Troy Carney is a talented surfer/artist born in New Zealand and currently resides in Kauai. Traveling the world with his entrepreneurial and surfing parents, Troy got a first hand look at the magic and power of the ocean – elements which continue to inspire his art to this day. We spoke with Troy to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
That’s a big question. I was a traveling kid. It all started in Gisborne, New Zealand. My mother was an eclectic artist type who started the first health foods store in Gisborne, New Zealand. Growing up vegetarian made it interesting for my younger brother and I living in meat eating cultures. We lived in a big old farmhouse with 18 acres of native bush at the back door to play in. Until I was 7 yrs old I ran around on most of New Zealand’s surfing beaches with long blond hair down to my bum, introducing myself as “Troy the Boy.”
My stepfather Jim Carney shaped Beautiful Day boards and played music in a band at the local pubs. He was also a professional surfer. In 1977, when I was 9, he was invited to compete in the AMCO World Champs at Bells Beach Australia, the year Mark Richards won.
From there we proceeded to drive across the continent. Australia is really big and we broke down right in the middle of it. With nothing but a truckstop around, Mom worked there waiting tables and my stepfather worked on the gas pumps in the Nallarbor until they saved enough money for him to hitchhike to Perth, buy a Combi van, to come retrieve us. But it gets better. We spent another four years in Western Australia waking up to the sound of the ocean every morning whether it be from a bedroom or the back of the Combi van to surf such places as Margaret River, Yallingup, and Kalbarri.
In 1979, we headed to Bali. My folks designed their own line of Batik surf shorts there and that’s where my surfing really took off. The water was so nice and warm I would surf all day long at Kuta Beach. I’ll never forget watching my stepfather surfing big Uluwatu and wishing to come back when I was old enough to try it.
After traveling by train through Java, and a stay in Singapore, we flew to Los Angeles to market the clothing line. That’s where I got my first job as the youngest employee at Newport Surf and Sport. I can remember one evening in Newport Beach we had Rabbit Bartholomew over for dinner – I was a super stoked grom!
Summer of ‘80 we visited Kauai and we ended up staying for three years. After a year of attending one of the roughest high schools in the United States, Kapaa Warriors High, I was relieved to attend a private school on the beach in Hanalei, where apart from them bashing your head against a Bible, we could surf for physical education.
Then in 1984, it was back to New Zealand where my stepfather started another surfboard company called Impact Surfboards. I left home to work on fishing boats up and down the East Coast of New Zealand, and continued to surf my favorite island breaks. In ‘89 I was back in Australia and lived on the point at Burleigh Heads. After 4 years airbrushing surfboards, I made it back to Kauai, where I am today.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I was 5 and it was a hand-me-down belly board. My first custom board was in Los Angeles when I was 12. It was a 6’10″ swallowtail twinfin. Shaped by Stussy and glassed by McCoy. I destroyed it in Hanalei when Simon Anderson invented the Thruster and I sawed the swallow tail off and glued on an extra fin. It never worked the same after that.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Hard to remember since I was 5. But I do remember how my dad would hold my feet on his longboard and how I would fall backwards on his shoulders with his head between my legs.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young person?
All of the men who helped raise me up and teach me the ways of the water. Taff Kennings, Graham Bambery, Peter “Tram” Tremain to name a few. Besides that, my childhood heroes were Tom Carroll and Michael “MP” Peterson.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Another tough question. I would have to say Bali. The beauty and culture there ignited my artistic inclinations. That’s where I first tapped into the mystical realm which is still alive for me today.
Who/what inspires you?
What? Nature. Who? I would have to say the Buddha. Not just the Buddha as a person in a story, but the idea of striving for the nature of the Buddha within yourself. That inspires me.
What is your process for creating your art?
Now, wouldn’t you like to know? So would everybody else! I have a hard time answering that question because I have somehow, through my own experimentation, over many years of trial and error, developed a technique that, as far as I know, is completely unique. I think, at least for now, it would be prudent of me to keep it that way.
But I can tell you the basics. I create à bas-relief of hand cut layers, which I have first designed like a very complicated multi-dimensional puzzle. Both the designing and the cutting take many hours of intense concentration. After I hand build the layers, my latest one having 30, I gold leaf the whole thing. Then I paint the color parts with oils. This sounds easy enough, but this step actually takes the longest. Each little edge has to be cut in with tiny little brushes, and requires at least 2 to 3 layers. This is about the time when I start to lose my sanity and usually need some kind of vacation by the time I’m done. So maybe that’s why I’m still coveting the process; it’s just not for everybody.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
To be happy and grateful. To enjoy life to it’s fullest and to respect others.
What are you most proud of?
My mother every time she finds a sunrise shell on the beach in Haena. I’m thankful and proud that I have pulled myself out of some pretty dark spots in my life and am now fulfilling my dreams as an artist.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing has always been in my life. It is so much of who I am and it holds so much meaning. Surfing is for play and for meditation. Although there has been a few scares and hair-raising moments, especially here on Kauai, surfing has always been a place to go and ease my mind. I believe that water is truly a precious element. Water is the source of all life and I think my art has evolved a form of reverence. Plating waves in gold seems appropriate in regards to the value I believe water and the oceans hold in this world.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Knowing I’m alive and part of this incredible journey. The support I get from my loved ones. And catching that perfect wave.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
For me, the path of surfing was carved by the legends of the past. As far as the future of surfing goes, I am impressed by the talent in some of the young guns around here. Guys like Dune Kennings, John John Florence, and Sebastien Zietz, the Kauai Boy who won the Triple Crown this year, and that guy I saw on YouTube who flipped his board like a skateboard.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
My favorite board is a 6’4″-6’10″ rounded pintail. My favorite surf spots are Tunnels on Kauai and Matakana Island NZ.
What’s your favorite meal?
I’m a sucker for Indian and Thai food – vegetarian, of course. But then there’s ice cream…
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Honestly, my iPod is gathering dust. Not because I don’t listen to music. I listen to hours upon hours of music when I’m painting so I have to keep it fresh. I have become hooked on online radio like Pandora. My stations are varied but I will get on a kick and go with it for days. My current station is all 70’s Soul and Funk. Somehow it’s hitting this nostalgic spot and it often makes me laugh. Some of is just plain ridiculous! This is how I entertain myself while I sit for hours on end.
What causes/organizations do you support?
Definitely Non-GMO and Save Our Seas. And if I could start one it would be to support the victims of Agent Orange. It continues to cause birth defects in children in Vietnam – just wrong.
What are you most grateful for?
I’ve always considered my art as a gift I’ve been given. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s so satisfying to create things I can be proud of and it gives my life a real sense of purpose.
What’s next for Troy Carney?
I’m planning a trip back to New Zealand to reconnect with my roots and we’ll see what comes of that – more inspiration most likely. And then I’m just gonna keep on painting the sea and crazy Buddha waves.
Learn more about Troy Carney and his art here.