Richard Kenvin is a California surfer/filmmaker and the creator of the film Hydrodynamica. Kenvin’s roots are steeped in San Diego surfing history and he is a huge proponent of the Simmons’ school of board design. We were fortunate to be able to speak with him about his life.
What was your life like growing up?
We moved around a lot, but I had a good childhood. I loved nature and music and books. My mother was a beautiful English woman, and my dad was a mathematician and musician from Ohio.
I started surfing when I was nine years old. When I was a teenager, my dad started drinking heavily. My mom left, and the family fell apart. That was tough. My brother Peter and I moved out and lived on our own with some older surfers on Draper Street near Windansea. We were still going to high school. We were young—like 16. Lots of drugs around. It was 1978. My brother was a rock and roll prodigy and is an amazing musician. From that point on, it was the “School of Rock and Roll Windansea”. I took the proficiency test and got out of high school.
I lived on the North Shore in the winter of 1979 and in Queensland/NSW in the spring
When did you get your first surfboard?
In 1970. It was a red 6’0” round tail single fin with a Fins Unlimited (I think) Greenough-style skinny flexie fin. It said “Atlantis” on it. It was made by Dan Bridgeman for my friend Colin Brown, who turned me on to surfing. Colin has lived in San Francisco for years now and has been charging Mavs for a long time.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Best wave of my life. Stood in the whitewater at the Shores and the wave hit a deep spot and reformed. I trimmed across this tiny wall on the red Atlantis. Unbelievable. Pure stoke.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop.
San Diego surfers Skip Frye, Gary Keating, Tim Lynch, the Bridgeman brothers, Chris O’Rourke, Rex Huffman, Steve Lis, Jeff Ching, Henry Hester, Butch Van Artsdaalen, the Orloff brothers and Tom Ortner.
Late 60’s/early 70’s surfers Reno Abellira, B.K., Gerry Lopez, Jose Angel, Larry Bertlemann, Buttons, Stephen Cooney, Terry Fitzgerald, Ben Aipa, Bunker Spreckels, Jeff Crawford, Sam Hawk, Owl Chapman, James Jones, Jimmy Lucas, Jeff Hakman, Jock Sutherland, Michael Peterson, George Greenough …all those guys. And, of course, Miki Dora.
Jay Adams and Tony Alva for 70’s skating. Christian Hosoi is someone I look up to immensely and if you have not seen Rising Son you should.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
To trust God. To love and be loved.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
I have tons of things I would do differently … and plenty of regrets. But I can’t change the past. I have to live today as best I can. I regret being an asshole in the water many, many times. I wish I would have lived on Oahu from 1978 to 1983. Oh well, at least I got to visit.
What are you most proud of?
Any time I’ve helped someone. Reading, writing and learning without a college education.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
In the film Chariots of Fire, which is about a runner who goes to Oxford, there is a scene where he expresses how running makes him feel. He says that when he runs, he somehow seems to feel God’s pleasure and joy at His creation. Surfing makes me feel that way. It’s hard to express—riding a wave puts me in the moment like nothing else. Just like Dora said… all that dry land shit just goes over the falls behind me—drugs and other crap took me away from surfing for a long time. Surfing is a huge positive force that helps pull me out of that stuff. There was a sticker that said, “Skateboarding saved my life.” I can relate. Surfing is a powerful affirmation of the positive side of life.
How do you think the world of surfing, especially in terms of the surfboards most people ride, would be different had Bob Simmons not died in the 1950’s?
Well, Simmons was building a boat and trying to bail to Western Australia and other zones to surf by himself. That was his dream. So maybe he just would have gone unnoticed in isolation, but he had already created major design breakthroughs. They were misunderstood and rejected for a number of reasons. The timing of his death had a lot to do with it. He died right at the birth of surf media. Bud Brown’s first film was released in 1953.
Anyway, the short version is that three things—big wave Hawaiian guns, single fins and noseriding—took center stage for design and performance after Simmons died. It stayed that way until Greenough came along and finally changed everything. Simmons had spent nine months on Oahu in 1953 and he did not like the board he had over there, surfing big Sunset on a dual finned planing hull and having the tradewinds get under the nose, etc. Simmons was planning to go back to the North Shore with a new set of boards, based on all that experience he had in 1953 over there, but he got killed in 1954. I talked to Pat Curren about this and Pat felt that Simmons probably had some really good design concepts ready for his next trip to the Islands, but he got killed so it never happened.
Simmons kept his boards at Peter Parkin’s place near Windansea. Parkin was the first surfer/skater. Started skating in 1947. Simmons always tried to improve everything from surfboards to ping pong paddles to boomerangs. So, sometimes I think had he lived, he would have improved skate wheels and trucks early on. Who knows? Simmons is still changing the world of surfing today, and he’s still stoking people out with his boards. Planing hulls are user-friendly and are really fun to ride, and fun is contagious.
What is your ultimate goal with respect to your film Hydrodynamica?
Finishing it is pretty high on the list. Beyond that, I think about a non-profit foundation dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of surfing and skating. I hope the film puts some things into context. It’s one thing to make a bunch of cool boards and ride them and document them. It’s another to put Simmons and the rest of this story into its proper social and historical context. This stuff had a profound effect on culture worldwide, very similar to effects of art and music.
The music of the 20th and 21st century has its roots in Africa; board riding has its roots in Hawaii. I would like to help contribute somehow to help Hawaiian surfers preserve their surfing traditions and to acknowledge their cultural contributions to the world. The paipo and the alaia—those boards are the root of everything that became shortboard surfing and modern skating. Without Hawaii, there would be no surfing or skating or snowboarding.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
When someone steals your stoke, how does that happen and what’s the best way to get it back?
Stoke burglars. I’m talking about being betrayed by people I helped and trusted, being used by and disrespected by people. Being spiritually beaten down by oppressive communal negativity. Being hurt by people. Well, I have to forgive them to get my stoke back. I have to admit where I was wrong. What part did I play? What can I do to make things better? That’s hard. I’m a selfish human and I need God’s help to be able to do that. Or, as my friend Geraldine tells me, “Keep your eyes on the prize. All the rest is bullshit.”
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Tom Pohaku Stone, Valentine Ching, and Buffalo Keaulana by nurturing and preserving true Hawaiian surfing culture. Skip Frye, Larry Gephart, Steve Lis, the Pendarvises (Steve and Cher) by creating, refining, preserving and staying true to San Diego design. Second generation surfer/shapers like Eli Mirandon, Timmy Patterson, Akila Aipa, and Daniel Thomson for bringing the past into the future and carrying on the legacy of their fathers. John Elwell for keeping the knowledge of the Simmons planing hull alive.
Carl Ekstrom—the one and only, once and future futurist, schooled by Simmons as a kid. Anna Trent Moore for preserving an oral history from her father, Buzzy Trent, and his friends, including George Downing and many more. Today’s big wave paddle guys like Twiggy and the Long brothers, Lyle, Derek Dunfee, Squirrel, Shane Dorian… the gnarliest of the gnarl those guys command full and total respect for doing what most of us don’t have the balls to do. Derek Hynd… for blowing all our minds. Tony Alva… still surfing and skating with full on stoke at 52 years old. Absolutely incredible. Jon Wegener has stoked me out a lot. Tom Henry Ciletti. Christian Beamish. The Joske family for bridging the gap that brought alaia-inspired boards to the rest of us. Scott Hulet at the Surfers Journal for giving a voice and venue for the many facets of surfdom. Dave Rastovich… just thanks for surfing, Dave… insane. Andrew Kidman. Alex Kopps. Ryan Thomas. Tyler Warren. Danny Hess. Stretch and all the Santa Cruz guys.
All the shapers everywhere who are experimenting and changing things. All the kids in places like Indo, Brazil and Mexico who are gonna come up and blow minds in the future. Lucas Dirkse and Ryan Burch. All the open-minded people, men and women, boys and girls, who are reclaiming the heritage and the creative stoke of surfing. I gotta put most of the big corpos in the penalty box in this regard. Sorry guys, but you’ve been f’*cking surfing in the ass for way too long and you can’t keep us down forever. We’re infiltrating and making some changes… like it or not.
Tell us about “Yard Possums”.
The core Yard Possums are Lucas Dirkse (age 15) and Ryan Burch (age 21). I film them a lot for Hydrodynamica. Lucas and his mom, Geraldine, are like family to me. Geraldine is a single mom, and she works really hard to support her kid and get him through school.
She’s the strongest person I know. His dad, Doug, is a commercial fisherman and he’s gone for months at a time. Lucas and Geraldine live in a little apartment on an alley near Windansea. That to me is old school Windansea: a single, working mom with a kid making sacrifices to hang on to a little apartment on the blocks between Kolmar and Nautilus, surrounded on all sides by unimaginable wealth that ain’t trickling down to Possumville. These blocks used to have a lot of people like Geraldine and Lucas, but not anymore.
Geraldine has a beautiful garden there that attracts lots of possums. Possum central command is the little garage next to the apartment where Lucas and Ryan make boards. I decided to call them the Yard Possums because they are always scurrying about in that yard and garage making stuff—just like the possums. The apartment where Lucas and Geraldine live happens to be sandwiched between the apartment where Mike Diffenderfer grew up on the east and the house where Carl Ekstrom grew up on the west. So there is some crazy design energy going on there and it bombards Lucas’ mind constantly. So Ryan, King Possum, is the creator of the “Lord Bord,” an unglassed piece of foam shaped like the planing hull test models used in Lindsay Lords’ Naval Architecture of Planing Hulls from 1946. Simmons used that book and those shapes to design the planing hull. The shapes themselves, from the book, appear to be derived from paipo boards. I interviewed Tom Morey in 2006, thinking he must have seen the book, but he never had. The surfing Ryan does on his foam chunks is just insane. Spontaneous fu*kin’ genius. Lucas is really, really good too. Those boards are called “Yard Possum Lord Bords” and are decorated accordingly. We also call the Possum garden and garage “Mutual of Foamaha’s Wild Kingdom”. The whole Lord Bord thing is also referred to by Ryan and Lucas simply as “FOAM”. Alaias and such are referred to simply as “WOOD.”
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Whatever is under my feet and letting me have fun on a particular day. I love bodysurfing too. I just like surfing all the local nooks and crannies. No place like home.
If you were stuck on an island with a point break on one side and a beach break on the other, what one board would you want to have with you?
My little tri-finned planing hull gets the job done no matter what. But any kind of finless board or planing hull is insane at a pointbreak. Uhhh … anyone seen Derek at J-Bay?
What’s your favorite post-surf session meal?
Black bean burrito with cheese.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
No iPod, but “Hey Young World” by Slick Rick is next up on iTunes. Here it comes… music inspires everything I do. After Rick the Ruler comes “It’s Alright Now” by Eddie Harris.
What causes/organizations do you support?
What are you most grateful for?
My friends and my health.
What’s next for Richard Kenvin?
Breakfast and more coffee. And I gotta finish this film. That takes time and money.
Find out more about Richard Kenvin here. Photography credits: 1. Anthony Ghiglia, 2. John Slavin, 3. Scott Sullivan, 4. Ryan Field, 5. Geraldine, 6. Scott Sullivan.