Erin Ashley is a California surfer/musician/artist whose popular surf blog, Worm’s Town, is part journal and part soapbox. Her passion to help those in need is equaled only by her uncanny ability to ride the nose. We caught up with Erin to talk story.
What was your life like growing up?
I grew up in Long Beach like a child of the 80’s, where my brother, sister and I—two other sisters came later—could ride our bikes anywhere as long as we were home before the streetlights came on. In the summer, we went to 49er Camp (at Cal State Long Beach) and the Bay, where we would try and trap octopus in two liter bottles.
When did you get your first surfboard?
Around the year 2000.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
That it was awesome and I was so dreadful at it that I had to get better.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young girl?
In middle school, my sister and I started going to punk and ska shows around Orange County. I didn’t surf at all back then, so I looked up to people in bands (such as Suburban Rhythm, Das Klown, Link 80, Slow Gherkin, Pocket Lent and The Aquabats. It was all about having fun, getting your voice heard. It felt like a family of people who got what it was about.
Efran Santana from Hepcat. When I first heard Out of Nowhere and the sax solos, it blew my mind. I never knew that ska could be so smooth, beautiful and radical. I’m sure it made everyone in my house so mad. I would just play that album repeatedly (at eleven) until I learned every horn line and solo.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Home. Of all the amazing places I have been, coming home is always my favorite. Nothing beats it.
Who/what inspires you?
Probably everything I surround myself with—from friends, family, literature, music, movies … all of it. I’m a hoarder when it comes to ideas, quotes and photos. That said, I try to model my surfing after Steve Prefontaine. The surfers who’ve inspired me the most are Matt Cuddihy and Levi Prarie.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Try to be a little kinder. Stand as close to the edge as you can without going over—it’s a better view. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Sure there are things that I wish I could go back and change, but as they say, “So it goes.…”
What are you most proud of?
That I’m happy. I’m not the most successful or wealthy, but I like where I am right now.
Talk a little about your visits to New Orleans after Katrina.
New Orleans is one of the greatest places on earth. If it had a real beach and waves, I would move there. I felt at home when I was there, and think that was due to the people. I spent all my time gutting houses in St. Bernard Parish—areas right outside New Orleans and next to the Lower Ninth Ward. During our breaks, people would bring us drinks or barbecue for us. People who lost everything still went out of their way to show appreciation.
I was lucky enough to spend Christmas Eve there. We had collected heaps of toys, and another guy and I got to spend the day driving to FEMA trailers of people— delivering gifts for parents so their kids would have something to wake up to the next day. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been thanked so much in my life or cried so much. It really showed me what the human spirit is all about—not giving up, people helping people and all that.
Tell us about GOGO13.
GOGO13 is the band I’m in. I’ve been with them for maybe ten years or so. Our genre could possibly be described as two-tone ska with mod and some other rubbish thrown in. It’s mostly whatever we like. The band consists of some of the most creative people I have ever met in my life and couldn’t be luckier to not only know but play with the guys.
I play mostly saxophone and I think there are a couple of songs we want trombone on, so I’m going to be playing that a bit more in the near future. In the past, we’ve played shows when friends or bands that we enjoy ask us to play. This summer, we’re going to put out an actual album and play a few of the West Coast dates of the (Vans) Warped Tour along with some other shows.
What is it about creating stencils (which you, in turn, use to create art) that you find so appealing?
That it’s not to create something for one to see, but for one to see something that already exists. It’s not about me, but what I’m showing. Take the human element out of things.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
All of it. I love it all … even the part I hate.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Photographers are what shape surfing. They are how we see surfing—outside of actually experiencing it. Honestly, I think that Kyle Lightner is helping to shape the path of longboarding. He may end up being a Craig Stecyk-type who is able to document the whole life and get shots because it is what he is. Also, loggers that are pushing the limits (like the Stopniks, JJ Wessels, Cody Simpkins, Jared Mell and so many others).
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Right now, my favorite board is a 9’6 Dano Los Creeper. It’s a double stepdeck and works insane. Dano really knows what he’s doing.
Blackies—it’s a crummy beach break, so I have to learn everything faster. There’s always someone there I like to surf with. And even if the waves aren’t great, there is always Seaside Donuts.
What’s your favorite meal?
Anything Italian … with Dr. Pepper.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I lost the best iPod ever somewhere in Romania, and lost interest in them shortly after. In my car is Les Sexareenos, Alkaline Trio, Monster, Jay Z (The Blueprint 3), The Black Keys, The Cramps and I love seeing Thee Cormans live.
What causes/organizations do you support?
I’m a counselor at Poly North, which is a human relations camp where we take 10th graders from Long Beach Polytechnic High School and spend the weekend up in the mountains. We talk about things like values, violence, stereotypes and many other topics that aren’t really discussed in school, but are very important. Due to budget cuts, funding is gone for the program (that has been around since 1973). So, if anyone wants to donate to a great program, it’s tax deductible. Mailing Info: Polytechnic High School 1600 Atlantic Ave Long Beach, Ca. 90813 Attn: Rob Shock/ Poly North Director
What are you most grateful for?
All of it—all the people who put up with my unclever quips, Hurley, Captain Fin and Dano Surfboards for finding a spot where I fit in. Being lucky enough to find something that makes me incredibly happy. Living in a part of the world where I can do what I want. Oden for the shots!!!!
What’s next for Worm?
This summer, I’m going to New York to hook up with Justin Jay to surf and summer it up. Hopefully, I’ll get to go to some other rad places as well.
Find out more about Erin Ashley and Worm’s town at her blog here. Photography by Justin Jay ( 1, 3), Cam Oden (2, 4,) and JD Massey (5). All images are copyrighted and my not be used without permission.