Aloha! Welcome to the 22nd episode of the first series of the podcast.
Today with us is legendary artist Drew Brophy from San Clemente, California.
Let’s discover more about him, his amazing art, future projects and much more!
You can find the episode published in all major podcast platforms (Spotify, Itunes, YouTube,…), but, if you prefer to read the interview you can do it here in our website (please forgive us if we did some mistakes while transcribing the episode)
TTOS: Aloha Drew, welcome to the show! Where are you today?
I’m in San Clemente, California, in my art gallery, this is where I work and play and surf and raise my family…. it’s a good spot!
TTOS: How is it going over there in this time of coronavirus? You guys can surf?
When it first started, it was kind of strange and we were all surfing at “Lower Trestles” and it seemed like everybody came.
The State got worried and shut us down for about two weeks… we were really upset about it and people in our town really started protesting early, we had all the local community people protest the lockdown.
I think we were probably the first town that actually opened up for surfing the beaches and we literally walked right past the police officers and just went surfing anyway.
We’ve been open for a little while now and if you go to the beach here, you can find all the famous surfers are out and it’s kinda nice because all people we know and these really good surfers like Kolohe Andino, Griffin and also a lot of the shapers are around, because not a whole lot of work’s getting done in these days.
San Clemente is a beautiful place…it’s a small town.
I feel very lucky to be here, I know everybody else is not so fortunate….San Clemente is a nice little, little bubble.
TTOS: Actually it’s fun to have a such community that finds itself back into the ocean all together….just a rare occasion…
Especially here, as you know, so much of the surf industry is here and everybody surf…your grandfather, your father, your sons and kids and your mother.
When they shut the beaches down, it really affected us, because everybody has a close connection to the water.
It was good that our community leaders, opened up the beaches and our Sheriff’s department, the police defied our Governor and didn’t enforce the lockdown.
We’re in a little bit of a different situation than most people as we had a very low infection here.
It started off super low, we didn’t have hardly any people in our County and our Town and you would be very unlucky if you came across somebody with the coronavirus.
The people they knew who were the people that had it and they were quarantined… it wasn’t like we were taking a risk…it was an educated risk.
We realized that there was not a whole lot of scary stuff going on and nobody had really left…we were all here together and we felt pretty comfortable with each other.
TTOS: first question that I have for you is what, in your opinion, is the most important thing in surfing?
The most important thing are the waves, always the waves!
We put so much focus on the surfers, especially with the business side of it, the clothing, the style and all this kind of stuff.
At the end of the day, the waves are the stars and every local place has its day.
It doesn’t have to be Pipeline or something like that; every spot has a day when it goes off and it’s amazing and you can’t wait to get out there and be part of it.
Along with the waves, it’s the travel, I don’t know about you, but I grew up looking at magazines and wanting to go to all of those places, it wasn’t so much about I wanted to see the surfers… I wanted to see the waves.
And not just see the waves, but also see the waves when these are doing their thing and surf them.
I spent my life wanting to go to these places and be there and surf it when it’s doing its thing.
TTOS: I agree with you and I’m sure that people still think that the journey of discovering new places and different waves is still great, when you were younger there were a lot of magazines, now there is internet ……. It’s the spirit of travel….
I think that’s a good thing to remind the kids that we have so many pro surfers and sometimes it’s such a rat race…..they don’t even enjoy the place they’re in.
I can remember, you know, being around some of my friends who were pros and they were in Hawaii playing video games when they weren’t surfing….
They weren’t, you know, hiking in the mountains and exploring Hawaii the way it should be.
You know, surfing is great, but it’s really the whole package that matters, the whole package of adventure, the lifestyle…
The lifestyle to me is trying to be organized enough and prepared enough to be there when the waves are great and sharing that with other people, getting good waves for yourself, but also loving, watching other people get good ones.
TTOS: I guess what you are saying is the difference between surf culture and the surf as a sport….
Yeah, I don’t really look at surf as a sport….
Contests are cool, but still it’s the wave, you know, the wave rules
Who cares, how many air manoeuvres they can do on a shitty wave….
I can remember, years ago, I’d gone to Tahiti and surf Teahupo, back in the early nineties, before it was on the radar and my friend, he went fishing and he dropped me off on the reef and I surfed by myself an amazing session… it was great!
I mean, I loved it, but without the comradery of another person, (because he left and he went spear fishing) I’m surfing this beautiful, amazing wave all by myself. And it was really critical and that was sad. Cause I had nobody to share it with.
TTOS: I would just say… I know what you mean.
I wish I would at least had one person with me or a couple of guys….we could have had a good session and had a beer afterward and told stories about it…forever.
TTOS: Do you remember your first surfboard?
Oh yeah, I grew up in South Carolina, which is on the East coast of the United States and we didn’t have a whole lot of surfboards. We inherited all the surfboards, the old surfboards that would filter through our town.
None of those surfboards was small so I started surfing five years old on a really big board.
The first one was in a called an Aqua and it was a beater, just single fin.
We were in the late seventies and we lived by the ocean in South Carolina, there were waves, small waves and even though our equipment was terrible, we, we just love to go surfing every day.
I know my second board was a David Nuuhiwa one of those dyna glides….
That was the first board I painted and cause it was so old and beat up, I spray painted a design on it.
I guess I was destined to paint surfboards forever.
TTOS: do you still have that board?
I wish! I have a picture of it in my mind, but I don’t even have a photograph of it, unfortunately….
TTOS: we can try to tell the picture to everybody, so if they find it, maybe they can come back to you….
It was on his last days when I got it, I can’t imagine it’s still around now.
TTOS: You are a pretty famous artist, the surfboards that you are painting are very collectible, how did it all started for you? You told us about your first surfboard and then? What happened?
Like I said, as a kid, I’d looked at Surfer magazine and National Geographic and I wanted to go to all those places in the world.
I was kind of from a place that nobody knew about …. South Carolina…. kind of off the radar.
Back then I was a competitive surfer, I would want to go surf in the contests in the East Coast and, luckily, I was good enough to travel.
I used to paint my own surfboards for fun, the only thing I was good at was surfing, drawing and painting.
I was lucky enough to surf in the NSSA and the US championships and those types of things.
I had opportunities to come to California as a young kid , I was always with a groups of people like Taylor Knox, Shane Beschen, Donovan Frankenreiter…. those were the kinds of people that I was surfing with.
I would get exposed to these people, but then have to go back to South Carolina and people where I was from didn’t really travel a whole lot, going to California or Hawaii was like going to the moon, you know?
I noticed that I started getting more attention for my boards, then for my surfing…
it was a way out…. it was a way for me to go to all those beautiful places without being a pro surfer.
I knew pro surfing, wasn’t going to get me there, so I decided that I was just going to paint the surfboards and try to be the best I could at it.
I painted boards on the East coast of the United States, I’ve painted boards in Hawaii….
That was my first thing, I moved to Hawaii painting on boards on the North shore, this was airbrushing, this was before the paint pens …. I was painting boards for Tom Carroll and Tom Curren and everybody else…they were the best in the world at that time.
I was just very fortunate, I always say surfing saved my life because, you know, I found a spot to participate.
My suggestion to people is if you love to surf, try to find a way to participate at something you’re good at, you don’t have to be a pro surfer.
You could find different ways to be part of the experience and enjoy it!
TTOS: That’s the reason why I selected to do the podcast! Because I’m not such a good surfer! LoL
Making a surfboard is really the fundamentals of everything and then being able to paint these handmade things that we ride, it’s highly personal and being able to put people’s personality and make these things great and then seeing people ride them and get photographed with some of the best waves and the best surfers….I mean : it’s really rewarding.
I really didn’t set out to do anything, but to keep surfing and use my talent to keep surfing and everything else just fell into place, just being on the North shore, meeting people and traveling… people would ask me to paint more things, you know, “Can you paint this? Can you paint that?”
I just always said, yes and now, this is 30 years into it.
You know, I painted surfboards for, five or six world champs, some of the most fun surfers like Christian Fletcher and Matt Archibald and I really got to travel.
That was the other thing, painting gave me that chance, I used to travel around the world, for instance with Matt Biolos and Lost, you know, we went all over the world and that was such a great experience.
I haven’t been to Italy yet, but Spain and France and South Africa and Australia, and that was a big deal for a kid from South Carolina.
TTOS: maybe also that contributed to the way you develop art, it opened your mind and changed your approach to different perspectives, right?
Definitively… the People, the waves, you know, , the thing that inspires you and the different ways, the excitement.
Like in Brazil, for instance, it started a little later and when we went down there, people were excited… same with Peru and even Spain….I can remember being in Spain and it was kind of just really taking off in Europe, early or late nineties and watch it explode all over again and see the enthusiasm in Japan, the Japanese surfers just really exciting stuff.
I’ve painted tens of thousands of surfboards…. I’m always excited about the next one.
TTOS: What was the most important or the most meaningful surfboard that you other painted?
You know, there’s different ones.
There are the ones that paint for myself as art pieces and so I put a lot of thought into them and make them really nice, they’re like sculpture slash paintings.
I did a tribute to Rick Griffin on one, which is an artist that lived here in San Clemente and he did a lot of the art and Surfer magazine, I kinda feel like I owe him a debt of gratitude and that’s a cool board,
You know, a really cool board I did, it was really simple… I was painting it Pipeline one day and Tom Curren walked up and asked me to paint one of his boards.
I was in the middle of painting boards for some kids, that’s kinda, one of the things I do is to paint boards for kids.
I had all these kids around me and I think John, John Florence was there too (those kids were like little back then) and they were making me paint all kinds of silly stuff.
Amongst the kids here comes Tom Curren, like a kid and asked me to paint a board…..he acted just like a kid, he was all excited and that’s just kinda cool because you grow up surfing or looking up to these people and now I was able to surf with Tom a bunch….he’s a great guy to surf with.
it was just a cool moment and I’ve had a lot of those with a lot of surfers because I have to talk to them first to find out what they want and really dive into fitting their personality onto the board.
I feel lucky that I’ve had those experiences with so many people.
TTOS: In your opinion, the greatest achievement of your career so far?
To be able to make a great life for myself and my family with something I’m good at and still be able to live my dreams.
It’s not an easy task, but it was a plan, it was a plan I had from the get go.
I sit here with my family and San Clemente and I’m like, “wow, we actually did it!”
We’re kind of on the downward slope now, we’re getting older and I have nothing left to prove and that’s a good spot to be in…
Even surfing “Lower (Trestles)” yesterday and having all the best surfers in the world around you… Kolohe Andino, for instance….you said something to Dino and he said “Gosh, these kids are sharp and circles around me” … well, they are the best kids in the world.
Being amongst them and even if I’m not necessarily relevant, but I’m still part of the team and that that’s an accomplishment, you know, I think the goal is to keep surfing until I’m old, if I can do that….I’m happy.
TTOS: You said, “there is nothing left to prove”, but you still can challenge yourself? Bringing new ideas, maybe new art that you will have in mind, other things?
I like surfing big waves and I’m still doing that chasing big waves when it happens and that’s exciting to me.
I look at guys like Gary Linden, I surf with him every winter and I want to be surfing big waves into my seventies, exactly like him!
That’s what’s great about big waves, you just have to be smart and be there on the right day and be patient and you can get one of the bomb sets.
You don’t have to catch a bunch of waves, but that one wave will just light you up for the rest of the year.
TTOS: which surfboard are you surfing today?
I have a bunch of boards, I like riding a MR Twin fin, that’s probably my go to board.
When I was a kid, I got a MR twin and it was the board that I felt I surfed my best on and now, I always have one of those in my quiver.
I have a Lost retro fish quad fin that I use at Lowers because Lowers is kind of a flat wave, it’s a lot of cutbacks and so it floats really good and goes over the slow spots… that’s kinda my go to board for there.
I really don’t ride short boards until it it’s bigger, my first short board actually starts at about 6/0, then I go right in to guns…. I got a nine/0 , 9/ six, 10/six, and 11 foot guns for Todos and Ocean Beach and those kinds of places….
TTOS: How many surfboards do you have?
Too many…. my wife made me get rid of some.
It’s funny, I think it was around the 2008 crisis when all business went bad, I was turning like 40 years old and I wanted to rent a house on the beach in Hawaii to surf.
I wanted to surf pipeline for my birthday and we were kind of broke and so I went in my garage and I counted…. I had like 45 surfboards.
Some of them were like really collectible, like Ben Aipa stingers and boards like that.
I just decided that I was going to sell some of those boards to pay for my trip to Hawaii and bring my family.
I think I sold like 15 or 20 of them and made a lot of money and rented a house right on the beach at KCI beach and spent my birthday surfing pipeline all from surfboards that I collected.
Now I don’t know how many I have, there are some that I have because they have cool paintings or I’ve caught big waves on them……probably 20/30, I dunno….
TTOS: Do you regret having sold some of those 20 boards back in 2009?
No, because they were really nice boards that they were highly priced and these went to people who those meant more to them than to me.
I had a Terry Martin and I used to work with Terry Martin from Hobie surfboards, he was a good friend of mine, but a better friend of Terry’s bought that board because they grew up together and he was going to restore it.
You know…. those types of things, they work out, they do no use sitting in my garage or in my storage shed, they’re meant to be seen and admired, they are like sculptures of works of art.
If you’re holding surfboards donate them to a museum or to a surf shop where they can be seen, I love going into a surf shop and you can see all the boards on the ceiling. That’s great.
TTOS: Here’s what I tried to do, as well, with the podcast as I’m collecting surfboard and I would like to put together all of the surfboard collectors in the world….
I was talking with Bird Huffman few episodes ago and he told me that he has a collection of more than 1400 surfboards and his next project is going to be like a full website where all the surfboard will be catalog with pictures and that can be a reference for other people that are looking for a specific surfboard, not for sale
I think that, if all the surfboard collectors are able to do the same we could all draw an imaginary line between different eras, different shapers and different surfboards…..you know….they need to be out there, they don’t have to be in the shed only.
And that would be really great for the shapers point of view and the craftsmen ….. having all those dimensions posted as well.
If I think about me growing up in in South Carolina, my first gun was shaped in South Carolina for Puerto Escondido and we had no idea what the dimensions of a gun should be….we had the guess and how cool would it be if you could like find the dimensions of Tom Caroll’s famous pipe board andmmake something similar.
TTOS: Exactly! And as well, the story of the surf board itself…like some of us write something on the stringer and by the time the board sells and re-sells you lose the story.
Some surfboards are out there… there are still surfer can say “that was my board.” And tells us the story of it. That’s fascinating in my opinion.
Yeah! All the waves that it had ridden!
TTOS: Exactly! like that board was used for, maybe it was a famous board, we never gonna know!
I have a great story….
I used to go to Puerto Escondido a lot and I took an 8/0 gun down there, for the big barrels, but I broke it and I got it fixed and decided to sell it while I was down there….I sold it and it had a dragon painted on it.
When they fixed it, they sanded the dragon, the middle of the dragon off….it was still a cool board. I thought they might just hang it up.
Years and years and years go by, I hear this story of a guy in Mexico that I think at Pasquale’s was still riding that board….a Mexican guy.
He had fixed the dragon and added to it.
He was like known as the dragon or something like that: “Oh, the Dragon is out”.
I got one of the best waves of my life on that board, then this guy had the board, made it his own and it was still living down, it is probably still being surfed today down in Pasquale’s by some Mexican guy that, you know, charges big tubes.
TTOS: That’s amazing, right? That’s should be the destiny of every surfboard!
Yeah and you’re just stoked, because I haven’t actually seen it…..I just hear stories from people and I’ve heard a few of them…. I don’t know what the guy’s name, they just call him “The Dragon”.
TTOS: Well, maybe, maybe we can ask if, if he ever, he will listen to the podcast to send you a picture of the board that he is riding, at least you can share stories for sure, as you had the same surfboard.
What’s next for you, what are your future projects?
I paint every day here, my wife’s my business manager and of course I love to surf.
Last year I traveled a little bit over in Indonesia and I used to travel so much painting surfboards…
I think I’ve painted in like 16 different countries professionally, stay there and work, so I think we’re going to get back to something like that, to where my wife and I can travel and visit friends all around the world, not necessarily do production surfboards, but also show people how to do things.
We’re really big on sharing the methodology as I’m probably one of the few artists that has done every phase; I know how to airbrush boards and acid smear boards and pin line boards and do stencils, do it with spray paint and then of course I’m known for the Posca pens for totally customizing it that way.
I like to share that with people and when I first started traveling with Lost and doing the paint pens when it was new, in the nineties, my idea was that every little town and every little surf shop should have an artist that they support.
Instead of everything coming out of Southern California and that every little town could have its own flavor and in own style kind of like how Santa Cruz has its style, like the piece behind you (referring to The Temple of Surf logo) kind of reminds me of that Santa Cruz style.
TTOS: Thank you, it has been created by an Argentinian artist few years ago for us.
You think a guys like Jimbo Phillips, he’s done a good job and you know, I’ve tried to do a good job here in San Clemente and share it with the world.
We teach people how to use the paint pens and how to paint their own boards and become artists, that’s what we’re really focused on.
I want to do better paintings for myself, but also just sharing the technique because the kids don’t know and, for instance, here with the lockdown and the coronavirus, all the kids aren’t in school and when the waves are flat, they’re all painting their own boards.
That’s real inspiring to me.
Even with making surfboards, we need to teach the kids how to laminate and how to shape and how to sand and how to do everything because, you know, there’s not enough people that know how to do these things.
For my part, I’ll teach them how to paint, I’ll make sure that taping off killer pen lines and all the different techniques that I’ve learned from all the best airbrush artists in the world that I’ll pass it on.
I encourage anybody else who knows how to glass on fins or do anything else that gets passed on.
Even the tools, I got shapers now that are in their late seventies that aren’t shaping anymore, those tools need to be saved some of those old skill planers.
I feel my role is pass on information to as many people as I can and of course goes surf, I want to go surf all the best places again and more places
TTOS: Your legacy, could be like, in 20 years from now, there will be another Alessandro that will interview another artist that will say that he has been inspired by you and he started his career because of you….
Yeah, it was always my goal to do this.
I was in Brazil, probably in the late nineties and I was working with Luciano, this guy, he made the one of the first shaping machines, in his factory… I was there working, painting surfboards.
I remember there was always a kid that was watching me paint with the paint pens and he didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Portuguese, but he watched every day….
You know, my thing is that, anytime I worked in a different country, I left all the Posca pens with an artist there because I knew that it changed my life, it would change theirs.
I told Luciano to tell him, take the pans, do what I did and make some money for yourself and use it to paint boards.
That was in the late nineties and then, all of a sudden, many years later, I get an email and it started out, like….. “I don’t know if you remember me, I’m the guy in Brazil, the kid, now live in Portugal. I’m an artist. I have a wife and two kids, you know, painting short boards allowed me to make a life for myself.”
So it works!! I was just shocked that it actually worked, you know, and I think his name was Marsay or something. I forgot what his name was, but I wish I still had that email, but it was like, it was just evidence that, kindess is worth it.
In my career I’ve given away so many Posca pens, thousands and thousands of them and I know that even if it’s just making people have a little bit more joy or paint their own board, or it is making a difference.
I encourage people to try to do that, even in the water when you’re surfing.
You know, there are guys that get mad that they don’t catch every wave….
It’s not about catching every wave it’s about, like when you’re paddling back out, be stoked for the guy that just caught a wave or be stoked for the guy that’s in the perfect spot, don’t be mad that you’re not. All these things come to mind and it’s worth it.
TTOS: We’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind.
The best surfboard you ever ridden….
TTOS: your favorite shaper.
Oh, wow. I gotta say Matt Biolos and you know, Matt and I started together, we’re great friends and I’ve never seen somebody work so hard, he deserves everything.
TTOS: your favorite young or upcoming surf artist
There are so many, I think right now there’s a kid in Argentina named Santino, he has been in all my paint classes and he’s always so excited to paint and filled up all his sketchbooks.
He has ran out of things to paint during this quarantine he’s painting on everything and he’s got all his siblings painting and I’m just so excited for him because he’s killing it.
TTOS: Your Favorite surf spot
I gotta say Pipeline or Puerto Escondido love big tubes.
I’ve always been in love with Pipeline when I was a little kid, I used to dream at surfing Pipeline and I used to live right on the beach in my twenties and I think those were some of the best years of my life.
TTOS: Favorite surfer.
That’s a hard one, I kind of go with Jerry Lopez because my years in Hawaii were tough and Jerry was nice to me and I didn’t have any friends and Jerry, he would look out after me. I’d be surfing really big waves at pipeline after dark and sometimes he would be waiting on the sand, making sure I came in and he was just a good friend so I thank him for that.
TTOS: the last question is a bit unusual, doesn’t have anything to do with surf….we want to know your best relationship advice…
That’s kind of an easy one…..
I always say this at weddings to friends of mine, it’s your job to make your wife’s dreams come true.
It’s her job to help you reach your dreams and when you have children, it’s both of your jobs to make their dreams come true.
When you think about it, it can’t be all about you, It can’t be all one way….people thrive when they’re happy and you know, you need to help them reach their dreams and their best self, you know?
Sometimes it’s hard, you got to put them on a pedestal and push them when they need it and then be there for when they fall down and they’re upset.
It’s work and hopefully if you have two people doing that for each other, it’s a much better relationship and it can’t just be all about you and forget them or vice versa.
It has to be both.
Recorded in June 2020.