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Surf Story Project

Surf art, photography & culture

COTW featured surf artist Robb Havassy has been working on a book project called "Surf Story". 444 pages of surf art and inspirational surfer stories, featuring a number of surf artists & photographers on this site, and many other surfing icons. Below are exerts & art from the book, and an interview with the man who made it all happen…

The depth of the eclectic and creative culture within the surfing community has never been captured, collected and presented to any significant extent. SURF STORY was conceived, collected, edited by Southern Californian surfer, artist and entrepreneur Robb Havassy for exactly this purpose. SURF STORY is a massive collection of art and stories from 88 of surf culture's most influential artists, writers, photographers and iconic figures. Their art and stories are at the heart of one of the most influential, independent and creative cultures in modern times… one that is solely based on LOVE and PASSION… These are the love stories of surfers reflected in their words, art and photography. The surf story is what the whole culture is built on… we all have our own. It doesn't matter who you are or how well or often you surf… great stories just happen… This project is just one large, multi-media view into the tradition. This book and exhibition features the largest collection of surf art and surf stories ever presented. The 444 page hard-cover coffee table book contains more than 200 pieces of surf art and over 150 surf stories from an incredible list of contributors.

COTW spoke to Robb Havassy about the Surf Story Project…

So how did the Surf Story Project come to be? And when did you start working on it?

RH: Well, it's a long story, one that I included as one of the intro/forewords in the book, but the short and sweet is that the catalyst came from my 2 year lawsuit with Abercrombie and Fitch/Hollister, a result of there unauthorized use and replication of one of my early "art" surfboards, whereby they replicated down to the last detail (including my signature) one of my boards as the key surf component to the front of every Hollister store in the country (at the end there were more than 360). The lawsuit was draining me and I was invited to go on the Royal Pelagic with some friends from Volcom and Newport Beach (my home). The incredible 130ft converted trawler was down off Mainland Mex and was cruising the spots in the area… the trip promised to be amazing. I initially turned it down because I was so overwhelmed with the lawsuit and then realized that this was exactly what I needed… a break.

It ended up being one of the most memorable and enjoyable surf trips of my life, which included perhaps the best day of surf that I and just about everyone else on the boat had ever experienced (I have a painting on wood called "420 surfboard" that was inspired by that day… the 420 referring to the date 4-20-07). The hostess on the boat was Aubrey Falk, a surfer and artist (she is one of the founders of Surfers Without Borders). She and I talked art a bit on that trip and coincidentally, the week or two prior a friend of Mike Losness emailed me about possibly doing some art show with Mike at some point. It came up in my initial conversation with Aubrey, and I had this epiphany that it would be a pretty interesting show if surfers/artists like she and I, and Mike, plus a large selection of other significant surfers/artists could do a large exhibition of our art that reflected our love of the ocean and surfing…

I thought further about it and suggested to Aubrey that maybe it could be not only the visual narrative of the art but a personal surf story as well. My thought is that the surf story is really the history of the sport and culture… the "who did what" and how certain events (reflected in the story) is what is at the heart of surf culture. Simple and poignant… the love stories of a culture. I was pretty excited about the idea and started running through my head for how to do it and what to call it… I think that coming up with the simplest title, "Surf Story", really helped to concentrate the focus, and when I got back from my trip I started making a list and contacting artists, beginning with all my first choices… all the surf art legends as well as those I was already friendly with… I was initially thinking that it would be in the neighborhood of 30 artists, but after only a month I had more than that, with at least 20 more that I still wanted… It evolved quickly and everyone was really excited about the concept. It grew into this massive mountain of a project and scared the shit out of me… There was, and has been a huge amount of fear and doubt over the last two years, especially with the economic meltdown and all the questions that arose just out of that and the challenges of producing something so massive.

The sales from the Surf Story Project will benefit the Surfrider Foundation… A cause you've supported many times before (among other great causes)…?

RH: Yes, the Surfrider Foundation (SRF) is the primary beneficiary, although the project and events will also benefit local charities and organisations. SRF does a great job, far from perfect, but such a beneficial organisation in helping focus attention and facilitate action groups… The Trestles fight was one instance where you can see how effective the mobilisation was and directly see SRF's influence.

A lot of people were involved in the Surf Story Project… the contributors list reads like a "who's who" in the surf industry, including big names like Drew Kampion, CR Stecyk III, Gerry Lopez, Nat Young and more… I imagine it was a very rewarding experience working with so many 'icons' of our sport and culture?

RH: It was a real honor and pleasure working with so many incredible surfers. Many were already friends and I pulled them in without great difficulty. By incorporating actual stories into this, it opened up the possibilities and created a venue to feature all kinds of iconic and unique figures in the culture, rather than just the artists. My intention was to create the largest collection and representation of the creative community (artists, writers & photographers) as well as a broad spectrum of the generations of iconic surfers. I wanted the selection of surfers to be outside of the "ASP top 20," ya know? I wanted it to be a spectrum of the whole culture. So people like Gerry Lopez, Joel Tudor, Nat Young, Corky Carroll, Stecyk and Drew Kampion were "no brainers"… Adding to this the big wave legends like Noah Johnson, Greg Long, and Peter Mel as well as trying to include as many women, artists and surfers alike was another really important inclusion as well.

But without a doubt it's been a real pleasure to be able to get acquainted with all those that I didn't know. I really appreciate the faith and support of everyone in this, especially the ones that I didn't have a prior relationship with… there's a lot of trust that goes along with collaborating on something like this. I think the element that helped me along and gained a lot of the trust was that everyone seemed to understand how significant something like this would be to the culture of surfing and the broader culture for that matter. It's a legitimate "time capsule" type of thing. Like, should aliens come down and want to know what surfing and surfers are really about, all they have to do is look at Surf Story and they'll get it. It's the way we communicate and a reflection of our passion… it's really a viewpoint that shows how eclectic and influential the culture really is and why we feel so privileged to be surfers.

What was it like putting this whole project together?

RH: This is definitely the most difficult thing I've ever done… I had no illusion that it wouldn't be, just a strong feeling that if I didn't do it, it would be likely that no one would. Something like this is so important to the creative culture of surfing. We need some sort of catalog of it as a historical representation of how incredible and diverse it really is. Impossible to make something complete and include everyone, but this is what I'd call a "good start"… Everyone who has previewed the book is just blown away. I've consulted the most significant people I could… some of the most influential people in the culture on so many different fronts and they all were like, "are you frikin kidding me?!" I think this is one of the reasons I've been able to get this far and have so much incredible content. Even the people who make and publish surf books and magazines for a living have really gotten behind me because they understand that this is so far beyond anything that has ever been done and certainly filling a huge gap in the culture. One of the "book legends" that I consulted told me that I was insane and that maybe there was a reason that no one has ever done something this lofty. After answering some of his main concerns and questions he gave pause and said, "well, if you pull this off you'll be a hero." Certainly not what I was looking for, but there was some relevance to what he said.

Being part of this community and one who gets shit done, I think that life gave me this challenge and opportunity for a reason. Just like when you surf, fear creeps in, as does doubt… These are the things that keep surfers from throwing themselves over the ledge in extreme conditions. Typically those who can put the fear aside and just focus and go are the ones who truly fulfill their potential, joy and stoke. I can remember my first trip to Indonesia and all those incredibly gnarly and shallow reefs. If you are able to manage the fear and focus on your ability you are liable to get the most perfect, incredible barrels of your life… and though I was scared shitless at times, I went… Many of my friends and fellow surfers didn't. Kind of the same thing here with SURF STORY I think. I'm sure many have thought about doing something like this but it's so intimidating… so many things can go wrong and get in the way… I certainly experienced a lot of challenges… but in the end there's no way to the top of the mountain if you let those things stop you…

Two years plus now and we are making it happen. I'm so thankful for all the wonderful support and faith from everyone involved… This is important for many reasons, but for one beyond all… Everyone has donated their contribution… their art, stories and photos… In addition, so many that are not featured have donated the imagery that supports many of the profiles. This could not have happened without everyone's generosity. I've spent most of my life savings on keeping this thing evolving and if I had to pay everyone who contributed this would never have happened. Probably one of the contributing reasons why something like this has never been done to any scale.

Tell us about yourself, what's your background and how did you get into 'Surf Art'?

RH: I'm a Southern Cali boy, born and raised. I'll be 40 at the end of this year. I have always loved the ocean and riding waves in one form or another and have been doing so for most of my life. For the past 20 years I've been living in Newport Beach. I graduated from UCIrvine with a BA in Psychology & Sociology in 1993 and didn't start painting (other than my surfboards for fun) until 1996 when as chance would have it, I received a beginners art kit as a present from a friend… random… I had no idea what to do with it, but a few months went by and I finally broke it out and tried to paint something… About 6 months prior, in 1995 I had purchased a serigraph from Ken Auster (my first piece of art) so when I imagined what I'd like to paint it was pretty obvious that I started with something surf related. As an artist you tend to paint things that inspire you so surfing was an obvious choice. Now, after 13 years my art includes a lot more than surf art… I paint things that inspire me like women, landscapes, horses, flowers, animals… did I say women? :) I obviously paint with a lot of emotion and color, but love the basic black and white and draw a lot… I also shoot a lot of photography and have evolved from film on to digital formats now. I sculpt stone and clay and do metal fabrication… anything creative… And I've always been into cooking and before I started with art I'd always imagined that I'd have my own restaurant.

Describe your art…

RH: My art is all over the place… Right now I only paint on and create from recycled materials… Lots of flow and color and emotion… I don't use much symbolism but try to create a mood or capture a moment that speaks to you. I love hearing what people see and feel when they look at my work… it's so different than what I intend often, but is just as, if not more relevant.

You've been a model, you're a surfer, entrepreneur, an artist, you've painted canvasses, surfboards & skateboards, had your work featured on the covers of magazines, had a two-year long legal battle with a major US brand for unlawfully using your art, you have your own signature surfboard model, an "eco-friendly" signature sandal line, clothes/apparel and even your own wine… and that's only half of it! …So, for a man who seems to have done it all… What's next? What does the future hold for Robb Havassy?

RH: I am a new father as of April 2009; with a beautiful (I think) daughter name Marin… Marin James Havassy… My future is about her… she's the most powerful entity in my life, so my days will focus on creating and trying to expand my world and opportunity for her and the rest of my family. My wife and I have a wonderful home just up the street from Newport Beach, not far from Hurley and Volcom. I'm 5 minutes from my local surf spot and 5 minutes from my local golf course… Life is good. I will continue building my HAVASSY brand and growing the SURF STORY project to continue to give the creative culture and all its talented artists a voice and means to communicate with the greater community. My goal has always been to simply try to make a living as an artist… It's one of the toughest and scariest things to endeavor so simply to be able to survive and continue to create, it's one of the most fulfilling things you can do. So with any luck I will continue to create, teach, live, take care of my family, enjoy my friends and be happy.

Thanks Robb, and I wish you the very best of luck with the project launch!

Surf artists involved in the project…

Alan Casagrande, Alex Weinstein, Aubrey Falk, Ben "33"Brough, Bill Ogden, Céline Chat, Charlie Clingman, Chris Lundy, Chris Pedersen, Damian Fulton, David Lloyd, Drew Brophy, Esteban Bojorquez, Frank Errickson, Gaston Locklear, Heather Brown, Heather Ritts, Ithaka Darin Pappas, Jaime Noia, Jay Alders, Jim Evans, John Severson, Karim Rejeb, Jesse Miller, Ken Auster, Kevin Ancell, Kevin Short, Matt Beard, Meegan Feori, Michael Knowlton, Michael Lorenzini, Mike Doyle, Mike Losness, Ned Evans, Patrick Parker, Pete Tillack, Peter Pierce, Peter Thorne, Rémi Bertoche, Rick Griffin, Rick Rietveld, Robb Havassy, Ron Croci, Russell Crotty, Sandow Birk, Scott Szegeski, Shannon McIntyre, Shawn Griggs, Spencer Reynolds, Steve Bojorquez, Steven "Slidawg" Chew, Vanessa Janss and Wade Koniakowsky.

Other surfers and surf photographers involved in the project…

Aaron Chang, Art Brewer, Bryan & Kent Doonan, Chris Ahrens, Cody Graham, Corky Carroll, CR Stecyk III, Craig Peterson, Daize & Aamion Goodwin, Darren Brilhart, Dave Parmenter, David Pu'u, Drew Kampion, Dustin Humphrey, Eric Foraker, Gerry Lopez, Gordon McClelland, Greg Long, Jamie Brisick, Joel Tudor, Joey Cabell, Kevin Naughton, Mary Osborne, Nat Young, Noah Johnson, Pat O'Connell, Pete Hodgson, Peter Mel, Rob Machado, Robert & Sam August, Rochelle Ballard, Steve Barilotti, Steve Pezman, Tom Servais and Wingnut

How can people get their hands on a copy of Surf Story?

RH: Surf Story, the book, can be purchased directly from SURFSTORYPROJECT.com and as of September 15th can be purchased from SURFRIDER.org as well as some specialist book stores and surf shops as well as through many of the contributors' websites. This First Edition is likely going to sell out fast and for those who aren't able to get a copy of it will be able to buy the 2nd edition sometime next year… Of course the second edition won't be the signed and numbered limited edition but it will be under $100. I would say that this is one book to own if you love surfing and/or art… incredible stories (some of the greatest in our culture) and art from more than 50 of the most influential surf artists, many of the greatest living photographers and writers. This is just VOLUME 1… I'm already collecting for Volume 2 that will hopefully round out the rest of the creative culture.

The depth of the eclectic and creative culture within the surfing community has never been captued collected and presented to any significant extent. SURF STORY was conceived, collected editted and designed by Southern California surfer, artist, and entrepreneur Robb Havassy for exactly this purpose.

SURF STORY is a massive collection of art and story from some of the surf culture's most influential artists, writers, photographers and iconic figures. Their art and stories are at the heart of one of the most influential independent and creative cultures in modern time… a culture that it soley based on LOVE and PASSION. These are the love stories of surfers reflected in their words, art and photography.

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