down the high street in the cold winter. Salcombe changes with the seasons and you learn to enjoy the busy and the quiet times.

Last year, the pair discovered the art of stand-up paddleboarding, which Scott describes as old man surfing. I first paddleboarded about eight months ago, paddling fully clothed on a slightly wobbly board around Queen Annes Battery in Plymouth, describes Scott. I didnt fall in, and once you get the hang of the balance its really easy.

Nick explains how Scott then roped him in to having a go. Scott got his paddleboard after trading in his windsurfing kit and, under the cover of darkness, one December evening we tried it out together at North Sands we were immediately hooked. Even though the waves werent ideal for beginners, it was priceless with lots of good banter and ridicule!
The following day, after having so much fun, I lost my mum unexpectedly, says Nick, and when I returned home Scott presented me with an identical paddleboard, tied to my roof bars, as a surprise. What a mate!

This summer, Scott has been paddleboarding as much as his little free time allows. My favourite way of escaping after being away from Salcombe with work is to take a paddleboard out from North Sands and see where the tide takes you, he says, before paddling back in on a small surf break on the tide change and enjoying a chilled beer at the Winking Prawn!

Nick now paddleboards a few times a week. Whether its a safari from Salcombe to the Millbrook Inn at Southpool, catching waves at North Sands or checking out my pots, I think its like walking on water, it feels that good and it is great exercise. Its a great activity, anyone can do it.
Though paddleboarding may be a well-earned break from work, they are always on the look-out for a new filming opportunity or a quirky angle from beneath the waves and this can add to the challenge.

Whether Im photographing a stunning country estate or the latest high-spec RIB, its always weather dependent, explains Nick, but once Im in the water the challenges are increased, not only the weather but sea conditions, clarity of water and complicated camera housings all viewed through a mask. Plus this all has to be achieved on one breath of air if Nick is free-diving below the surface. Free diving allows you to be totally at one with the water, theres no need for bulky kit but I still enjoy this amazing underwater world, says Nick. It can be so tranquil but, equally, full of excitement.

Occasionally, Nick swaps his camera for his spearfishing gun, so he can catch some supper. From sea bass, mullet or the occasional squid, it tastes twice as good when youve worked hard to catch your dinner. Its not for sport, I eat everything I catch, and it doesnt get fresher than this.

I feel as normal breathing beneath the waves as I do above them.

In contrast, Scott explores the underwater world with full SCUBA gear, which has its own advantages. You can sit in a square metre of marine life for an hour in three metres of water and just watch! Obviously you can go deeper, but shallow water can be as much fun. And how does Devon compare to exotic filming locations? I dont try to compare to places I've filmed around the world, but diving on your own patch is exciting because its always different and you don't know what to expect. Salcombe and the surrounding area has plenty to offer, from wrecks to eel grass and the marine critters that live there. I have not yet been lucky enough to see seahorses on my home turf though!

In our lifetime very few of us experience that zero gravity weightlessness without a visit to the moon, says Scott, but with careful buoyancy you can experience this underwater. Its the most fantastic feeling, and I feel as normal breathing beneath the waves as I do above them.

Scott may marvel at the many different underwater experiences he has had the opportunity to film worldwide but he still loves snorkelling around Smalls Cove in Salcombe estuary. It can also be inspiring when you realise just how fragile some of our marine life is down there and how it keeps hanging on in there, considering an awful lot of other things.
Nick also feels privileged to have access to this underwater world. Two-thirds of the planet is covered by the sea, but relatively few people go on it, let alone beneath it, where it is like youre swimming in an aquarium, quite mind-blowing really. And like Scott, he is very conscious of the oceans vulnerability. I know the sea is a special place but I was once told that you mustnt forget that the sea is the largest living organism in the world. Love it, enjoy it and respect it. Wise words.

You mustnt forget that the sea is the largest living organism in the world. Love it, enjoy it and respect it

Scotts and Nicks recommended stand-up paddleboard excursions:
Safari with Jo & Ant at Lushwind, Blackpool Sands, 07849 758987,
Have a go with Reactive Sports, Plymouth, 01752 403300,

See Nick Philbedges beautiful Seascapes at The Hope Cove Gallery, Ringrose, Modbury and The Art Caf in Kingsbridge.


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