Ron Croci is a talented California surfer/artist who creates colorful and fluid paintings which express the surfing lifestyle. A surfer for over 49 years, Ron shares with us his life of creating art.
What was your life like growing up?
Although I was born in Chicago of Italian parents, we moved to Half Moon Bay in San Mateo when I was 12. It was a wonderful time for young kids to grow up; this was a time before stoplights, before hippies, before drugs and before commercial development and the restraints that are commonplace now. At that time, there was only the breeze across the dunes and empty beaches. Near the town of Half Moon Bay, there were mostly farmers and beatniks. On the weekends and in summer, we would leave home in the morning and return in the evening with no worries on the part of our parents.
Then, we discovered surfing. Basically, we were among the first surfers. We were the first to watch Mavericks. From the farmlands on the cliffs, we kids would stare in amazement at the huge green peaks that would glisten white against the blue sky as the offshore wind cascaded from the wave tops. With our beaver-tailed wetsuits and balsa/foam boards, we as kids pioneered almost all of the now popular breaks. Then, there was open farmland to the many beaches. We were like Tom Sawyers with surfboards.
When did you get your first surfboard?
All of my surfboards growing up were junk and I can’t really remember how I got my first board. There were no shops except for O’Neill’s in Santa Cruz and old boards drifted from hand to hand. We were not like modern kids with beautiful new shortboards; everyone’s board was at least nine feet long and really heavy. To walk from the Coast Highway to Ano Nuevo took 45 minutes with two guys carrying two boards—nose and tails. My parents were poor Italian immigrants, so we could not afford such a luxury as a surfboard. They would say, “What is a surfboard anyway?”
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
My first stand up ride was at Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz—long and slow, but I felt like the god Mercury, traveling from one celestial realm to another.
Who did you look up to when you were a young man?
I was inspired by the likes of Salvador Dali, Phil Edwards, Ben Cartwright, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, my father and uncle plus many more. However, as a kid I was so egocentric that there was hardly any room for anyone but me.
How did you get involved in art?
When I was 15 years old, two interesting things happened at the same time. First, I watched beatniks on the Peter Gunn detective show. They played cool jazz and painted abstract art, which I thought was so absorbing. I was completely enthralled by “the scene.” Then, at the same time, I was walking down a library aisle in the art section, which was odd at the time since I knew nothing about the subject, when I saw a book protruding out from the shelf. It was a book about Salvador Dali. On the cover was his famous painting “The Persistence of Memory”. As soon as I saw the image, my consciousness screamed out, “That’s what I want to do!” The rest is history.
What is your process for creating your art?
Inspiration, contemplation, then to thumbnail sketches, to enlarged drawings, color comps and finished art. My overriding concern is always how to make it beautiful. I strive for completion, not correction. (For my process, see Club of the Waves: http://www.clubofthewaves.com/art_interview_ron_croci.php)
Of all the places you traveled to, what stands out?
That’s easy—the Kaiser Bowl in Waikiki. I have surfed that strip from Three’s to Ala Moana over 2000 times. I have seen there … perfection, degradation, sunshine, camaraderie, addictions, sadness and death.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the greats in any field whether it is art, science or motherhood. All forms of creativity inspire me—from the beggar with his sign to the Sistine Chapel.
What is the greatest thing you learned in your life?
Be attentive and careful of what you do as it will always come back to reward or punish you.
Do you have any regrets?
There are at least 50 things that I have done that I regret terribly and I have paid the price for my misdeeds. Here is a short list: people I have taken unfair advantage of, raising my voice in anger, stuff I swiped as a kid, thinking my opinion is the only way of looking at things, not putting love before ego and trying to be controlling.
What are you most proud of?
All the typical things one can be proud of (such as family, love, achievements of all sorts). However, from a professional perspective, it was my role and accomplishment in the development and design of the Hawaiian Maritime Museum. In my role as lead designer, I developed most of the maritime exhibits depicting the past, present and future of Hawaii and her link to the sea. Thousands of Hawaiian children have visited this wonderful museum and have gained insights to their heritage.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
It means a lot—the sea is my mistress. However, it has really not really changed me since I caught my first wave in 1960. Before that I was a man; after that I was a surfer. I have surfed and participated in water sports basically for 49 years—most of my life. These sports have kept me sane for most of these years.
Who are some of the people that are shaping the surfing path today?
Anybody who has read a surf magazine or seen a video is very aware of the current leaders in innovation, so I don’t need to go into it. However, a lesser-known aspect of shaping the “path” applies to the path of surfing art, which is what we are talking about here. I think Wade is really leading the way. His recent seascapes are dark and brooding with a mixture of dread and beauty. His work reminds me of background art for 1950’s Tarzan book covers. On the other hand, Drew is a super surrealist whose work is appealing to kids and adults alike. Drew has opened the surf art door to artists and admirers alike.
What is your favorite surfboard? What are favorite surf spots?
My favorite board that I have owned is a nine foot Sparky from Honolulu. But, come on … we are talking 49 years of surfing and I can’t remember all the boards I have ever had.
My three favorite surf spots are: Palos Verdes’ Cove in California, Kaiser Bowl in Hawaii and Sanur Reef in Bali.
What is your favorite meal?
I have two kinds of favorite meals. First is my mom’s homemade raviolis. My mom and dad would spend an entire afternoon making raviolis for the holidays. The second is lobsters or Calico Bass that I catch myself. I simmer the creatures in lots of butter and garlic. Then, a Manoa lettuce salad with ciabatta bread and homemade cheese, sweetened with sugar and dried fruit.
What is on your ipod?
I don’t own an ipod, however if you are asking what kind of music I enjoy listening to: Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, Coltrane, Armstrong, Blakey, Getz, Allman Brothers, Dylan, Cobain, Eminem, 50 Cent, Afro-Cuban, Balinese, Bosa Nova, Tibetan chanting, Spike Jones. The list goes on. I love all kinds of music—no matter when or where composed.
What causes or organizations do you support?
I promote and I am a member of Pangaea Seed, which is a marine activist group from Japan which is attempting to curb the use of shark as a food source. I try to help the many good causes that I am asked to donate to.
What are your grateful for?
I am grateful that I still have the opportunity improve myself spiritually, artistically, personally, morally and mentally. I still have my health, and that means everything.
What’s next Ron Croci?
I just finished the Indonesian Surfing Competition artwork, which is sponsored by Coca Cola. This art was created for t-shirts and prints. I have also designed several new t-shirt designs for the summer season. I am creating four new seascapes that are going into print as limited edition giclees.
I am also painting thirty-two 12 x 12 inch water color illustrations for the book titled Lil G. Lil G is an inspirational book for young children teaching them about gratitude. It will be my 12th book. I am having artwork in the new SIMA calendar. And am part of an exhibit titled “Art in Motion” in Redondo Beach. I also have to continuously supply artwork to my galleries (McKibben Studios, Beach Street Gallery, Montanero Gallery and Kohala Coast Fine Arts). I will be spending time this year also helping to promote the book Surf Story.