Interview by Glenn Sakamoto
Photography by Lonnie Webb and Scott Snyder
Based in Costa Mesa, California, Sean Woolsey is a surfer/craftsman who combines his passion for modern design and fine woodworking with the free flowing lines of surfing and Jazz music. We spoke with Sean to learn more.
Tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Yorba Linda, Calif. until I was 21 and then my parents moved to Baja Mexico. My father was a photographer and had a huge influence on me both creatively and from a business perspective. I grew up skateboarding, making things (from skateboard ramps to my own clothing) and when I got my first car, I really got into surfing. Eventually in high school I started my own clothing brand, and did that for 5 years. At age 22, after retiring my own brand and having some money in the bank, I moved to Costa Mesa and worked for Hurley for a couple years. I then turned my focus on making art, and fell in love with woodworking and furniture design/making. Slowly it became a business and now we only produce our own designs which are exclusively made within 35 miles of our Costa Mesa studio.
Were you educated in woodworking? Did you apprentice with a skilled craftsperson?
I apprenticed under a cabinet maker for a while and attended some classes at a woodworking school for a bit. Both were great as far as hands on training, and getting familiar with wood and tools.
Who/what inspires your furniture and craft?
So many different people and things. In no particular order at all: people such as Sam Maloof to Philip Morley to Alvar Aalto to Jay Nelson. Jazz music. Late nights. Coffee. Early mornings. Surfing. Traveling. The construction of a bridge. The detail of a leaf. Coffee. Architecture. Real life stories.
How does surfing influence your design and furniture?
Surfing is very free flowing and natural. It is like yoga in the water with no one telling you what to do or how to do it. The flow of it informs my design and brings an element of fun into what I create. This is especially true with my artwork - each piece is unique and an experiment. Surfing keeps me grounded, as well as energized creatively.
What do you hope to create in the mind of the person who lives with your work?
An appreciation of the time and energy that it took to create the piece, respect to preserve it, and love to share it with others.
When did you start surfing? What meaning does surfing hold for you today?
First surfed in Honolulu when I was 13, but really picked it up when I was 16. Surfing is freedom. Freedom of the mind, freedom of time, of barriers, and freedom to be who you are.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
This is a really tough one. So many places for different reasons. I really like Japan and would like to go back there soon. The attention to detail, the obsessiveness for perfection, the cleanliness, the food, the people, the craft… it is really entrancing.
What “Golden Rule” do you live by?
This quote by Mark Twain - "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Right now a twin fin deep fish by Michael Arenal. I also really love the log that I shaped with Michael years ago. I still have my first surfboard (a 7' 6" funboard) that I bought at the Froghouse when I was 16. I have probably surfed more waves on that board than any other. Favorite surf spot is any place I surf with friends, and little-to-no crowds. That is when I am most stoked.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Surfers that I love are Harrison Roach, Torren Martyn, Al Knost, Andy Nieblas, Bryce Young, Ryan Burch, Derrick Disney, Asher Pacey, Craig Anderson. Oh man, there are so many. These are just guys who I really dig their style.
What's your favorite meal? What’s on your music playlist?
BBQ Ribs + McConnell’s Ice Cream = Heaven. Playlist includes: Bonobo, Nils Frahm, M83, Kevin Morby, Khruangbin, Ben Howard, East Forest, Dope Lemon, Fleet Foxes.
What are you most grateful for?
My family, freedom, and the ability to do what I want every day.
What’s next for Sean Woolsey?
The future is bright – I’m focusing on dialing in what we are really good at making and growing that market. For me, it’s about being a leader, having fun with designs and diving further into the development of both my art and furniture, while always experimenting with new processes.