Interview by Glenn Sakamoto


Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background in surfing and design?
My name is Laura Toffolo. I’m 24 years old and from Scotch Plains, New Jersey. I attended Monmouth University, located on the Jersey Shore, where I studied graphic design. I quickly picked up surfing my first year at Monmouth, around 6 years ago. Once I stepped foot on my board in the Atlantic, I instantly caught the surfing bug. Living a mile from the beach during my four years at school was convenient for a quick surf session and to ease my mind during those stressful days at school. The surf community in New Jersey is so different from anywhere else. I used to spend a lot of my days and nights in Asbury Park, NJ, a charming little city full of diversity, art, and culture. Today, this small town has grown tremendously and it is filled with artists, crafts(wo)men, baristas, musicians, skaters, surfers, and more. It’s easy to come here and leave feeling inspired and happy. When I’m not spending my time in Asbury Park on the weekends, I can be found commuting in and out of New York City, where I work as a designer at The New York Times. My weeks can get pretty stressful and hectic at times being in the buzz of the city, so I’m constantly day dreaming about my next escape to the sea.

How did you get the idea to produce poster designs based on surf reports?
Growing up, I’ve been hugely inspired by surfers and surf artists of all kind. Kassia Meador, Heather Brown, Clark Little, and Jay Alders are just a few who I admire. I love that they all share the same passion and love influenced by the sea, but express it in different mediums. I think it is rad to see their perspective on the stoke that comes with surf culture. I knew that I needed to express my passion for the sea in my own eyes and think outside the box to create something unique to me.

I work in NYC and the commute back and forth to New Jersey can be a bit brutal at times. I needed something to do on these long commutes to pass the time and keep my inspiration flowing. I decided to check the surf report one day and make a typographic poster out of it. I really enjoyed it and wanted to see just how many of these I could do. I set a goal of 100 and haven’t stopped since! I am now well passed 100 and set a new goal to create a poster a day for a full year. I restricted myself to only use color, shapes, typography, and surf reports on only New Jersey’s coast. It wasn’t until after I took a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway that I realized I needed to add some of my travel photography into these posters. I gave myself the exception of using photography only when I traveled outside of New Jersey, and I limited my color palette to black and white during this trip.

What are the challenges in creating these one-of-a-kind pieces?
There are many challenges to this project. One of them is remembering and leaving time to create a poster everyday. Now that I am in a groove, I have found that I can remember better, but when I first started, it was easy to forget, and I would have to crank it out before the sun rose the next day. It’s also challenging to create new and different ideas for a poster every single day. Some days I will create one and it looks great while other days I create something that is complete crap, but I have to put it out there anyway. The goal is to create something every single day, so I expect some of them to not turn out so great, especially when trying to balance work and life outside of this project. I really want to see just how far I take the VSR project.

What has been the reaction thus far to the series?
The reaction has been really positive and it is nice to have Instagram as a platform to see instant feedback on what people are digging the most. One woman reached out to me with a very heartwarming story about her son who was staying clean off of drugs and alcohol and used surfing to keep him clean. She ended up buying a poster to gift to her son to celebrate his sobriety and to keep as a memento to stay in the positive light. This was kind of a big turning point for me when I realized how powerful this simple project can be. I ended up not charging her since she was my first customer, and the story was very nice.  I was super happy to know that my work is helping people heal and stay positive. I also just shipped 5 posters to a surf shop and cafe in Australia, which I was pretty stoked about! It’s cool to know that you can create something from a small town in New Jersey and now it is halfway around the world.

What’s next for Visual Surf Report?
The goal is to complete VSR for a full year. After that, I would love to have an art show to showcase this year long project at various galleries and surf shops in New Jersey and NYC. I’m planning on opening up an online shop for people to purchase them as well. For now, I want to keep making art that brings people happiness.

To view more designs by Laura Toffolo and her Visual Surf Report project, follow her on  Instagram @visualsurfreport or check out her archive on Tumblr. Note: All surf reports provided by Surfline.