This year we’re celebrating Father’s Day by profiling dad-photographer-entrepreneur Eugene Tan of Aquabumps fame, who has created a successful business from doing the things he loves, and despite his hectic globetrotting schedule, still manages to drop his boys to school and join them for dinner. We asked him how he realised his dream job, and now keeps his life in balance. Here’s what we learnt …
Eugene Tan aka Uge created Aquabumps from his love of photography and the ocean. You may recognise his iconic aerial shots of Bondi Beach, that have become a daily fix for 40,000 email subscribers and 122,000 Instagram followers. The aim of the images is to transport viewers from their workstation to a place or space where they can almost smell the salt and feel the sand – even if just for a moment!
Uge bought his first camera at the age of eight, and photography became his passion, leading him to spend more time in the dark room than the class room, and to an attempted conversion of the family bathroom into his private film processing lab.
Design and creativity had always been in his blood, then in his teens the lure of the surf took hold. So when he moved to Bondi for a graphic design job in his twenties he established an early morning surf and snapshot ritual, before his intensive days at work. What he didn’t know then was that the Aquabumps empire was already in the pipeline.
Eugene would email the beach shots to mates in Perth to tempt them east, they’d forward it to their friends, and the email chain spread like wildfire, inspiring the first official Aquabumps daily newsletter send in 1999. Growth was meteoric and a website, blog and Instagram feed quickly followed. In 2004 he took the leap to leave his day job, borrowed money from his parents, and put in endless hours of hard work to set up his fine art gallery in Bondi, that’s now a go-to destination for international travelers and celebrities – like Will Smith.
Eugene however credits his wife Deb for the commercial success of the business. Not only did her sales and advertising skills allow her to negotiate an Aquabumps print for half price on their first meeting, but she’s navigated the business into a new direction of high-end brand collaborations with global giants such as Dropbox and Google Pixel, as well as local creatives including Blacklist Studio, the Australian Ballet and Dion Lee.
All of this requires Eugene to regularly hop a flight to Hawaii, Italy, Brazil or the Barrier Reef but he still makes sure family comes first, shaping his busy life to ensure there’s plenty of time for Debbie and his boys. Here’s how he does it …
You’ve got a busy work life including lots of international travel. How do you ensure you also get quality family time?
Yes, I do travel a lot – but when I’m in Sydney I have flexibility with our own business, so most days I get to walk my boys to school and am home in time for us to all have dinner together. My family is a priority for me, so I always make sure when I’m here that we have lots of time together. We head out of town up the coast at least once a month too.
Do your boys share your love of the water and creativity?
Both our boys are very creative. Jet is especially, he’s an amazing drawer and incredible at building Lego. Spike has just shown he’s quite the artist too. He’s four and just drew this incredible outline of his night time routine at home and all from above (must have been looking at my aerial images). They both love the water, and Jet’s surfing and out the back with me. They are very energetic and full of life – non-stop, just like I was as a kid.
Are you the family photographer too?
Yeah I am the family photographer – love taking pictures of our boys as they grow and change. We often print them and have them framed around the house at home, send them to family through Whatsapp. I love the idea of keeping them in a photo book so they can see them when they are older.
What do you love most about being a dad?
I love that it keeps you young and that you get to experience life through their eyes for the first time. I love going on adventures with the boys as they love all the things I do, like skateboarding and surfing. They are funny little buggers and come out with some awesome conversations and one liners.
What advice do you give Jet and Spike for their future?
To find what they love and then they won’t feel like they’ve worked a day in their life. I would love them to follow in my footsteps and take over the Aquabumps family business, but my advice is always to just find that thing that you are interested in and passionate about. I tell them to travel and to see the world and that when they are a little older they can come with me on my trips, as soon as they can help carry my camera bags!
Create a Father’s Day gift for your family man
Jet, Spike and Debbie created for a book for Father’s Day that you can flick through here, and if you’re inspired to create your own, download the Momento software and submit your order by 14 August (for Standard orders) or 21 August (for Priority orders).
Thanks to Julia Wheeler Photography for the professional portrait shots, Eugene and Debbie for the family photos, and Jet and Spike for their excellent artwork.