Andy Powers is a California surfer/musician. Whether he’s jamming with some of today’s hottest musicians, making instruments for those same musicians, or experimenting with different crafts to ride waves on, his creativity knows no limits. We spoke with Andy to learn more.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
My parents moved to Encinitas, several years before I was born, to live near the beach. Around the time I came along, they had moved to Oceanside, where they still live. My brother, sister and I grew up spending a ton of time at the beaches in the area. My folks decided to go the home taught route, which gave us all sorts of time to pursue things we were interested in. They were always encouraging us to try things. For me that meant music and surfing. There were musical instruments around our house, so we all played to one degree or another. And I was fascinated with music and the things that made music.
When did you start surfing?
I’m not really sure, but it followed the progression of running on the beach eating sand, as a wee little one, to riding a sponge in ankle deep water. Then, finally graduating to a hand-me-down surfboard.
What got you into surfing?
I credit my dad for his love of surfing. He really loves the glide and shared that joy from the time I was young.
What was your first surfboard?
The first board that I could claim ownership to was a used Rusty thruster. I think it was 6’3”—really wide with those big boxy rails that were the thing in the 80s. Before that, I’d ridden my dad’s fish and an old blue single fin that had been fished out of a dumpster. But that Rusty was the one.
How did shaping come about for you?
It really was just out of curiosity and wanting to try a few new things. My brother and I had a small business, when we were groms, making miniature longboards, out of wood, that we sold to surf shops. So, there has always been a bit of surf board experimentation, although I wouldn’t consider myself a real shaper by any means. There are guys who are shaping some fantastic boards, and I like riding those boards. I only shape something when I want to try something really different.
Tell us about these alaias you’ve been making lately.
My brother got the idea to try one of these, so I bought some wood for him to make one. That first one didn’t ride too well for me, but it was fun enough to try to make some better ones. What I’ve been riding lately is a combination—a real mutt of a board! I’ve been laminating a blank of balsa and salvaged redwood, like the old Pacific System Homes boards. They are thin and flexible like an alaia, but with the bottom contours of a Simmons-built spoon. My favorite one even has two small “finlets,” those little elliptical fins you see on the Simmons. The bottom has a long single concave, almost the entire length of the board, with a beveled rail.
The rails have a hard corner onto that bottom bevel, then gradually blending into a very turned up rail near the nose. The whole thing is pretty small, about 6’3” x 15.5” and a little less than an inch thick. It is a ridiculously fun thing to ride on a small glassy wave; you can feel every little flex and movement. It feels like you are flowing with the wave. It is a really dynamic kind of experience.
How did you get into long-distance paddling?
When I was in high school, a Velzy lifeguard board ended up at our house for a summer. I enjoyed taking that out on windy days, just going for the challenge of being out in the ocean with all the chop. That board ended up disappearing, and a few years ago I started getting back into it on a proper stock board—partly to enjoy the ocean in a different way, partly for the exercise aspect and partly to satisfy the craving of getting wet even when there’s not surf that is good for riding.
What do you love about surfing?
There are so many aspects it is almost impossible to say in a short space. Some days, I love surfing simply for the glide of racing down a smooth wall. Some days, I love just to be out in a salty, wet wilderness. Sometimes I love it for the thrill of a bigger wave. Gliding on a band of energy moving through water—it’s pretty tough to not love that.
When did you start making music?
I started on piano when I was a little guy, but my real interest was with the guitar and mandolin, and other instruments we had around our house. I started playing with those when I was tiny. Those turned into electric guitars before too long and I was playing in bands by the time I was ten or eleven.
What got you into making instruments?
My dad is a carpenter, so although I didn’t really see it happening, my interests of woodworking and music naturally started to combine.
Who are some of the bands/musicians that have come to you for your instruments?
I’ve worked with lots of fun musicians: Jason Mraz, Switchfoot, Nickel Creek, Elvis Costello, a bunch of jazz musicians—all sorts of great players.
Do you find a correlation between your music life and your surfing life?
Absolutely I do. Sometimes it is a very direct influence; I might inlay waves or splashing water to decorate a guitar. Or, it could be a little more abstract and find parallels between the line someone draws on a wave and the ebb and flow of a melody. In some situations, musician friends are also surfing buddies.
What are you most proud of?
My wife and I had a little boy a few months ago, and we are quite ecstatic with the addition to our family.
Where do you find inspiration?
It is pretty hard to look around and not find inspiration in something. My instrument making is directly influenced by music I might play or listen to, other instruments I’ve heard or an artist’s work. I love beautiful sculpture; those Simmons boards are pretty amazing. Being in the water is a refreshingly inspirational experience for me.
What’s next for Andy Powers?
Change a diaper at the moment. (Laughs) Actually, I’m going to do some work with Taylor guitars that I’m real excited about.