Alex Krastev is a talented Bulgarian-born surfer/artist currently residing in California. A chance encounter with Thomas Campbell on a bus inspired him to pursue his dream of creating art and design for the surf industry. We spoke with Alex to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
I grew up on the Black Sea of Bulgaria. I spent most of my time playing on the beach along with fishing and snorkeling. And I was always doing something in the backyard – with little wooden boats, handmade harpoons, and tree houses.
At age 8, I got my first skateboard. My dad made the deck and it had molded aluminum trucks and rubber wheels – it was truly an authentic skateboard. My mom on the other hand, just saw my “skate baggy pants.” I was skateboarding every day back than. That’s when I started drawing and paying attention to the skate graphics.
We moved to Morocco when I was 17. It was an amazing, small tourist town with summer all year long, and with waves and nice beaches. After a year or two, I got introduced to surfing. I was hooked. I loved the whole culture that comes with it – the art, graphics, music, movies and photography. And even though I graduated at the Culinary school and the Hotel and Tourism Management University, I decided to follow my dream of doing graphics and art, so I moved to Montréal to study graphic design. Far from my beloved surf and warm weather, I started seeking out freelance work at companies in Hawaii and California. After four years of that, I finally moved to Huntington Beach.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I bought it from a tourist in Taghazout, Morocco back in 1991. It was a 6’4″ “Moose” and it had a “Surfers Against Sewage” sticker. I rode it for a few years until it got heavier than a bag of sand.
A few years later, I meet this guy on a bus. He had red hair, a stuffed surf bag with rolls of paper inside, a skateboard, and a back pack. He told me he was coming back from an art show in Rabat. We started talking and I told him I draw a bit and I skate. He took me to see the place he was staying at in Taghazout. The place was covered with paintings – the walls, floor, even the windows. Everything was covered with paint – it was the greatest inspiration. Turns out it was Thomas Campbell. He was leaving in a week and I ended up with his surfboard.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I still remember it and have the picture in my mind. It was an amazing small inside wave in the Bay of Agadir. I used my friend Rashid and Anouar’s funboard for windsurfing. After I learned to take off on that they gave me a 7’4″ gun. It was so broken and cracked along the rails, it was cutting the inside of my legs. I was bleeding every time I surfed but I was so hooked that nothing else mattered!
How did you get involved in art?
My parents. My mom is really good at typography and watercolor. She taught me how to draw type and do washes. My dad however is more of a technical illustrator. He showed me how to mix colors. He showed me that by mixing yellow and red Crayola I could make orange! Blew my mind. Skating also influenced me a lot, Santa Cruz, Powell Peralta, I would redraw their logos and skulls everywhere! But I didn’t really take it seriously.
When I moved to Morocco with all the colorful moments from my journeys to the beach, the surf trips, sick right points – all of that was translated onto a piece of paper. I started drawing waves, surfers and started learning about some artists in California and Hawaii and the Polynesian Culture. I said this is what I want to do – I want to be a surf artist. In Montréal I learned how to use a Mac and started freelancing. I won a t-shirt contest for Da Hui then I created the Lost girls logo.
What is your process for creating your art?
These days I am working 50/50 – computer with paint, ink, acrylic etc. For commercial work, I use a computer to find reference.
If I am doing work for Future Seas (my blog), I use ink brush and it’s mostly loose lines. I love it because it’s relaxing and chill. I’m also getting into using photography and patterns that I’ve seen and incorporating them into my work.
For skate graphics, I start with ink on vellum with a blue pen rough, followed by a second clean sketch, and then I finish with an ink version. My Moroccan art is acrylic with ink lines with patterns.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Morocco. Especially the cities of Agadir and Taghazout. Everything from the color of the water, the shore line, house doors, bazaars, people, dishes, etc. they are all different and unique. You won’t find a house with the same color or ornament. It’s such an inspiring place.
Hawaii has been a real inspiration lately. I love the entire Waikiki Beach stretch. It’s the only place I will longboard.
Who/what inspires you?
My parents are the best. They still give me advice and I listen. My fiancé Ashley helps me with motivation and everything else when I paint.
For my art, I get inspired by everything that surrounds me. I love the sunset photos of Newport Beach lifeguard towers. Sometimes simple things like pelicans gliding above the waves, or old VW buses at Blackie’s in Newport Beach.
Other surfers and artists I like are Thomas Campbell, Alex Knost, Alex Kopps, Tyler Warren, and Switch Foot Australia, those guys are doing it the right way!
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
I read an interview of Strider Wasilewski for Juice Magazine, and he said something really motivating. He said, “We live in a world of go-getters. No one is going to give you anything. You have to go for it! It doesn’t matter if you’re the most talented guy in the world, you have to work hard.”
Follow your dreams, work hard and everything will happen. I lived by that motto and I came to California with 2 suitcases, 2 surfboards and no one to call. 6 years later here I am.
What are you most proud of?
Being able to do what I love. Working for Quiksilver and doing most of the tees and all the Hawaii art. My recent art project with Whole Foods Market in Huntington Beach, I painted three huge paintings and a surfboard for their new store. I’m also stoked on showing my art in the Surfing Heritage Museum, Shelter Surf Shop and the Surf Gallery in Laguna Beach. Also creating the graphic for 25 year anniversary for Eddie Aikau’s contests last year.
On a personal level, realizing my dream, never giving up on it, doing what I love and finding the love of my life. That sums it up.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Only a surfer knows the feeling, one good wave can change your whole day, whole week, and inspire you. This morning I got a sick left at the HB pier ending with a small barrel. I went to work feeling like I had been promoted or gotten a raise. It set the mood for the day.
It’s definitely changed my life in a positive way, it keeps me young, I still feel like an overgrown child. It gives me inspiration, motivation, love and respect. Surfing also helps me translate the ride into everyday life. There are 10 guys going for the best wave and only one can get it – it better be me!
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Well surfing goes hand in hand with art, photography, movies, music etc. Thomas Campbell, Alex Knost, Dane Reynolds, Kelly Slater – those guys have passion and don’t care what the industry is saying about them. They do what they love and do it how they want to.
What’s your favorite meal?
My fiancé Ashley’s food is really good, Italian, Mexican, Chicken everything. Moroccan food, cooked in a Tajine (hand made clay pot ) for 2 hours that’s’ the best. You can put fish, lamb, chicken anything in there. And I can’t forget all the great Bulgarian food that Mom makes!
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I love music. My iTunes is currently playing Oasis, Wavves, Growlers, Beach Fossils, the Stooges. Other playlists that are coming in repeat are Hawaiian music, Marish Danish, the Beatles, The Stones, The Pump Soundtrack etc.
What are you thankful for?
Everything! My parents, Ashley, and iving like the way I want to. Andrea Darr for giving me the call that changed my life and brought me to California.
What’s next Alex Krastev?
Painting, creating, designing, doing art shows in Hawaii and California and putting my name on the art map. Hopefully getting involved in art shows on an international level like the Greenhouse in Japan.
Find out more about Alex Krastev and his artwork at his blog here.