Erik Abel is a California surfer/artist who creates graphic depictions of the ocean lifestyle. When not painting on mixed media, Erik spends his free time searching for the perfect barrel. We sat down with Erik to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood had a good mix of outdoor adventures like building forts, climbing trees, playing with bugs and having family camp outs as well as plenty of indoor time to experiment with Playdough, Legos and Crayons. I had it pretty good, it seems like a lot of time was spent at the beach or around some body of water or being creative somehow.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood up on a surfboard?
It felt like I got a hit of the best drug – ever. I was 11 and it changed everything. Screwing around on a sponge since I was 4 or 5 was one thing, it was fun and I didn’t know any better – and it helped build a good foundation for ocean appreciation and being comfortable with the power and the ways of the sea. But the feeling of surfing is so far beyond anything else you can do on a wave, it’s just strange to think anybody would want to pursue anything else after they get that first hit.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
Where did you study painting?
Most of my studying was done alone in some room with a canvas in front of me. But I did take art classes throughout high school, into city college in Ventura and finally got my BA in Painting at Southern Oregon University, in Ashland. Sometimes I wonder where I would be with my art if I had attended an actual “art school” and taken college seriously. I just wanted to snowboard, throw parties, make some cash from design work and be able to splatter some paint around when I felt like it, and a degree in art was the easiest way to go about doing that.
What is your process when creating your art?
It all starts in my sketchbooks. Just working out different thoughts and visions to where I can see them more clearly. And if I’m inspired enough and need to see a concept in further detail, size or color, then it’s time to break out the paint, markers and pencils and get to work. It’s mostly a desire to see an invisible concept materialize to be something that I can look at in reality.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
This is a tough question. I think each place has it’s own magic. And I think it’s more of a person’s experience in a place more than the actual location that can make it special. I would have to say my experience in Tonga last year is a particular standout. Living and working at a fishing lodge on a small tropical island for 2 months then hopping on a yacht with a couple of Kiwi’s and just surfing, spear fishing, swimming with whales, and exploring the island groups for 2 more months was pretty epic. It was a carefree time and I was living in a dream.… ohhhh take me back!
What code do you live by?
I believe that humans have an incredible power in their own minds to achieve whatever it is they want to do. The pure power of our thoughts is such an extraordinary thing… it’s just a bummer that so many people waste it. I just try to fill my mind with ideas that will help me get to where I want to go in life. I’ve said this in an interview before but I think it’s worth repeating… Every day there are decisions to make that can either take you closer to where you want to be or farther away. I guess my code is to make more of the ones that take me closer than ones that take me farther away.
Who/what inspires you?
Short list of inspirations: Surfing, ocean, plants, outer space, history, ancient civilizations, mid-century modern design, cartoons, systems, mechanics, other artists, biology, insects, the moon, the sun, food, color, shape, line, abstract expressionism, old art teachers, colors, books, paper, texture, wood, sand, rocks, mountains, waterfalls, rivers, mountains, fresh air, sunshine, life cycles, evolution, language, photography, microscopic things, renewable energy, science, physics, travel, strange women, blank canvases, upcoming art shows… the list could go on.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
I’ve learned that everything will always work itself out… it always has, it always does, and it always will. And maybe to learn to really appreciate the short amount of time you get to spend with the people you love, the people who helped shape who you are, because life is getting shorter every single day.
What are you most proud of?
Never really thought about it. I’m proud that I’m not letting my talent go to waste. And I guess when it comes down to it, I’m proud to be free, and to have grown up with the opportunities that have allowed me to succeed and be able to travel the world to experience why exactly I should be proud. Hmmm…
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing quite possibly could be the meaning of my life. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than inside a warm barrel… nowhere! Actually I’m confident that that’s true for every surfer in the entire world. Not one of us would be able to choose a place they would rather be than inside a nice, big, warm tube! Please tell me if I’m wrong. I think there was only one moment when surfing actually changed my life, and that was the first time I stood up (read second question) after that it has always been a part of my life, helping me become who I am.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Read above answer regarding big, warm, tubes. That, and when I’m being creative in the studio, or having sex on a beach with a girl I love. Wow.. that’s all pretty selfish stuff. I’m a bigger asshole than I thought!
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I have a hard time keeping us with the Joneses and keeping tabs on what’s happening in the surf world, but I think all the people experimenting with green board building technologies are on the right path, unfortunately I don’t think that’s the path mainstream surfing will ever be on… it’s too hard to get away from the dirty, tried, tested and inexpensive PU. As far as personalities go, I think Rasta is somebody we as surfers can all look to for motivation as far as ocean stewardship goes. Sustainable Coastlines out of New Zealand and Surfrider are other good examples.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My favorite boards are Roberts shaped by Robert Weiner out of Ventura. In Particular, one of his Squish shapes he made me probably 10 years ago… it’s known simply as “Dragon Board” between me and a friend who has taken ownership since it snapped… I painted a big green dragon breathing fire down the deck. I’ve never ridden anything like it, it was my magic board, I rode it again a few years back and the thing just wants to go airborn on even the smallest wave. I used to airbrush for Rob back in the day and have been riding his boards for over 10 years now. I recently got one of his famed White Diamonds for our typical Cali Summer slop and it’s been blowing my mind… right up there with Dragon Board.
My Favorite spot? Probably a certain beach break just down the road ’cause when it’s on… you just can’t beat it… spitting barrels 20 feet from the sand with restricted access.
What’s your favorite meal?
Large pepperoni pizza, well done, from Pizza Oasis on NW 23rd and Burnside in Portland, Oregon. With an ice-cold PBR. Hands down.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
The iTunes playlist that is on right this second contains: The Black Seeds, Fat Freddys Drop, dDub, Aloe Blacc, Warren G, and Ghostland Observatory.
What causes/ projects/ organizations are you involved with?
I feel like I’m currently lacking in the involvement department… but I was asked to create the artwork for this years 6th Annual International Surfing Day presented by Surfing Mag and the Surfrider Foundation, I think it’s a global event that has a positive impact on our sport and planet. Surfrider and I have briefly spoken about a future collaboration of some sort to help raise funds for the organization. Also, I was just contacted by Robb Havassy to be included in the second volume of his book Surf Story, where proceeds also go to help Surfrider. I’d love to involved with more stuff like this. Hit me up!
What’s next for Erik Abel?
Well… my first solo show in almost 2 years is opening this Saturday, August 7th at the Surfing Heritage Museum in Costa Mesa. I’ll have a bunch of new paintings and 50 one-of-a-kind prints on display. It’s gonna be fun, come on down and check it out! Once that’s done I can get to my list of design projects and commissions that have been on the back burner because of this show.
One of my best friends and I turn 30 next month (Holy Shit!) and we plan on drinking tequila and running wild in the streets of Cabo, so if I live through that, I’ll consider planning another escape from America shortly thereafter. Might be floating around on a boat in Fiji for a while later this year.… thank you Fijian government for freeing up those private surf spots! Keeping my fingers crossed for that.
Surf, eat, play, travel, make stuff, and enjoy life.… that’s about it.
Find out more about Erik Abel and his work here.