Mele Saili is a talented young surfer/artist and a San Diego native. Playing in the foam dust from her shaper grandfather’s company, Larry Gordon of Gordon & Smith, Mele’s acquired an equal love for surfing and art. We spoke with Mele to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Pacific Beach, San Diego, five blocks from the beach. With my dad being a shaper and Larry Gordon of Gordon & Smith Surfboards as my grandfather, it has really given me a foundation to be involved with surfing from a young age. I remember when I was a kid playing hide and go seek in the G&S warehouse and playing in the foam in the shaping bay while watching my dad shape boards.
While attending private school, I played a lot of sports growing up and was good at them until I started surfing at 13. I lost interest in everything else and all I wanted to do was surf. I would surf every day. Sometimes in the summer I would be out for 4–5 hours at a time. And I spent plenty of time in the parking lot down at Tourmaline Surf Park, where I became a part of a wonderful surf community which became like a family to me.
What inspired you to begin creating art?
My mother and brother are talented artists and I’ve always been inspired by them. Art was always a creative outlet for me to make the fairy tales in my mind come to life. My sketchbook acted as a visual journal of the things that interested me.
What do you hope to create in the mind of the person viewing your art?
When I first begin a painting, I start with a concept. I sort of zone out and allow my imagination to determine the course of the piece. I really focus on aesthetics and detail so hopefully people can appreciate that when they observe my work. Most of my pieces are portraits of women so I try to express their mood through their body language – but more importantly in their eyes. I don’t bother making up an elaborate story behind my paintings in order to dictate what the observer should think, but rather present the painting to the viewers and let them create their own interpretation of it.
Tell us a little bit about the “Salty Sisters” concept
Salty Sisters represents women surfers who find themselves connected through the sea, who are not related by blood, but the salt water in their veins.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Who/what inspires you?
The women that I paint look a lot like people I know without meaning to do so. The beauty that my art seems to convey is subconsciously inspired by the beauty of my friends. Also I am always drawn to stylish surfers like Rell Sunn, Belinda Baggs, Jen Smith, Kassia Meador, Billy Schnyder, Isaac Wood, and Kevin Connelly for inspiration when it comes to surfing as well.
What are you most proud of?
The family I come from.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has given back to me in so many ways. It has presented travel opportunities and is the reason for the amazing people that are in my life. I feel more comfortable walking on my board that I do walking down the street. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t surf.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Having a paintbrush in one hand and a surfboard in the other.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
First, I’ll just state the obvious, Joel Tudor. He’s one of the most influential surfers of our time. He is redefining a surfer as someone who can ride anything from a shortboard to a longboard and all the in-between. Secondly, Amanda Chinchelli. She is the founder and designer of Seea Bathing Suits. She’s stylishly talented and is paving the way for a new direction in women’s surfing and surf fashion. Her product alone is amazing, but beyond that it’s the image of Seea that is actually creating a change. Seea exudes femininity and style by drawing interest to female surfers through their natural beauty and surfing rather than showing skin.
What “Golden Rule” do you live by?
Accept others as they are.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surfspot?
My favorite board at the moment is my 9’2 single fin, which my dad made. He told me to come by his place one day and surprised me with it. It turned out to be the best board I’ve ever owned. Some of my favorite spots I surf are PB Point, Sunset Cliffs, The Shores, and San O sometimes, but I probably love surfing Swamis the most.
What’s your favorite meal?
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Although it’s the 21st century I don’t own an iPod, but I’m currently listening to artists like Cocorosie, Soko, Crooked Bangs, Lana Del Rey, Florence and the Machine, The Growlers, The Black Lips, and of course Marvin Gaye!
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for so many things. Most of all I would say I’m most grateful for the people I have in my life because they are so supportive of what I do. My grandmother especially. She always has words of wisdom for me and has such a positive spirit. I know I’m lucky to have her and I aspire to be more like her.
What’s next for Mele Saili?
I am leaving for a month-long surf safari to Spain, France, and Morocco. Three friends are starting in Spain and will be meeting up with Margaux Ammon-Tucoo (an artist/surfer advocate for RVCA) in Biarritz, then we’re flying down to Morocco, surfing and filming all along the way. When I get back I’ll be working more with Seea Bathing Suits as well as continue to focus on my art.