Drift Surfing Magazine
Words: Joe Conway
Photos: Nick Lavecchia, T. Colla, Grant Cornett, Justen Peters & Jim McGinley
East Coast surfers can be a callused lot, jumping for joy at first whiff of a hurricane. Never mind the more destructive tendencies of nature’s most powerful force—homes lost, entire communities uprooted—they come with a sidecar, the promise of real waves.
Never has that promise received more attention than with the late-August arrival of Hurricane Bill. As the forecasts reached a fever pitch, calling for triple overhead conditions up and down the Eastern seaboard, we sat in the Drift offices in Portland, Maine and slowly became aware that the collective gaze of the surfing world had turned to our fair state.
Bill brought the circus to town: Cyrus Sutton, Ryan Tatar and Jon Wegener flew in for a Korduroy.TV launch party (see that feature on Monday) and pros and photographers from both coasts, along with the requisite “swell event” Red Bull tow team, gallivanted through with half the population of MA, NY and NJ. Meanwhile the lobstermen shored up their boats and a thousand cynics groaned disapprovingly under the weight of the hype.
As you’ll see in this Drift Photo Gallery, Hurricane Bill delivered. Please enjoy, we sure did.
The mandala is an ancient symbol; a series of concentric circles coming together to represent a universe. It is a fitting emblem and moniker for Manuel C. Caro’s surfboard label, Mandala Custom Shapes. Manuel himself is a multifaceted man whose interests coalesce into particular clarity at opportune points, creating a universe of creative and expressive force. Anthropologist by education and by avocation, he is keenly aware of his standing among his peers—surfboard builders and craftsmen of the highest caliber. Filmmaker by training, Manuel views the world around him as imagery in layered depth and crafts shapes that engage surfing on it’s most superficial level: pure fun by way of form, tradition, progression and emotion.
Careful thought, obvious skill, and the fortune to be mentored by some of the finest shapers of recent times have earned Manuel a fair measure of success as a surfboard shaper.
We met up behind Moonlight Glassing in North County, San Diego, California to discuss the path that led him to create surfboards by hand and his future as a craftsman in the modern era.
“I earned a degree in anthropology and a degree in film production in college. After graduating I was in kind of post-grad limbo. That uncertainty was so daunting that I decided to just have a retail job and float around for a while. I lived in this old neighborhood in Oakland that you would not associate with someone who made surfboards. I made a shaping room in my basement and finally had a place to make a mess. I was so hesitant to do a board that it took me three months, just whittling away. My first board came out ok and I was hooked. I realized, “hey, I could do this.’”
A Natural Progression:
My six or seventh board was a red quad fish. I was on the way back from Baja and I stopped by The Greenroom, Rich “Toby” Pavel’s shop.
I had a board on order from Toby and I was just checking up on it. I was bugging him and finally I got into the shaping room and he shaped my board right there. In the meantime I was making my own boards and I brought one by and he was impressed. He was like, “Come here I made something for you.” It was a template for a 5’5” extended natural curve fish. I was blown away. It’s like giving someone a camera. You’re not going to show them how to take photos but you’re giving them a tool to get to a certain place.
It took me a long time to realize that the template was just a curve and with that curve you could build just about anything. Rich saw that I had potential because he saw that I was able to come to that conclusion on my own. He kept pointing the direction to the mountain but he didn’t tell me which trail to take. With Rich it’s never been about hard facts. He points the direction and sees if you make it. It’s like the Choose Your Own Adventure of Rich Pavel.
I had a crappy day job in Santa Cruz, but I was getting stopped coming out of the water after sessions and people were asking me to make them boards. It got to the point where I realized I could make enough money shaping so I quit the crappy job. That’s where there was a shift: I chose the path of shaping.
Then I had to decide what to call this new adventure. It’s almost comically cliché how the name came about, I was driving on the 5 freeway, listening to traditional sitar music, and I’m just past the grapevine, and I’m buzzing on what I should do with my life. Then I distinctly hear this bell in my mind, “ding!” And it came to me—Mandala. A lot of people make fun of the name, because it’s so from that era of psychedelics and so on. But really it’s fitting because in my life there are all these interests: making stuff with my hands, photography, music. With shaping I finally found a vehicle that all those interests could fit into, and that’s what a Mandala is, a series of concentric circles representing a universe.
You have to ask yourself, “Why do I shape?” Do you want to be someone who makes replicas or someone who makes originals? There was a point at which I was so slammed with orders that I tried the machine. I did it, but it was the most unsatisfying experience—utterly boring. It was kind of like getting handed a coloring book and being told, “This is what you make, so make it.” It didn’t provide any room for breakthroughs because if you wanted to change something you would have to go and talk with the computer guy and pay them to make a little change. Those types of changes are instantaneous and intuitive in the shaping room.
My shapes are episodes along a continuum of innovation of design. The shapes really reflect a personal evolution of understanding. That personal influence is so profoundly a part of what makes surfboard building special.
If you’re looking at the blank you envision the board first and adapt to whatever is happening with the foam. I am the machine.
Handmade boards are special—it’s kind of unquantifiable. And you know, people can tell it was made by hand and they’re making a choice when they call me up.
Just this morning I chatted with a customer who wants a board for a specific wave, his body type, his surfing, and what he wants the board to do. So I offered him a suggestion that would work. That’s the kind of thing I am really attracted to, being able to steer the ship wherever it needs to go at any moment. I take a great deal of pride in what I do. I want to make boards that become family heirlooms, not boards that have a planned obsolescence.
I always hear voices in the shaping room, like something Rich or Marc (Andreini) said at one point or another. They’ve had a strong hand in directing my thoughts on shaping. I’ve always been striving towards simplicity as a goal in everything. Marc’s approach is so simple, and so beautifully elegant that I was like, “I want to do that!” He doesn’t tell you what to do, it’s more like if you pick up on it then you’re in.
I really respect Rich as a craftsman. If anyone doubts that Rich can do it without the machine, just give him any blank and he’ll make the most beautiful custom board out of it. The same thing goes for Marc. He comes from a time when all the blanks were horrible. He had to make his own glue-ups and correct rockers and that’s how he learned to see the sculpture in the foam. I think that may be a dying art because we’re so used to instant gratification and reproducible perfection as the measuring bar instead of a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mindset. They invited me to their shaping rooms, and you don’t ask to watch someone shape, you get invited. It was like they were saying, “I need to hand off these skills and you’re qualified.” I remain honored.
My designs all flow from my surfing. When I began shaping it was because the fish was an insane platform. I got on a fish and it added like twenty years to my surfing life. My first fish was a Freeline Design 5’4 twin that I rode at Waddel Creek.
It’s funny, I was just there with Tyler (Warren), remembering tripping out on feeling that first fish session. That feeling had me saying “This is what I want to make.”
Then, a bit ago, my friend Alex Kopps got me to try a hull. It was at a jetty on my backside and it just sucked, so I let that go—I didn’t touch one for a few years. Then I tried an Andreini and it knocked my socks off! I couldn’t believe how fun it was. I remember feeling it, doing a really big bottom turn and just grooving on the high line and I realized, “this is what they’re talking about.” The sensation is great—I wasn’t even going very fast but it was just a feeling of fullness. Then I tried a really short hull, a little stubbie, and I was just stoked. It felt like sliding on a finless surfboard down a hill that was covered with grass that was covered with oil. I felt like I finally got to a place where I could enjoy the feeling. It wasn’t like “these are hard to ride and they’re cool because they’re hard,” but it was cool because you’re accessing a new feeling, a new emotion or sensation.
I think it’s inherent in human nature to want to experience altered forms of consciousness. Kids are all sitting around holding their breath or spinning in a circle and I feel like that just continues on. People do drugs, drink, and they also surf. They develop tolerance for those sensations, and then they need to feed that fire. Different designs are one way to get to that newness of feeling. I almost burned out on doing so many fish and working on the hulls is so wonderful.
Connecting to Tradition:
The shaping of surfboards started in Polynesia but it has evolved here in California. This is an opportunity for me to be a part of that lineage and continue that history. There are a lot of cultures all over the world that have a defining interest in craftsmanship as a culture. For instance the Japanese, everything they have, it matters who made it and how. They have national living treasures. The government subsidizes them so they can continue doing what they do.
There are families who go back for tens of generations who make cloth and dye it with indigo, people who make boxes, bells, swords, and they’ve perfected them. They’ve gotten so close to perfection in their craft that they define their culture. In a big way surfboards and the way surfboards are made define surfing. The part of me that cares about culture is sad to see hand shaped surfboards fade. Don’t let go of this, this is one of the last things we have that differentiates us from any other sport out there. Every time I give a customer a board I say thank you for supporting custom handmade surfboards. Maybe that’s important.
As far as shaping goes, I’m in junior high. I’m learning things and applying them. If you look at Terry Martin’s boards and feel his curves, those are things that are made by human hands that are so close to unspoken perfection. He’s a really humble guy—that’s the kind of person I want to be as I grow in shaping.
People will email me and ask to get help with their shaping but I’m not there yet. I had a moment with Rich once during the time when every time I’d visit he’d give me one more piece of the quad fish puzzle. Once he visited Santa Cruz and he’s like, “everything is looking good, I’m going to give you one last piece.” He showed me and I did it and he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, “Okay, now you are one of a very few people who are making boards like this.” I was handed the torch, and you have a responsibility with that torch. I could keep people warm or I could burn houses down. I still have a long way to go. I have a lot to prove with my shapes. It motivates me.
The disconnect between the way that art is most often presented, in carefully arranged, buffed and polished galleries and museums, and the disorder of every day life, is hard to ignore. June 13-October 3, the Laguna Art Museum will do its best to break down that discrepancy with Art Shacks, displaying hybrid art/architectural constructions by thirty-two artists. For four months, laser leveled formality will be replaced by a creative free-for-all of imperfect angles, tarps, corrugated metal, weather beaten wood, half-scale modernist dream homes, tattoo huts, miniature Victorian theaters and fantasy surf sanctuaries.
Art Shacks curator Greg Escalante, co-founder and current curator of Juxtapoz Magazine, was also the driving force behind Laguna Art Museum's 2007 retrospective of iconic surf artist Rick Griffin. A lifelong surfer himself, Escalante's relationship with the museum stems from his days competing against its director, Bolton Colburn, on the NSSA contest circuit.
"I was doing pretty good until I hit this one series—this guy from San Diego won all three contests, and that was Bolton," says Escalante. "That's how he first impressed me, we've done art things and surf things together ever since."
Escalante identifies previous works by SHAG, the Clayton Brothers and Mike Shine as the inspiration for the show. Shine's surf shack, based on the actual coastal getaway/studio just north of San Francisco where the artist paints and draws on driftwood in between sessions, has been installed at Miami Art Basel and The Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco in varying incarnations. In its travels the structure is a mini-movement unto itself, illustrating the connection between wave riding, creativity and the enduring ideal of escapism for inland art insiders and landlubbers where ever it goes.
While not every artist included in Art Shacks is a surfer, just as not every shack is a surf shack, in any exhibition staged in relative proximity to Malibu and Windansea by a curator who surfs there's bound to be some crossover. Pieces like Wolfgang Bloch's rendering of a single studio wall and Russell Crotty and Jed Lind's out-of-the-way surf spot sentinel, along with works by heavies like painter Kevin Ancell, multi-faceted conceptual artist Sandow Birk, surf and skate icon C.R. Stecyk and enigmatic hull mystic Esteban Bojorquez are the most likely to delve into surf legend and lore. Bojorquez, who joined the show by way of popular consensus amongst the other artists, has spent over 500 hours creating a tribute to the eight years he spent living in a converted chicken shack from 1982-90. His installation will feature relics from the era, during which he conducted exhaustive off-the-grid research on California's best point waves.
As a group, the artists assembled for "Art Shacks" defies classification. Some, like Jeff Gillette, whose shanty is based on the homes he visits while spending extensive amounts of time in Indian slums, have built bodies of work that consist largely of freestanding sculptural installations that fit the theme. Similarly, Michael C. McMillen's contribution can be seen as an extension of his "Pavillion of Rain" and "Red Trailer Motel" installations—buildings pieced together with the cast-off debris of society. Others, like Savannah Snow, Martin Wittfooth, Marion Peck and Mark Ryden point to Escalante's commitment to what he calls "New Brow" art, the foundation upon which he and his partners built Juxtapoz. Elements of classic "Lowbrow" tattoo and hot rod culture, outsider, graffiti, pop, DIY, surf and skate art, and other non-traditional modes and mediums, which until recently had no place in gallery and museum settings, are all incorporated. Labels and classification are not what this show is about, though.
As Escalante points out "it doesn't matter what term you use, it just becomes the new catch phrase to describe this kind of art." An inclusive show like this—grounded in fun, open-ended creativity and interaction—should make art in a museum setting more approachable for a lot of people. At the very least it's sure to be the only exhibit this year where you can stroll in with wet hair and sand between your toes and have the curator turn around and ask, "How was the surf?"
Art Shacks opens with a party on Saturday night, June 12—a real party, with a DJ, photo booth, cash bar, food truck and many of the artists on hand. On June 13, join Greg Escalante for a walk through of the exhibit at 1:00 pm, and on June 18 groms can join participating Hurley resident artist Jason Maloney for a shack-building workshop. For more information visit www.lagunaartmuseum.org.
In every ridden wave there are two unique but not entirely separate experiences: one is athletic, the other expressive. Athleticism in surfing is more quantifiable, mostly according to the defiance of the laws of physics and/or death involved therein. The expressive elements, while grounded in athleticism, get drawn out on waves in the paler shades of personality, perspective and experience—harder to define and more subjective, but unmistakable nonetheless.
For whatever reason, the gap between the athletic experience and the expressive experience widens and narrows from crack to chasm era-by-era and sometimes even session-by-session. Our modern version of surfing is increasingly factionalized, and fraternizing amongst the sects is generally discouraged in both the practice and documentation of the sport. But the fact of the matter is that athleticism and expression are hardly water and oil.
If you need proof, look no further than the photography of Keith Novosel. Keith is a photographer’s photographer. He somehow renders images honestly and idealistically, which is to say that he gets both “the shot” while also getting a whole lot more than the shot.
Ask Keith’s friends, collaborators and fellow photographers about him and you’re likely to learn as much about him as his art.
"Keith's photography is organic and unfeigned. His work breathes an elegant sincerity and simplicity that I find refreshing and inspiring."
—Nathan Oldfield, Photographer/Filmmaker
“Keith has an uncanny sense behind the camera. His eye isn't just focused on surf photography, but also the elements in nature that are directly connected to the art of surfing”.
—Carl Keever, Wetsuit Purveyor
“Keith is a tall, lanky guy with a heart of gold. He works hard and has a great eye. Plus he still shoots some film! That's a big deal for me....”
—Dustin Miller, Filmmaker
Interviewing someone over email is just about the worst way to get to know them, but with Keith perched in Noosa for the better part of the last year, the 14 hour time difference made connecting less than easy. After burning up six months of emails and endless amounts of Keith’s seemingly limitless patience, I hope this interview gives you a good sense for his poise and substance as a photographer and as a person.
Can can we start off with a little background—where you grew up, the basic stuff.
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, about eight hours from the nearest coastline. I grew up on a lot of land, so I was able to explore creeks, forests, and wildlife from a young age, catching minnows, frogs, snakes and things. Having plenty of room to explore helped build my appreciation for nature.
I was pretty into sports, as well. I played hockey, soccer, and golf, but I had the most fun skateboarding and snowboarding.
Every summer my family and I took a one-week vacation to either New Jersey or Delaware. I loved the ocean, and if there was anything at all to ride, I would be out there all day bodysurfing or bodyboarding. It never got old. I didn’t really think to try surfing on any of those trips.
Did you get into surfing or photography first?
Photography came first, at least at a hobby level. My parents gave me a point and shoot 35mm camera when I was little, so I had some fun playing with that. I wish I would have used it more, though. It helped teach me the basics of composition, although I didn’t know anything about apertures or shutter speeds at that point.
I got my first SLR and surfboard at about the same time, at the beginning of college. I bought a 35mm Nikon SLR and a water housing for $300 off of eBay, and started to learn more about it. My first session shooting in the water was a small, clean day in Florida. I got a shot from inside the barrel looking out, and was so stoked. I just kept doing it.
Surfing started for me as soon as I had consistent access to the coast, so the summer before my freshman year of college. I think that snowboarding, skateboarding, and bodyboarding helped me figure it out and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t keep surfing. At college in Miami, my friend Ian was so stoked on surfing that we went out all the time, even if it was only shin high and choppy—we had fun no matter what.
This is a brutal question, but can you explain your aesthetic? Is it a general ‘way you approach life kind of thing’ or a compartmentalized creative/professional thing?
It's not too brutal. I like simplicity and naturalness. This carries over from my personality and influences to my photography. I would lose my passion for shooting photos if I had to use complicated lighting set-ups all the time or if I was intricately placing or posing people or objects around.
Sometimes I find myself not enjoying shooting, and the reason is that it doesn't fit the way I approach life. Sometimes things are repetitive or fake, the uniqueness of the moment is gone... it’s not natural at that point.
What informs your perspective behind the lens? You quote Kurt Vonnegut in your artist statement, what are some other influences and inspirations?
I am the same person without a lens as I am behind it, so the same things that influence my personality influence my photography. I already talked a bit about where I grew up, and that definitely has been important, too.
As far as writers go, I like Thoreau, Steinbeck, Bob Dylan, and many others. They all have very different styles, but their messages are at least somewhat related, I think. The topics and issues they deal with—human rights, the environment, nature, art, love—are all important things in photography and are things I hope to be able express my own views on through my work as it progresses.
Specific photographers are tough to choose. I really like Patrick Trefz's work, though. And for a classic photographer, I like Henri Cartier Bresson. I like a lot of what I've seen from Rob Kulisek and Kyle Lightner, too, and Dustin Humphrey. For motion pictures, Scott Soens, Jason Baffa, Thomas Campbell, and Dustin Miller are some of my favorites.
You manage to balance capturing the sport of surfing with also getting a little bit of your subjects’ experience in the water on a given day. To me that says something about the way that you approach both surfing and photography, and the intersection of the two.
The feeling of surfing is the most important thing—I think that most people would agree with me on that. So, if I can show in an image what I feel in the water, then I'm happy.
A plain action image doesn't do much for me... and neither does a front lit shot of someone just walking down the beach with a board on a sunny day, or just a photo of a good wave. There are great waves all over the world, and people have seen so many photos of all of the spots. So unless there's something special going, it's just like a surf report photo, I think. There's no passion there.
How do you make the decision to pick up a camera or grab a board when you're looking at perfection?
It's a really tough call when it's thigh to head high and peeling. If the light is bad, if I already got plenty of good photos, or I just feel like I've been shooting too much and not surfing enough, I'll definitely surf.
I enjoy both surfing and shooting photos about the same amount. Getting a really good photo, especially a shot from in the water, is about the same to me as catching a really good wave.
We've talked a little bit about how we're both inclined to avoid crowds rather than posting up in the middle of a pack on a peak. Are we deluding ourselves? Are you willing to trade noserides and barrels for peace of mind?
That's a tough call. Malibu was my home break for my senior year at Pepperdine and I was lucky enough to live within view of the wave, so I could see when it was least crowded and get on it quick. I've had some lucky days there where it was waist high + and I was either the only one out or out with just a few friends.
That year I had noserides, barrels, and peace of mind, but I’ve also had a broken arm from a crowded day. To answer your question specifically, I wouldn't completely trade noserides and barrels for piece of mind. Surfing without either one of those wouldn't be the same. So I think what I need to do is find a spot where I can get those things with a mellow and friendly group of people (preferably friends, or people who would become friends). It doesn't have to be a wave that's hundreds of yards long, as long as it peels well for a little bit.
Find any of those in your recent travels? You’ve been all over place—any favorite spots?
Over the past year I have been to France, Spain, New York, California, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and now Australia. I also went back to Pennsylvania, but that wasn't surf related. It's one of my favorite places though—if there were an ocean there I would move back for sure.
I liked the vibe of the Long Island surf culture even though I actually didn't even surf on that trip. I took a lot of photos though. There are certain pockets of California that I like, too.
Any big plans or goals for the next year? People you’d like to work with?
I'm not sure of specific plans or goals. I'll be in Noosa until about the end of April, then I have no idea really. There's plenty of room for a lot of lot to happen while I'm figuring out what I want to do... and hopefully those experiences will help me make my decisions.
I’d like to continue doing some commercial jobs, the main one I've had is with es-cent-ial wetsuits, and my shooting style worked well with their style. More recently, however, we (me and others involved) didn't see eye to eye with the current owner of es-cent-ial and have decided to start a new wetsuit venture called TRIM. I'm looking forward to the creative opportunities involved in helping start the brand.
I've already been lucky enough to have the chance to shoot with a lot of the people I’ve wanted to in the longboard world. It's hard to pick certain surfers I’d like to work with—I'm happy to shoot with anyone who is nice, humble, ambitious, and who has really good, simple style. I'm also open to working with anyone who wants to work with me. I like the creative process involved in doing a project with someone else, or with a group of people.
At this point in surfing's evolutionary timeline, the old rallying cry of "rip, shred, and lacerate!" seems almost quaint. Gone are the days when every kid at the beach aspired to be Pottz, Curren, or Occy. No longer is a clear, white thruster the singular desire of young surfers everywhere. A new paradigm has emerged: young surfers around the world are selecting from a strange and functional dispersion of craft to surf in creative, expressive play.
They draw their inspiration from both the current cutting-edge of surfing and the validated lineage of surfing's past. They shape their own boards, make their own art, and dance to their own beat. These young surfers are as likely to throw a poised, ten-toed hang as they are to blast fins-out lip attacks. These are the surfers of the here and now.
At the turn of the millennium there came a spark. Films from Jack Johnson, the Malloy brothers, and Thomas Campbell highlighted inspiring surfing from fantastic surfers on diverse surfboards. In these films a new norm was introduced and statements were made. Surfers of talent did surf on a variety of craft. Top-notch watermen did seek new and thrilling modes of enjoying their surf time. Soon surfers young and old were asking questions about differing designs and seeking out anachronistic quiver pieces to see what gems might be lurking in the rafters. Suddenly "good surfing" was redefined to include a wide range of performance that could be modeled by a wide range of performers.
San Diego surfers Lucas Dirkse and Ryan Burch epitomize this emergent subset of surfing's youth. At home on all manner of surf-craft, Burch and Dirkse experiment readily with the gamut of designs. Their surfing is grounded in a strong connection with the past of the sport and an appreciation for the creative aspects that have driven surfing through its many iterations. Well versed in the history of the sport, they have discovered the giants on whose shoulders they stand: Bob Simmons, Skip Frye, Steve Lis and George Greenough serve as their inspiration. Burch and Dirkse are mentored by influential San Diego surfer and thinker Richard Kenvin and have been the subjects of many of his short films. Their surfing has garnered widespread attention as they have become the prototypical post-millennial groms.
Youth on Fire: Lucas Dirkse
Sun bleached blond hair and tell-tale wetsuit neck-tan place the tag immediately. This grom, 15-year-old Lucas Dirkse, is surf stoked. Raised by a supportive mother and a commercial urchin-diver father, Dirkse has spent his youth next to the ocean, mere blocks from the iconic shack at Windansea. Undoubtedly, Dirkse is ideally positioned to become whatever version of a surfer he desires.
Looking back on his earliest surfing years Lucas sees himself as one of the herd. "My vision of good surfing was shortboarding," Dirkse relates. "I was just trying to be what I thought a good surfer should be." Gradually his focus began to shift towards design and variation on the experience of riding waves. "(La Jolla shaper) Tim Bessell was sponsoring me," Dirkse remembers "he made me a double-bump quad fish and a longboard. As soon as I started riding them I was just hooked. Those boards really set me off. I was just all about the speed and feel of those boards."
Before long Lucas was intently watching more mature local surfers and beginning to understand the range of possibilities available. "San Diego is a place where an amazing variety of good surfing is done on a lot of different boards," Dirkse states. He studied the smooth noseriding act of Joel Tudor and appreciated the poised grace of Skip Frye, but also enjoyed the tube-riding exploits of the local La Jolla crew. "I would just watch anyone that looked good on a wave. Anyone could be an inspiration."
Dirkse's fresh vision propelled him to a new level of excitement about surfing and surfboards. He found himself competitively successful, but more importantly he found himself inspired. "Exploring the unknown is all of it. It's just so fun," he says. "I mean, you look at a shortboard and you know what it does and what it is supposed to do. You look at a finless with weird concaves or a funky log and you just have to imagine what can be done. I want to ride any board anyone has ever made!"
Hyperbole aside, Dirkse is breaking new ground. Thanks to the influence of Kenvin and his Hydrodynamica Project, Lucas finds himself acting as test-pilot for all manner of Simmons inspired craft. As documented through Kenvins' lens, Dirkse has been seen riding everything from mini-Simmons dual fin designs to finless boards inspired by Derek Hynd to alai'a. He has even taken to shaping his own finless creations.
Surf-stoked groms are a dime a dozen, but Lucas surfs at the apex of experimental design thanks to an excess of geographic fortune and an inquisitiveness that compels him to explore all that surfing has to offer.
Awakening: Ryan Burch
Success came early and often to Ryan Burch. Gifted with ability and a supportive family, Burch spent his early youth seeking and getting what many groms covet: shortboard surfing success and recognition. In his younger days he found himself the National Scholastic Surfing Association boy's explorer division champion. He became the number-one surfer on the San Dieguito Surf Team as a freshman, a role akin to being the starting quarterback as a freshman at any other high school.
Then a shift occurred. Where once he found surfing satisfying, he began to feel as though it was becoming stale and repetitive. "I kind of got a taste of what it would be like to be a competitive pro surfer," Burch reflects. "I was fortunate enough to have sponsors and some local publicity, to take some trips. I should've been content. But something was gnawing at me. I didn't burn out, I just became disinterested in what I was doing. I needed to explore my surfing options." A summer encounter with good friend and fellow open-minded surfer/shaper Chris Cravey led to Ryan's first taste of traditional longboarding. Before long Burch was hooked. "The longboard thing captivated me. It was all so fresh and new and exciting for me."
The new reality that Ryan Burch the shortboarder discovered was a place where options abound and creativity opens new doors. "Watching the differences in surfing styles among longboarders at my local break was shocking to me. It opened my eyes to see that differences are a good thing." Now 21, Ryan Burch views his grom days with growing maturity. He is equally at home on a fish, glider, Alaia, noserider, or chippy thruster—his smooth, radical surfing translates to a tremendous spectrum of surf-craft with ease. He shapes his own boards, paints, and creates with passion. "I am still totally into shortboarding," he says, "but the feeling of riding different boards is just so amazing. I'm so interested in what these boards do well that I don't think about what they don't do."
Kenvin has played an important role, filling the gaps in Burch's understanding of surfing history, particularly regarding San Diego and Bob Simmons. "RK gave me a grounding in the history and connectedness of surfing in San Diego." The connections he's learned have propelled both he and Lucas Dirkse into a new realm of exploration.
Sea Foam: inspiration and innovation
The obsession of the moment for Dirkse and Burch is the riding of short, wide, unglassed, finless blocks of closed-cell foam, a unique craft they have employed in waves from ankle-high to overhead. The two surfers are enamored of these ungainly craft and their unique surfing characteristics. "They're just so versatile and unique," relays Dirkse, "they have amazing flex and a kind of trim that's hard to explain."
Foam block surfing emerged from a remarkable confluence of factors. One afternoon Burch found himself with a block of closed-cell foam in the back of his car. Without any impetus he simply took it out and surfed. "I was going to shape and glass it but I stopped at Seaside (reef) on the way to the factory. I went out on my shortboard and wasn't having fun so I just grabbed the unglassed foam. My first wave I got this insane trim and knew something special was happening."
Before long he and Dirkse were sliding their foam ambitiously. Richard Kenvin witnessed and documented their new endeavor, delineating a remarkable historical connection: the boards are almost identical to the foam planks that Lindsay Lord used in his studies of planing hulls, documented in his 1946 book, Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls. The book was a major influence in Simmons' design process as he later explored planning hull theory as applied to surfboards. Burch had stumbled upon a piece of the Simmons puzzle by sheer open-minded innovation, and without knowing it, connected the excitement of the present to the innovation of the past.
The Wide-Open Future
Even in this new age of surfing diversity there are the ever-present critics. Richard Kenvin reflects, "Dirkse and Burch have been subjected to oppressive negativity from certain members of the surf "community" about riding Simmons' type boards and the like. The pressure to conform is heavy. Those kids, Lucas and Burch, are a shining light."
Surfing, in its essence, is an act of freedom and creativity. We seek out the ocean as a place to explore and discover. In the past, the wide-eyed exuberance of youthful surfing has been overwhelmed by the realpolitik of a surfing public consumed with appearing and performing in a particular manner. Only now, for the first time since the shortboard revolution, are we seeing young surfers reach beyond the conventional to explore the breadth of possibilities offered in the simple act of sliding down waves. It is a brave new world for a grom, full of options, full of opportunities, full of fascinating moments of pure fun and profound stoke. Surely this is the age of the Eclectic Youth.
Ty & Rob: A Pencil and a Lens
Words: Johnny Knapp
Photos: Rob Kulisek
Illustrations: Ty Williams
Ty Williams and Rob Kulisek would be at home in the pages of a wide variety of magazines. Any art, lifestyle, or culture rag could cover these two interesting, creative and supremely motivated guys, but the reason we’re devoting this Drift feature article to them is because, of course, they’re both interesting, creative, supremely motivated guys who also happen to surf. Neither is too shabby in the ocean (the proof is in the pudding with Picaresque—Rob saunters across waves with poise, Ty handled the art direction), and so it follows that where one goes the other is usually in tow. However, to really do this dynamic duo justice, surfing should be completely left out of this piece. Rather than typecasting them, let’s just agree to use the common bond of the ocean as an agreeable medium of association between the two.
The story of Ty & Rob, as they can be dubiously referred to, only dates back to this past year.
A collection of work, compiled in their just-published book, A Pencil and a Lens offers an honest depiction of the work from their respective desks, shedding light on the creative offspring the two have manifested in a short time working together. Evenly composed of Ty’s illustrations and Robs photos, the book is filled with doodles, scraps, cheeky messages and images so thematically similar that each piece seems to be a self-referential nod to the whole. Not to downplay the book as an accomplishment, but with the natural flow of their work, Ty and Rob can only say that it came about organically, the pieces and pages folding together seamlessly without much effort.
Ty, the senior of the two, has an extensive resume that seems to trail him wherever he goes. Whether it’s his local coffee shop or a spot halfway around the world, there is a good chance one of his paintings will adorn the walls of any space he passes through. His work has hung in galleries across America, his doodles adorn niche surf brand garments and he has collaborated with some of the sport’s most creative minds. Those not familiar
with Ty’s work can take a cue from the Portsmouth Herald, which once said of him, “it feels as though his illustrative paintings tell miniature stories about characters. It’s a welcome sight to see these clear lines and bright colors — they are beautiful in their patent simplicity”. Similarly, a first-time chat with Ty will likely yield stories that flow into one another comfortably, connecting dots along the way.
Born in the Virgin Islands with time spent in Florida and Maine during his formative years, a move to Brooklyn post-college seemed like a logical next step for Ty or any contemporary artist looking to develop his work. As many people find, the mass of humanity that is New York City actually left Ty feeling lonely and isolated. He was ticketed by the cold cops of the NYPD for improperly riding his bike down the street, and mugged not far from his apartment. As he puts it, “To add insult to injury the muggers took my phone, so I was unable to call anyone to talk about it.” He was immersed in one of the great creative landscapes on the planet, but far from home, friends and the beach. Doubt and confusion strike deep at such times, but just when Ty felt he had hit rock bottom he received an email from a guy named Rob.
It turns out that Rob is a budding photographer from Wildwood, New Jersey, who had just relocated to New York for schooling. Not for photography, as one might assume from looking at his portfolio (Vanity Fair, Fashion Week Daily, Nylon, Vice, the New York Times), but for medical school. Taking pictures, like surfing, is an aside to his academic pursuits, albeit an aside that he takes very seriously and has cultivated into a potential parallel career path. Like Ty, his interest in art and surfing have always been intertwined in a way, loosely associated in terms of style and substance. A native of the Jersey shore, at the age of twelve his mom started a newspaper called the Sun by the Sea and gave Rob carte blanch to do as he pleased with two pages of each issue. What began as creative inclinations grew into character traits as these adolescent editorial endeavors instilled a preternatural sense of purpose in his work.
Rob started out shooting mostly digital for the paper and found himself vaguely displeased with the results. A self-proclaimed sentimentalist, the digital equipment was easy and effortless, but detracted from the process of taking a photo. When someone randomly lifted all but one of Rob’s cameras he was devastated, but looking back on it now it seems like an almost gracious intervention.
Down and out, Rob got to chatting with a retired commercial photographer who mentioned a cache of old camera gear in Philadelphia. Rob jokingly offered to trade his only remaining camera for the entire lot and was shocked to receive a “sure” in response—changing his relationship with photography forever.
Fast forward some and you have Ty and Rob, two eager talents residing in the same city. Eagerness is the key theme here; neither is bashful about putting themselves “out there,” and each has separately made a name for himself with hustle and old-fashion hard work.
Rob, hungry to shoot, emails Ty and asks if he can make a portrait of him. Ty, not knowing the first thing about Rob, follows collaborative protocol--checks out Rob’s website, likes what he sees, and invites him to come over. Rob drives to Ty’s apartment in Brooklyn in his red Beetle and is so preoccupied with the shoot that he leaves the headlights on. Confronted with a dead battery a few hours later, Ty and Rob find that they agree on many topics of discussion while reviving the VW: art, music, city life, and surfing. Moreover, they see surfing as something that influenced them significantly, but feel alienated by both the more commercial aspects of the sport and the contemporary idea of what it means to be a surfer. Whether art is the source of this disparity or a means of making sense of it is something they prefer to leave unsaid, at least in part by constantly expanding their focuses beyond the sea.
Ty and Rob’s visits and collaborations became more frequent as time went on, and they soon became the best of pals. They would go to one another’s apartments to eat, drink tea, doodle, print photos and surf occasionally. Rob stresses that in this time he feels his work as a photographer germinated, which he attributes to hanging out with Ty. He says he started to feel a certain level of satisfaction with his work and began to appreciate different aesthetics while feeling more confident about his own.
A Pencil and a Lens distills their respective aesthetics into a common vessel. Both are wary of being pigeon-holed into the “surf art” category, and while their aquatic allegiance is apparent in the book, they made it without a specific audience in mind. It’s as much a result of trips to the beach as their shared experience living and working among the creative individuals, industries and New York art happenings that make life in the city buzz. Simply put, the product was the process. If anything, the combination of illustration and photography, words and images, the city and the beach, water, sidewalks, humor, heartache, characters, collaborators, surfers and neighborhood folks, is a testament to a compulsion to create that can be recognized and appreciated regardless of one’s relationship with the sea. The self-published book speaks volumes about their hustle and fits within almost any context—just like Ty and Rob themselves.
As for the future, both solo and collaborative projects are in the mix. Ty is currently in Japan making art, setting up shows in Tokyo and surfing from time to time. Rob is back in New Jersey for the summer shooting photos and interning in the ER for 12-hour bursts. A sampling of works from A Pencil and a Lens were exhibited at DDR Projects in Long Beach, California, as large format prints, and a limited run of the book will be available for purchase soon. Neither Ty nor Rob are fond of setting things in stone, so there are no concrete plans for future artistic endeavors, but as long as their dialogue about life, art, the sea and the city continues, the projects will follow.
Locked Out: Winter Surfing on Lake Superior
Words & Photos: Eric Berglund
Imagine it’s mid-February in the middle of North America; the snow is thigh deep and the air temperature hovers around -31°F. You haven’t had a session since New Year’s Day. At this rate, you won’t be getting in the water anytime soon either, unless plans include getting your frozen ass to the coast or maybe more sensibly in this case, heading south.
This is a good old fashioned winter; one where Lake Superior comes as close as it’s going to get to completely freezing over, one that tests the commitment and patience of a small but dedicated community of surfers on the shores the world’s largest freshwater lake.
Here, the committed exude patience, keep a meteorologist’s eye on the forecast and count on a bit of luck, but when the conditions align, this part of the world can offer up some pretty decent surf in an amazing setting. That said, we get just enough to keep the stoke, but as with any obsession, there never seems to be enough. When Mother Nature takes over like she did this past winter,denying even the faintest hope of a surfable wave, all that’s left is a dull a sense of despair and helplessness.
Flat spells and occasional sub-par conditions are a reality almost anywhere you go in the surfing world. Summer is usually the culprit, offering swimming, fishing, skating, biking and barbeques in exchange for consistent surf. A flat spell that lasts more than three months because it’s literally frozen flat is not quite the same. Somehow you’d think that we would be used to getting locked out here, but in reality, it tends to be different every year. The winter of 2008 saw us out of the water for only 30 days, whereas 2009 brought 107 days of surfless agony.
Winter usually begins as a minor inconvenience, the tail end of a fall season filled with storms that charge Superior into a rolling inland sea, creating what you could call nearly consistent surf. Most of us around here have come to accept at least a brief hiatus as an inevitability once the snow really sets in, but the true test comes when the depths of winter unleash a multi-month deep-freeze. Then again, even if the lake weren’t forming ice at a visible rate, you wouldn’t last more than an hour out there bobbing around in the thirty-degree water and bone-numbing wind, wrapped in your measly 6mm of rubber. So we persevere, take up other pastimes, travel and dream about the day when the slap of a barely-frozen freshwater wave in the face brings painful relief, signaling the end of the long, dark, surfless winter.
Spring, unfortunately, often represents a false hope. In the warmer temperatures the ice shifts and is fractionally reduced from iceberg to ice cube to slush, liberating the lineup. But a layer of spring air over ice water does little to generate the energy needed to re-create the sizeable, lined-up surf of fall. No, instead we wait all winter and spring for the ice to break free of the rocky shoreline, only to be faced with mediocrity.
When the spring winds finally blow and fetch gathers on Superior, the wait is over for the faithful. You can bet that the crew will be on it early; be it a dark snowy day or sunny with bluebird skies; knee high or overhead. Looking over at your buddies in the lineup, all friends, no ego, a hoot, a smile,be back in our local water, riding waves back-dropped by the rugged shores of an unlikely coastline in the middle of a continent.
At sunrise on any given morning in Huntington Beach the coffee is on in a house not far from the water. In the garage, behind a grinding aluminum roll-up door five canvases sit, waiting for attention, but for now, artist, filmmaker and surfer Jeremy Asher Lynch is otherwise occupied. There are three boys to get off to school, emails and editing to be done, and of course, there’s also surf to check.
It’s not really possible to say that Jeremy is “from” anywhere. Maryland? California? Florida? California again? He’s in Huntington now, and that’s what really matters. When he talks about the past he does so with an acute sense of time and a startlingly clear memory. It’s like the moves and frequent transitions he has made from coast to coast up until now have provided him with markers and points of reference along the way, breaking up his life into neat blocks of time. Jeremy measures milestones like learning to surf with precision and regards the space in between hyperbolically.
Without thinking too hard he can tell you that he got a 6’1” Timmy Patterson from Dive N’ Surf in Redondo Beach for his tenth birthday, and that before that he boogie boarded “forever” (or for four and a half years, from age five to exactly 9 ½).
Moving around, Jeremy never spent more than three years in any one school. It was mostly a coastal life though, so he surfed, skated and built upon his natural artistic inclinations alongside his artist mom. Putting brush to paper was never an overt intention; it was just what he and his brothers did in the way that most kids do. When he was eight, his mom bought him a Fisher Price PXL2000—a video camera that shot on regular cassette tapes—and he got a little 8mm camera two years later. That’s when the skate videos started, the early efforts mostly along the lines of the typical “Let’s go film! Are you filming? Oh, cause I just want to go skate and see myself on TV later on.”
It’s a long way from painting with your brothers at the kitchen table and making skate videos of your friends to being an exhibiting artist and full-time filmmaker.
Jeremy’s first serious foray into art came during an extended stay in Jacksonville, Florida. He spent a year living with some friends, painting and surfing in an idyllic little beach pad. It wasn’t long before his focus shifted again, when a friend filmmaker friend in Atlanta got him back behind a camera to reconsider his creative inclinations with a new sense of purpose. Jeremy enrolled in film school at 21, got out and immediately started shooting what was intended to be a full-length surf flick. Footage was bagged, edited down and set to music, but distractions got the best of the final production and he never saw the project through to fruition.
Sometimes life gets in the way of both surfing and art—and vice versa. Another few years of his early twenties rolled by, Jeremy got married, started a family and paid bills. But the responsibilities that accompanied stability and success didn’t necessarily lead to more peace of mind. Parenting, it turned out, was hard work. Being a husband was also hard. And cutting tile and laying floors all day was wearing him down mentally and physically.
He thought about shooting video and painting occasionally, but one day he saw a piece of graffiti (he thinks it may have been something by Barry McGee) that changed everything. Something about it really spoke to him, and as he started tagging, stenciling and wheatpasting every square inch of the podunk town where he lived, he found a new way to process everything that was going on in his head. “I think the reason why I actually got into art is the gnarliness of being a father and being a husband. It just got so heavy, I needed an outlet—I don’t think I did it on purpose, I think it just happened that way,” he says. “It was a subconscious thing. I think if I didn’t have it, if I didn’t have an outlet for getting all those emotions out, I would be a different person.”
Back in the garage in Huntington Beach, the five canvases sit amongst a clutter of skateboards, twin keel fishes and a sprawl of supplies: coffee cans full of brushes, empty rattle cans and tatters of fabric.
They wait for progress, which comes incrementally, first in layers of acrylic and spray paint: whites, grays and mute tones coming together over time to create small sections of overpass walls, bridge abutments and foundation sills. Having made the transition to canvas, Jeremy seems moved to provide himself with portions of the cityscape rendered into even dimensions as a starting point. He thickens them with paint by habit and with continual, if unfocused diligence—spraying shapes, words and characters, and then covering and covering again with brush strokes, like an irate storekeeper working in futility to keep graffiti from owning a piece of his storefront.
There’s no predetermined stopping point for the transition from background to foreground to create the focal point of a painting. As he puts it, “I know when it’s ready, when it’s done. When I get to a certain point I’m like, ‘alright, cool, that’s where I want to put something’ and it will come to me. My ideas just come to me at the weirdest times.” Jeremy tends to work in series and there isn’t much of a screen between the artist and the content; he paints what’s around him and who he is.
A recent series entitled “Acquired Taste” featured paintings of children killing and eating animals, relating to “growing up poor and dealing with what you’ve got—having to face the hardships that were in front of you and just having to suck it up.” His most recent work, for a show last month at Lebasse Projects in Culver City, California, consists primarily of melancholy images of women, including a few based on portraits of his wife. Cold shades of blue and white, swatches of aerosol spray and clusters of repeating symbols wash the pieces with isolation, loneliness, vulnerability and awe. Jeremy relates to the capacity of his characters to convey the more fragile human emotions and the pieces reveal a respect for the fierceness that lingers just below the surface in all women—especially mothers.
What started as a pressure release valve eventually turned into something that allowed him to barter paintings for boards and wetsuits at the surf shop down the street (the realization of a dream for pretty much every surfer who has ever picked up a brush).
Then, in just a few short years he found himself selling work, especially in the LA area, and the time came for a critical decision: stay in Florida for stability’s sake, lay tile, surf and maybe keep making art, or trust the gut and get back out to California? The verdict should be pretty obvious at this point.
Jeremy went for it in the way that we all like to think we will when the time comes. The results have surpassed expectation in a lot of ways. The kids are settled into life in Huntington, skating around the neighborhood and thinking about following dad out into the water. Jeremy is creating and showing his work, and is entrenched within a community of established artists like Nate Frizzell, Tessar Lo and Yoskay Yamamoto, who serve as both friends and mentors. By an interesting turn of fate, the long forgotten surf flick that he put together years earlier also landed him a video production job. These days he finds himself with a list of clients and collaborators, painting, creating short films and producing “Analog Color,” his own art mini-documentary series.
That’s not to say that the struggle is entirely gone and everything’s all sunshine and set waves on this stretch of coastline. The fight for a seat at the table in the art world is a tooth and nail affair, even (or especially) in LA, and Hollywood isn’t exactly laying out the red carpet for independent filmmakers with a taste for non-linear narratives these days. But still, the beach is close, Jeremy can surf every day most weeks, and similarly engaged friends like Hemzeh Abdelmuti of Woven Surfboards—whose fishes, Jeremy maintains, have finally taught him how to do a real bottom turn after twenty-one years of surfing—are plentiful. “Hopefully 2010’s the year,” he says, “I’m ready to get rid of a little of the struggle.” But one gets the sense that even if 2010 isn’t the year that it suddenly all gets easier, Jeremy Asher Lynch won’t be changing much. Come what may, he’ll still be heading out to the garage in between editing sessions at the computer and surf sessions at the Pier, turning canvases into what he needs them to be.
You can check out Jeremy Asher Lynch’s work in person at The Lost Underground Art Project at Gallery 1988 in Melrose, CA starting Dec. 15.
He also recently released a limited edition print in conjunction with Paper Tiger (glicee print on archival textured fine art paper).
Finally, be sure to spend some time taking in his film work via Two Dollars Please Films.
Dear & Yonder: Tiffany Campbell and Andria Lessler
Oceanside pro Julie Cox talks with Tiffany Campbell and Andria Lessler, the ladies of Villa Villa Cola Productions, shortly after the Encinitas premier of their lady surf film Dear & Yonder. Three-years in the making, the project documents all manner of women in the water and is the very first of it’s kind.
Julie Cox: Together you’re known as Villa Villa Cola Productions—what’s the background of the name?
Tiffany Campbell: A big hero of mine as a kid was Pippi Longstocking. She has this really wild, adventurous spirit and she encapsulated our feelings about skateboarding and of being really wild and free, and living on your own terms. The name of her house was Villa Villekulla and I adapted it to make it more American. At first the company was my sister, Nicole, and another girl who skated, and me. We started making zines with random stories, horoscopes and photos of us that we’d pass out, but there was no one to give them to; girls didn’t really skate. So we decided to go across the country. We made a video and made T-shirts, and people were stoked on our idea, but they still didn’t know any girls who skated to give the stuff to.
So we came home and started over with a new idea. We decided to focus more on videos and started a little collective with other artists and videographers. We made a few videos but our biggest project was a skate video called Getting Nowhere Faster.
Julie Cox: Andria, how did you get involved?
Andria Lessler: I actually met Tiffany’s sister skateboarding in San Francisco about eleven years ago. I was skating with a bunch of my guy friends from North Carolina and saw Nicole and her friend Rebecca. I was so nervous because I had never met other girls who skated but they asked me to go skate with them and through them I met Tiffany.
Julie: Dear and Yonder is technically a “surf movie,” but it also covers skateboarding, sailing, sewing and shaping. It all feels like a celebration of freedom and it’s really empowering—how did you branch out beyond just showing the actual surfing footage?
Tiffany: All that’s out there is shortboarding movies about women, and I think [shortboarding] is really intimidating. Not many women are going to pursue it if they want to get in the water. There is more than one way to experience the ocean, so we wanted to open up different avenues and show these women who have a very normal side. They’re not superheroes, but at the same time they are extraordinary people, so you can really relate to them. First, we want you to be able to relate to them as people, then, “Wow, they’re doing that and they’re not that different from me! I can be a bodysurfer, or I can sail, or I can be a longboarder or a shortboarder.”
Andria: We wanted girls to see the all the possibilities.
Julie: How did Villa Villa Cola’s focus shift from skate to surf?
Tiffany: It really came about organically. We had tossed the idea of doing a women’s surf movie around, but the impetus for doing it was Liz Clark. We were following her journey sailing around the world and we were frustrated that we couldn’t see more, on video or something. [Tiffany appeals to the sky ‘I want to see this girl!’] Originally we thought we would do something small, but then once Liz was on board we knew it was bigger than that.
Julie: What was the general reaction when you told people you were making a women’s surf film?
Andria: Some people were excited and asked questions, but it didn’t resonate with a lot of others.
Tiffany: The women who are really in the surf scene and have been in it for a while were like “women’s surfing needs this!” It hasn’t been done for women’s surfing yet; delving into the stories, using 16mm film and traveling to amazing places. These women were really excited and hungry for it, and that is what got me really excited—people with all that energy. It is so inspiring, regardless of whether you surf or not. I think anyone who watches the film will see that it is a human story, not just a surfer’s story.
Julie: You have a pretty distinguished cast of surfers in the film—how did you find them? Were there certain stories that you sought out?
Tiffany: Some of the girls, like Ashley Lloyd, we knew from Santa Cruz and we knew she was shaping boards and thought that was fascinating. And Belinda Baggs, we love her surfing and Thomas [Campbell, Tiffany’s husband] is friends with her, so that was an easy choice.
Andria: Judith Sheridan [the bodysurfer in Dear & Yonder] is this Ocean Beach secret legend and I’d never met her but had heard of her and was fascinated. She was so mysterious. We had friends who knew her but she was the one we were most nervous to meet because she is outside of our peer group a little bit (she’s a geophysicist). We were thrilled when she said she would work with us.
Tiffany: I think there was just a need for a women’s surf movie. Every girl we contacted was like, “Oh my gosh! I would love to be a part of it. I am honored. That is amazing!”
Julie: What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film?
Tiffany: We started filming at Fort Point [San Francisco], but Judith was really scared. Fort Point was the only spot where we could get water shots and the only spot Thomas could really stay with her, but she didn’t want to surf there out of respect for the locals (people are really protective of that spot). But before shooting we called the people that she was worried about, and they were so supportive of her. She was so humble and had no idea how much respect those guys have for her.
We had another idea of what we wanted to do for Judith’s section, but then she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In one particular MS-related episode she went blind in one eye and was really fatigued. But she said to us, “It is so important. I still want to do this, and you girls can include it in my story.” So that totally changed the direction of the movie, but in such an awesome way. You have to be flexible and not too attached to what you think something is going to be or else you will miss those special opportunities.
Andria: The hard times are really where things are going to grow. The cracks and the fissures are actually opportunities.
Julie: You did such a great job on the historical section of the film, I don’t think it’s been presented in such a complete way before. Why did you choose to include it?
Tiffany: I hope that women will see the movie and say, “wow, who’s that woman?” and start owning their history instead of letting it be lost. I got so much inspiration from doing the historical part and learning about all of these different women and relating to them; it builds you up to be confident about who you are.
Julie: You funded your film in a non-traditional way with an art show benefit, right?
Tiffany: We asked about 50 artists to contribute work, and that many people jumped on board without much notice. Many made things specifically for the auction—the amount of support was astounding. The night of the show was the best that gallery [New Image Art, Los Angeles] had ever done.
Julie: What do you think about more traditional sponsorship? Did having Roxy involved change your vision at all?
Tiffany: No, that was the amazing thing about Roxy. We were really clear with them up front and said “this is our project and our vision, play by our rules or we’ll have to look elsewhere.” Randy Hild was like, “That is the direction we want to go in,” and “we think you guys have what it takes to do this.” They put a lot of trust in us… we had our sponsor and we knew we could still follow our vision.
Julie: How did you fit a massive undertaking like making a film into your lives?
Andria: You get it in where you can fit it in; you just do it. We were very fortunate to have a lot of really supportive people to help us out financially and make room for us. A lot of our friends are incredibly talented and there is so much camaraderie.
Tiffany: One of my favorite parts about making a movie, especially one that takes a long time, is that you develop a community around the movie, and you get really close with people. You’re all striving for the same goal.
Julie: Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Tiffany: My advice for filmmakers is to get educated, not necessarily through school, but find a mentor, someone who can teach you a base of knowledge. If that’s your passion, you’re going to find a way.
Andria: This is my first film project. Tiffany had me get into still photography and that was the best recommendation. And it’s cool and okay to take yourself seriously. You’re going to make something awesome. What you’re doing is important.
Julie: How about advice for girls getting into surfing or skating?
Andria: For me, it was great to have a group of girlfriends to do it with and to go out with girls who were better than me so I could watch and learn from them. We just tried to learn as much as we could because we were passionate about it.
Julie: What do you girls see for the future of Villa Villa Cola? Is there another project in the works?
Tiffany: Definitely no other projects on the horizon yet. You have to pace yourself and refuel your energy before you pour yourself into another project. We still have to finish up this movie including the DVD, bonus features.