Gun’s Up! Portrait Series: Colin Burling, Jeff Burling and the Burling boys

Gun’s Up! Portrait Series: Colin Burling, Jeff Burling and the Burling boys

Gun’s Up! is a book project dedicated to the sport of surf rowing.

For the unitiated, surf rowing is a surf life saving sport that pits a crew of boaties (rowers and a sweep) against the wild and roaring ocean with nothing more than a heavy wooden boat between them and the elements. It’s a race to the cans and back to the beach with each crew gunning for lead. Not for the faint hearted, the raw physicality, the risk-taking maneuvers and the ever-present chance that misjudging a swell can lead to instant disaster makes surf rowing spectacular part of each summer’s surf carnival season.

In years of photographing surf rowing competitions, I’ve come to realise that this sport, like many others, is driven by individuals who share a common passion and dedication: from the organisers and officials to the powerful boaties who ride the waves on their aquatic chargers. It’s a sport that cements friendships and builds lifelong bonds within and between generations.

To show the camarederie and mateship that develops between individuals in surf rowing, a significant part of Gun’s Up! will be dedicated to portraits of the people who are the sport: best mates who row together, fathers/mothers and sons/daughters who crew the same boat, brothers, sisters, generations of surf rowers in one family…

These are studio portraits, taking the boaties away from the beach and the ocean, and placing them in a setting where nothing can distract us from engaging with them as individuals. In their togs and club colours, the boaties and officials look directly at us, and we at them.

In this series, you will meet dads and mums, grandparents, best friends, husbands and wives, partners, brothers, sisters.


The WA surf rowing scene is replete with stories of generations of a family who have rowed and continue to row in their dedication to the sport. The Burlings is one such family, with a cross -generational passion for the sport that is second to none. Colin Burling is “the voice of the west”, having called boat competitions since forever. His son, Jeff, is Boat Captain at Cottesloe SLSC, a die-hard one-club man who has dedicated himself to that position for the last 14 years. “Burlo”as Jeff is known to his mates is a face synonymous with WA surf rowing.

Jeff and Colin, and Jeff’s young sons, Josh and Xander, are the first cab of the rank in the Gun’s Up! portrait series. What a fantastic way to kick off this project with portraits of a family of rowers. No doubt, the young boys will, when they come of age, pick up their oars at Cottesloe and await the proclamation “Gun’s up!” followed by the crack of the starter pistol.

My thanks to Jeff, Colin and Melissa Burling for their participation in the first shoot (Melissa provided behind-the-scenes support with the boys).

I look forward to continuing this project with other rowers in the next few months. If any WA surf-rowers would like to be featured in this project, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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