Andy Davis is an internationally recognized California surfer/artist. His casual and stylized paintings have graced clothing, galleries, retail stores, magazines, and hotels. His recent collaboration with Billabong has set him on a new path. We met with Andy to find out more.
What was growing up like?
I grew up between Orange County and down here (Leucadia, CA). My parents split when I was pretty young when I was in the 3rd grade. We were living in Fullerton at the time and my mom’s sister lived in Escondido. So my mom packed up, and moved my brother and I about 25 minutes inland from here. I played a lot of sports when I was a kid – soccer, basketball, baseball – all that kind of stuff. I grew up watching cartoons and I was super into pop culture as a kid. I would go into arcades and play air hockey. All that stuff you do in the 70s as a kid.
What were you early experiences in the ocean?
Got into boogie boarding and body surfing as a kid. I was trying to stand up on my boogie board when I was young, around the 4th grade. My dad would always take us to Laguna – Oak Street and Brooks Street. In the summertime, we would all go to the beach and hang out there. I learned to properly surf on a board in the 8th grade in La Jolla.
What got you into surfing?
I got interested in surfing from all of the magazines. I’d look at all the pictures and stuff. Back then, there weren’t any videos. Sure you could catch a surf movie when they came to town, but I was pretty young and I lived inland. The first one I saw, I was in high school. As far as the magazines, it wasn’t about all of the exotic locations, it was really about the people. It went from the 70s dropout culture to super-pro in the 80s. I was kinda in that gap. I remember seeing pictures of Larry Bertlemann, Buttons, Mark Richards, and Cheyne Horan.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood up on a board?
Oh yeah! Standing up on my boogie board. When I first stood up, it was going so much faster. It was a whole new challenge. It was so much fun. Even with playing sports as a kid, surfing by far was the hardest. Every wave is different and it wasn’t something that you could easily get wired. Just watching your friends and laughing – the enjoyment of it all. It seemed all so innocent in the beginning.
Do you remember you first board?
Yeah! It was a Randy Lewis quad. I got it when I was 14. I was thrilled – one of the most exciting parts was actually going to the shop, picking it off the rack, picking up in my arms, and taking it home and waxing it. It was probably one of the best feelings I had had in my life at that age. It was a total spark.
When did you first get into art?
Since I was little. I just always drew. It was a way of documenting what was going on. As soon as I was done doing something, I would want to go home and draw it. Whether it was soccer or all of the stuff I was doing – like cartoons and stuff I was watching. It has always been an outlet for me ever since I was little. So when surfing came into my life, it was all I wanted to do. Not living at the beach, I would spend a lot of time drawing pictures of surfing, things I wanted to do, making up my own trunks and wetsuits, and creating my own kind of brand.
Did you skateboard?
I would go out and skate and pretend I was surfing. I didn’t have a car or live at the beach, so I spent a lot of time skateboarding. Skating, daydreaming, and drawing – that’s definitely where it all came from.
What were you hoping to capture with your art?
I wasn’t trying to capture anything. It was more of an outlet and I just wanted to pour it all out somehow. I didn’t do well in school and I really wasn’t interested. I had trouble paying attention, so all the thoughts that were going on in my head were all around music, skating, surfing, girls, and all that kind of stuff.
What’s your process for doing your art?
Most of the time I just doodle. I’m either scribbling on something or kind of writing down ideas. Like if I had a show or a project I have to do. My process is very organic – loose and spontaneous. I’m definitely not a fundamentalist and I don’t have a routine – I just sort of go with it naturally. I try not to fight it and I just make sure I hit the deadline on time. Somehow it all works out.
Who or what inspires you?
I admire anybody who has the passion to do things that make them happier and that challenge them to help them grow and learn, so that they can evolve and be the best they can be, whether it is someone who is a gardener or someone who’s a mechanic or even a chef.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of being a dad. And trying to be a good husband. I could never fathom how it much it means, and how important it is, and how life-changing it is. I now have to be more patient and more responsible. It has made me really slow down, not be so selfish, and to be more present. I look at things now with a totally different perspective. Every day is a new adventure.
I’m grateful for being here this long and for all that I have thus far. I’m pretty blessed and fortunate to have to be able to live the life I have led. And I’ve been pretty lucky to do what I love to do for the past 15 years.
Did you always think you would have this kind of life?
I’ve never had a master plan. I was always too busy daydreaming. I don’t do well trying to focus. Even in surfing, sometimes it’s better when you don’t think. Some people can force their way through things and that’s how they learn. For me, it’s a “less is more” theory.
What do you love about surfing?
So many things! The natural element is the most wonderful thing for me. If the ocean didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be surfing – just the fact that it exists! It’s there for people to learn from and to have adventures and experiences. There are no rules. It is so vast that you can never know everything about it. It’s just a wonder.
Every time you go out it’s a different experience. If it is just getting your feet under water, salt on your face, swimming in it or diving in it, catching a wave, sailing on it – whatever. It’s one of those things that is so difficult to put into words.
For me, having to have most of my life being in or around the ocean is a pretty sacred thing. And especially living around here – it is so hard because it’s so crowded – it’s easy to get jaded. Or start to become frustrated. But then again, you can go out and have the most blissful experience. Surfing is a big part of my life. And couldn’t fathom a life without it.
What is the most memorable place you have traveled to?
New Zealand. There is something about the energy there. It felt like… this is how life is supposed to be lived. It was really simple and slow paced. It gave me a feeling about how California must have been like in the 60s! It is so very vast, and very raw with congregations of people who have set up shop. It is visually stunning and probably the greenest place I’ve ever been. Most places I’ve gone to I’ve wanted to get back home. But there, I was like – “I need to stay here.”
There are places in Hawaii that are really special and sacred. And that I feel I have to tread lightly at. New Zealand isn’t like that. Maybe in some places where the Maori culture is. The vibe in New Zealand just wasn’t heavy like that. I felt very welcomed there. My wife and I have visited there at separate times. And my brother lives there now and he’s rising a young family. My wife and I are really wanting to live there and set up shop there. New Zealand is calling to us.
Who are some surfers you admire?
My favorite surfer right now is Ryan Burch. I think he is doing things that haven’t been done yet. He’s like a modern Machado – he’s insane. Being a tall, lanky goofy-foot myself, I really enjoy watching him surf.
I think Alex Knost is one of the most gifted surfers we’ve ever seen. He has a total different approach and I think he’s got crazy balance. What he does and what he does it on – no one can surf like him. Nobody in the world – not even Kelly.
I love the way Tyler (Warren) surfs. He grew up with the whole Hobie crew, he’s become a great shaper, comes from a great family, and can surf all kinds of equipment. I think he has a lot to offer.
Liz Clark. For everything she’s doing – exploring the ocean as a young woman. The challenges that she faces are mind-blowing. And she takes it all with style, and is such a great human. There just isn’t a lot of people like her on the planet. What she is doing for women and surfing is so great.
Bethany Hamilton. Her story is one of courage and for her to be able to overcome the obstacles she has had to face in life, and to be able to do it on a level that most people can only dream about. That stuff is just crazy.
Where do you get the inspiration for your art? The lines and colors…
A lot of that is from cartoons! I just loved them. Cartoons like Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, and Dr. Seuss. All the fun stuff before it became too violent. I mean there was always violence, but it was this crazy, unbelievable “drop a mallet on your head” violence. It wasn’t serious or political. All that stuff from the 60s and the 70s – I loved it.
A lot of the way surf companies have portrayed art has been so shitty. I want to do art that looks the way I see it. I want to see it in a surreal and dreamy way. I want to see people surf without logos all over their boards. I want to see it in these colors.
I basically took all of the stuff I have seen before and try to put it together in a new way where you might see a guy cranking a bottom turn but he doesn’t have a face! Or like these arms are like a bird – kind of like the way pelicans fly. When you think about a guy like Lopez surfs – he’s perfect – just like how a pelican flies.
How important is style?
To me, it’s way up there. I like people that have flow. People who have spent time understanding the culture. It can be someone who can make it look effortless or it can be someone who can look sketchy because they are pulling off something hard. It’s a blend. But I do think style is really important. Visually, it is one of the most important things to me.
What kind of board are you riding these days?
I just got a board from Tyler Warren. A little 5’2 – one of his Mini-Simmons-esque “bar of soaps.” I’ve been riding his boards for about the last six months. Prior to that, I had a Rich Pavel Speed Dialer. I like riding all kinds of boards. I haven’t ridden any “high performance” boards since I was 26 (Davis is 41). It’s been a long time. I just kind of ride things I get a lot of enjoyment out of.
What’s your favorite meal?
I don’t know about one particular meal, but my wife’s cooking is amazing. As a kid, I had such a poor diet – I was a junk food junkie. It was like all fast food. I changed my habits in my mid-twenties and I haven’t looked back. All our home-cooked meals are amazing. She puts a lot of love into it and she makes it with all fresh ingredients. The more she puts into it, the more we get out of it, for both my little boy and me. We’ll go out and eat and it’s just not as good!
What about music?
I couldn’t function without music. Every part of the day has to have a soundtrack. It’s like the ocean – I couldn’t imagine a world without music. I like all kinds of music – it’s a mood thing. Sometimes I like to listen to jazz, sometimes reggae, classic rock, blues – I have pretty eclectic taste.
What Golden Rule do you live by?
Balance. It keeps things in perspective. It’s knowing that it is okay to make mistakes and be frustrated. And to be able to cut that off, start over, and start fresh. Also to not take things for granted. I realize how lucky I am. My favorite thing everyday is going to bed with my family and waking up with my family. It’s the biggest thing for me.
What’s next for Andy Davis?
Today and tomorrow (laughs).