An interview with Eddie and Tim of MeWater foundation.
Happiness! Whether you volunteer with MeWater foundation (which by the way please do), or merely just glance at the pictures and video of the people involved below, you can't help but take in the pure happiness that transpires at MeWater events!
This smile says it all. Junior legend Anthony. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
No matter what is going on in our lives or in the world, when we are in the ocean we are suddenly free from all that worries us on land. This is because as land-based creatures, being out of our element kicks in a deep instinctual response that makes us focus on immediate well-being as a primitive survival instinct. We can use this powerful state to give us momentary freedom from trauma, heartbreak, abuse, stress, all the things that hold us back in life. Being in the ocean gives us a chance to revel in the moment- to drop all the negatives and worries of life, cultural constructs and constraints that burden us- which allows us to connect easily with other humans from all walks of life. We may not be fearing for our immediate survival in a real sense, but our focus on the "now" is just as intense as if we were, and sharing that intensity with others is a powerful connection that the ocean can provide.
This is such a beautiful and powerful place of existence, accessible to all for almost nothing, but entirely too rare for most people or children who could benefit most from it. MeWater is focusing on tapping that power by making it accessible.
First time surfers from Malcom X Academy feeling the stoke!!! MeWater Foundation and BigDog Surf Camp collaborated for a day that took nearly their entire school for a surf day at Muir Beach. 5/2016
A long time ago, I gave surf lessons to help pay my bills. Out in the water I was constantly amazed at how people so easily opened up about their private lives to me. I have never been in an environment where people revealed their innermost thoughts so freely. The sea quickly allows us to feel our own mortality. I have had a great white shark swim directly under me- a total dinosaur moment! Then there is the power of the waves and currents to navigate. In the wildness of the sea, we are quick to note where we are holding back, hurt, or on the wrong path, and we desire to reconcile, and do better! To be in such as space where you feel truly alive is addictive, Eddie and Tim whom I will introduce shortly are doing the right thing by sharing this. They are sharing this with people that do not get the opportunity to step in the sea so easily due to all kinds of challenges.
*Why The ocean is wilderness! Liquid wild that borders the city. You simply put your foot in and realize you are in a completely different world, and your mindset corresponds with that realization. The ocean demands your attention. Breathe and notice how the minerals in salt water and oxygen combine, churned by waves all together in the purest air your lungs have ever experienced. With the children coming out to participate in surf lessons, momentarily they get the space to simply celebrate life; to get a break from severe trauma of their home life and environments. To participate and connect with others on an equal and positive level. This is the why!
Jaylin and Micah, both youth from Edgewood Center for Children and Families, and regular MeWater participants since day one, take off on a “party wave” during a recent event at Muir Beach, 9/2016
*Who: Eddie Donnellan and Tim Gras are awesome people from our Sunset SF community. Both are very experienced, talented surfers who I see out at Ocean Beach in all kinds of conditions, from those rare fun rippable head high days we occasionally get in the Fall, to the massive North West swell days in December, where my heart is in my throat and I am wondering why I am even out. More importantly, how the hell am I going to get back to shore? On these big days, I’ll often see Tim and Eddie paddle by me hooting and smiling reminding me exactly why I am out there when it's a bit scary. Tim also happens to be a very talented surfboard shaper making performance boards for the local crew of rippers. So the first part of the who question is that Eddie and Tim are both surfers, the second integral part is that both have worked with children that are suffering through severe behavioral issues. Eddie and Tim have worked at Edgewood Center for children and families for decades. Edgewood is a local facility on Vicente street, founded in 1851 as an orphanage that helped provide for children that were abandoned due to the gold rush fever. Edgewood is the oldest children care charity in the West. Their current mission is to help promote positive behavior and health with children that have suffered severe mental, physical, and environmental trauma, and to try and help them have the best chance at a positive transition to adulthood. From these work experiences Eddie and Tim have wanted to go beyond, and on their own time have been taking kids all through the Bay Area that are in need of some happiness, surfing! With the goals being simply to give them a moment of peace and clarity, and hopefully the image that their life ahead could be different, that good things are possible!
I had the nice time of sitting down with Eddie and Tim, in my living room and listening to them discuss their current project The MeWater foundation.
Eddie: The idea for MeWater originally came out of the Summer camps we used to run through Edgewood up in Marin. Where we ran these camps was originally the territory of the Miwok indians, and we set up these camps with teachings inspired by them and other Native American traditions. The goal was to give these inner city kids a connection to nature. It was bare bones, but very effective activities aiming to get the kids to connect with the earth.
Anthony, pictured here, has been charging all summer long. He lives with his grandma in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point district, has a smile that could cut glass, and a stoke about surfing that has him skipping football games to come join our events, A truly amazing story. Miramar Beach, 8/2016
Tim: That is where it all started! Eddie and I working together at these camps. We got the idea that we wanted to take these kids out surfing and shortly thereafter we heard of Ride a Wave, a foundation that takes kids with disabilities out surfing. Forging a relationship with them we were able to ride under their liability insurance and started to take the children out under our care. The effects were really obvious to see, these kids suffering through all manners of behavioral issues were smiling, and genuinely having fun! Having experiences they could take home and share!
Trevon all smiles on Day 1 of a 3 day surf camp where we take the kids to Chrissy Field to practice paddling, test some water safety awareness skills and also test our participant’s comfort in the water. These days we assess comfort levels, and set them free when they are ready!!!
Eddie: The Challenges… liability that is a huge one! Secondly is organizational difficulties, as we are constantly pulling kids from one and another's programs, which is really hard. All these programs have logistical problems of their own, so it is really tough for everything to align! There is constant back and forth. Tim and I simply put it out there, and it happens. Like the other day, we kind of “hodge poged" a bunch of groups together and the day turned out insane, tons of stoked kids!
Tim: We partner with all these folks, all the people we work with in our community, and through our resource centers such as Edgewood and schools. We put everything together. Transport is always the hardest part, well of course also the liability- people are scared of the ocean, we take people to the beach and out into the sea- that is potentially dangerous, people can drown, people are scared of sharks, but in the end it is all ok. Talking groups into saying it is ok to come take their kids and then actually getting them there, that is the challenge! For example it costs $800 to rent a charter bus, and we do that sometimes, we'll get funding and rent two charter buses, but generally we'll just get an agency's help like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, the Hunter's Point Foundation, and hopefully they have a bus and get the kids to the beach.
Group photo of a recent event with MeWater Foundation and City Surf Project, supported by Triple Point Expeditions, in honor of Arne Backstrom Foundation. Muir Beach, 9/2016
Eddie: Or they'll fund the transportation- look, I'd like to be doing this much more, but it always boils down to resources and what is available. I think the way things have happened best for us is all organically, all at its own speed! Its been like 10 years coming, in that sense because we don’t have all the money to do what we'd like to do, we just let it come to us! Our whole thing is community, so we collaborate with so many different people and friends, our community comes out to volunteer, and even their kids are coming out and helping.
Tim: Yea, that is the best!
Eddie: Youth helping youth! That is the best connection. For example we have had Lance Harriman’s kids coming out. Sophie, Lance's daughter whom started out a little shy, took another girl out surfing and they had such a good time, such an important connection for both of them- they both were just glowing afterword, it is such a positive thing on so many levels!
Tim: The first time Finn, Sophie's brother came out, we had a group from Sunnyvale. Finn was helping out this boy who two years earlier had watched his father be shot and killed. Finn partnered with this kid and they quickly become close. Finn is already a very talented surfer, and this kid, can't surf yet, but is an extremely talented athlete- so they just get along right away, instant best friends! They are out back going for it, catching waves together the whole time! At the end Finn tells me, “That was so great! My friend was killing it!” Connection, naturally drawn to the same thing and these two just shared a rad, happy moment in an otherwise tough life. It would be so rad if we had vans and could just go into these neighborhoods and just load people up, share the joy of being in the ocean.
Nick, one of MeWater Foundation’s “youth supporting youth” volunteers, and actually our very first youth to participate in this unique program. Nick is a great kid, an avid surfer, with a big heart, from a local Sunset Community family that is very active in trying to make this world a better place. Muir Beach, 9/2016
Eddie: I have been working on applying for grants. That is kind of the next step for us, but then again, the second that I put all this energy into it… I never started a non profit, there was a point where I was under a mountain of stress, but the second I was able to say fuck it, let it come to us, that is when all these things started to happen organically. We are lucky that it worked, eventually it will be bigger. I would one day just love to be doing this, but I have two kids and a family living in SF.
Tim: It is really hard to try and organize this so we can pay our bills solely from it! It started so simple and we are fortunate enough to pull it off! It does not have to be a money maker as no matter what we are going to do it, because we know it is right. We are lucky with surfing our whole life, it helps you understand true priorities, work/money are just one of those. As kids, we are all taught to share- so what happened? We can choose to help, to inspire!
MeWater Foundation volunteer Jamie Williams helps guide a student from Malcom X Academy into a wave on her very first day ever stepping foot into the ocean. Muir Beach, 2016
Eddie: I tried to get the funding we would need to run this program full time. I’m just gonna go out there and talk to Levi Strauss, and you know- I've tried! I used network connections to get to highest positions within Gap, and there are a million people trying to get at this type of money! You have to be extremely organized, highly experienced in the grant writing processes- there are millions of dollars that have to be given by the city/state, but it is really hard to access! They don't make it easy, which overall I think is good. So we will continue to hone our skills in that aspect. In the meantime we are going to continue growing the foundation by taking these kids out for these positive experiences just as we have been doing.
Tim: It is going to keep growing, it does not have to be a money maker- it is not about that. It can be frustrating, you see other foundations getting funding and nothing happens with it, we’ll do more in one day than another agency might do in a month.
Eddie: We are a non profit, we accept donations, but at this small scale what I do with each donation is try to tell people exactly where it goes. You have paid for these days out with the kids. The money is going directly into programming.
Tim: We have not received that much in donations. Marty Murphy likes to donate a sum every year from the Murphy family trust, we will use that amount to go to Johnny of City Surf Project, whom is always helping us by providing equipment, insurance, and he is such a big help. I mean without insurance we could not even do it with the support of Johnny or Ian of Big Dog Surf Camp.
MeWater Foundation volunteer and Aqua Team Rider Peter Campbell stokes out a young first time surfer from Malcom X Academy. Muir Beach, 5/2016
Eddie: I am working on the insurance part right now, I just submitted two applications for non profit insurance. If something is to really go wrong in any of these camps even with the best insurance, it would be a total shutdown! I cannot worry about that, compared to the positives it brings- regardless this is happening! Again, sure we would like to be doing this 10 times more than we already are, but the cool thing is we are going out every chance we currently have, and having a great time. NOTE: Since the interview MeWater is now insured.
Tim: WE ARE GOING TO TAKE THESE KIDS SURFING! Bottom line! We are doing these days, and taking the kids that we know need this out. On another funny note, people often ask me, “are you trying to create more surfers?” But it’s not about surfing really-
Eddie: It’s about human connection and expansion, getting outside of your own world. Who doesn’t need to step out of their their box once in awhile! It allows inner city kids to get a glimpse of new perspectives, new opportunities.
Tim: There is also the therapeutic piece. These kids have been really challenged, they have been through some really hard things in their life. From our background we just naturally gravitated to utilizing the things that make us happy- surfing! If it makes me smile and it makes that child smile, they are not feeling that pain for that moment, and my heart is glowing.
MeWater Foundation legend Anthony snags another one. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: Yeah, if you look at the therapeutical data, this ocean experience is all evidence based. I am working on building a little bit of a clinical team within our organization, our friend Brad Smallwood whom has a lot of experience with this, is going to step in as our clinical volunteer director. Brad will work to provide research based data- it’s a trauma based practice. Our work aims to create a calm space, to chips away at the scars of trauma- to create a moment of happiness. A.C.E.S are Adverse Childhood Experiences, big traumatic events,and that is what a lifetime of therapy is for. Our aim is to create a moment of relief, to chip away at the scars of trauma. So maybe the kids can get the idea that their life can be different!
Tim: These days for us to find an exciting experience in surfing, it takes a lot of things to line up (laughter), the waves have been sucking. I think most committed surfers came to it as some sort of a coping mechanism. Surfing is so special, so naturally we need to share it! It is temporally unplugging these kids from the concrete of the sidewalk and connecting them to nature, getting them away from the stress in their life. When you are in the water, hopefully you are not thinking of anything else- you are in a zen moment.
No caption needed!! A youth from Sunnydale Park and Rec having the time of his life. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: You have to put that famous Miki Dora quote right here: "My whole life is this escape; my whole life is this wave I drop into, set the whole thing up, pull off a bottom turn, pull up into it, and shoot for my life, going for broke man. And behind me all this shit goes over my back: the screaming parents, teachers, the police, priests, politicians, kneeboarders, windsurfers. They're all going over the falls into the reef; headfirst into the motherfucking reef, and 'bwah'! And I'm shooting for my life. And when it starts to close out I pull out and go down the back, and catch another wave, and do the same goddamned thing again."
Tim: Now a days, generally I am getting way more stoke taking these kids... pushing kids into waves, then surfing myself, unless of course it is one of those special days!
Eddie: In summary no matter what we are taking these kids surfing! MeWater can go in so may directions, but ultimately it is about taking these kids surfing any chance we can. Like Tim I look more forward to that now than my own surfing. You get to help foster moments of stoke. Last Wednesday I had this kid hanging on to my back while we bodysurfed, and he was just so genuinely happy, he had such a great experience! Seeing him so happy just made my week!
Tim: From all of our experience at Edgewood, this program has naturally grown out of it. We are trying to reach kids that the system may be failing, that need some additional support. But also MeWater is for those in need within our own community. We all go through struggles, through the ups and downs, we all have all skittered around the depths. So this program is for all of those in need of a little stress relief. Don’t be shy, come on out!
“Next generation” bodysurfer from Sunnydale Park and Rec all geared up and about to have his first ever bodysurf experience. Miramar Beach, 7/2016
Eddie: The results- many of these kids are coming out multiple times, and we never have any behavioral issues with these kids, they are stoked! Their progression is utterly amazing! Look- many cannot even swim at first, they are not comfortable in the water, yet they focus and soon they even start catching waves all on their own. Imagine that! The goal is to allow them to see that they can apply this same energy to their own lives, that they can get past the traumas. That they can learn to swim, learn to surf through the heavy currents of their past and future lives!
Santiago, who has been participating in MeWater surf camp days all summer gets some “open water” training at Chrissy Field, on Day 1 of a 3 day surf camp this summer. Chrissy Field, San Francisco, 6/2016
Please help, it is one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do. There are all kinds of things you can do to help. Volunteer, help network to solve some problems with transportation, supplies, food, or donate funds- which you can do through the website. Help get other volunteers for the program by spreading the news and this article.
ANDREW KIDMAN is one of the most influential surf artists you may have never heard of. His work reveals a lifelong dedication to the ocean and surfing, and he has been described in Matt Warshaw’s The Encyclopedia of Surfing as somewhat of a wandering surf mystic. Andrew’s work includes Films such as Litmus, Glass Love Lost in the Ether and Spirit of Akasha, his book Ether, music from his past band The Val Dusty Experiment and current band The Windy Hills, artisan hand shaped surfboards, and a list of other projects.
The Litmus print featuring Derek Hynd riding a Skip Frye fish that I made for the 20th Anniversary Litmus box set
My first Introduction to Andrew was his pivotal surf film Litmus. It was around 2000, I was about 16, and it was still a time when all the best shredding was viewed via dvd’s purchased from your local surf shop. I was browsing surf flicks, saw the cover of litmus and immediately drawn in by a little picture of Joel Fitzgerald holding a mushroom in front of his shaggy smiling face, and thought hmmm, this would make a great birthday present for my dad. Of course I ended up watching it over and over with my surf buds, waiting until my parents were gone so we could sneak outside for some combustible viewing enhancement. In retrospect, watching Litmus changed my trajectory as a surfer and, to some degree, as a person. At the time I didn’t realize this blatantly non, almost anti- corporate surf film would ever make a dent, as only a few of my like minded friends ever gave it the full appreciation it deserved. Luckily, but not surprisingly, there happened to be a quite a few surfers around the world that were tuned into the same frequency. My stoke level for Andrew is incredibly high, since he is finally starting to get the recognition he deserves as an artist, and Litmus - the classic that no one heard of, has retained its cult following, and has seen a flurry of publicity lately, along with some of Kidman’s other projects.
Over a decade later I wandered into Aqua surf shop for the first time half-assed looking for a job and got lucky to become part of crew. I cant remember exactly how the conversation started but one day Aleks Petrovich, one of the shops co-owners mentioned something like; “Yeah, Andrew Kidman is a good friend of mine. He just premiered his new film here and I think I want to interview him for the shop’s blog. You can help if you want.” Needless to say I was stoked to help.
Petro, as the Aqua crew lovingly refers to him as, is one of the most unique, high energy, laterally minded, and warm hearted surfers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. If you’ve ever met the guy you know I'm not just sucking up to my boss by saying that. After getting to know Petro a little better and seeing his own prowess and influence as an artist it’s easy to see how these two would find one another. Here is Aleks’ classic recollection of their first meeting in his words:
“I was first introduced to Andrew by our mutual friend, Marcus Sanders, at some barely organized "Surf Art Show” that we both had pieces in. That must have been ten or fifteen years ago. The show was at 111 Minna Gallery and was “organized and curated” by some snake oil salesman (art world huckster) name rhymes with Rim, so basically everything that could go wrong, did. Being friends as I was with many of the great people at 111 Minna Gallery, I wanted to help out when I saw this train wreck unfolding. My business, Aqua surf shop, has had many great events with 111 Minna, so we help each other out. So, I basically took over hanging the show, and covered other things that badly needed to get done for an art show to happen. It was during this art show lifesaving effort that I got to know Andrew, who jumped right in to help and lend his great sense of humor to calm me down. Within minutes I felt like this was a guy I've grown up with. He was cracking jokes at my expense, and I was laughing and enjoying it as much as he was. From that point in time we have had a consistent relationship - simply making fun of each other, working on an occasional creative project together, and keeping up with each other as we go through time. I get amped when he comes stateside to premiere his new film projects and I work hard to organize the best SF premieres I can. Andrew is a multi talented person whom really fuels my creativity- after hanging out with him I want to go make rad things!”
Aleks and I recently took some time to ask Andrew about life, his artwork, and surfing. For more info on Andrew check out his website: andrewkidman.com
Kevin: You make films, surfboards, prints, books, take photos, make music... Is there one particular trade or media that you enjoy the most, or one that defines you as an artist?
On the road on the East Coast last year, at Asbury Park Photos by John Schultz
Andrew: I like making music. It’s an endless journey full of challenges and surprises. It’s an interesting process to then combine it with film or story telling. The journey of making surfboards is pretty incredible as well ever changing, ever evolving, making boards for different waves. It’s a fun thing to do.
Kevin: Did you think Litmus would have the effect it did on the surf world? Did you set out to create a cult classic?
Andrew: No. We just wanted to reflect some of the things that were going on in surfing at the time. It was pre-meditated, we didn’t have much of a plan. I knew Derek was experimenting with boards as I’d seen them, so I thought that would be interesting to watch in a film, his quiver journey. The rest of the film really just unfolded as Jon and I travelled around. We’d recorded the soundtrack before we left to shoot the film so we already knew what the film could feel like.
Litmus 20th Anniversary box set, featuring Litmus and glass Love soundtracks on vinyl and a 100 page book put out by Anthology Recordings
Kevin: The word hipster still gets thrown around a lot these days, and to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what this most heinous of insults means, besides a young man that likes to don tight jeans and a fedora. It seems that in our surf tribe, hipsterdom has gained an unfortunate association with the more artistic and unconventional branches of the surfing tree when in the past, surfers and surf artists of that vain were kind of revered, and their unconventional experimental thinking has contributed to countless advancements in wavering and equipment. That being said, what are your thoughts on the word “hipster,” and what would you say to someone who labeled you as such?
I grew up working with Simon Anderson, he'd shape me boards and we'd go surfing, test them out. This is down the South Coast in the late 80s riding a round tail 6'5" flat bottom.
Andrew: I never really thought about it. I’d be stoked if someone thought I was a “hipster”. Especially if I was sporting my morning dressing robe, like Harry Nillson on the cover of his finest record Nilsson Schmilsson.
Kevin: Was the big PG warning on the DVD of Akasha a reaction to some of the negative criticism you received for the more controversial parts of Litmus?
Andrew: Not really, we didn’t classify the film. I think it had a M rating actually, which I’m okay about. There’s an anti herion cartoon that features in the film. Young kids are not going to understand that, so that’s fair enough.
Kevin: What was it like working with Falzon, and what did you learn from him? Do you see any similarities between Albert and yourself?
Andrew: Working with Alby was great. He has a real eye for artistic beauty and he understands true art I think. The best part for me was when the cover songs of Morning of the Earth were coming through, musicians like Will Oldham and Andrew Van Wyngarden from MGMT covering the original songs, I was sending them through to Alby and he was so humbled and blown away by the versions, nobody had stepped up to cover the title track Morning of the Earth, maybe it was too daunting, then Mick Turner the guitarist from the Dirty Three called and said he’d like to do it, which I thought would be pretty radical. Mick ended up doing it with the Xlyouris Ensemble with vocals by this opera singer, Oliver Mann. It was just incredible when the final version came through, Alby was sitting next to me when it arrived and I played it for him. He sat there with his eyes closed listening to it, when it was done he opened them and said, “That’s just pure art.” It was a really special moment.
I shaped this board with Dave Parmenter and Wayne Lynch, 6'7" single fin. One of my favourites!
Kevin: What do you think about professional surfing? Do you get stoked watching WSL contests? Does it have any effect on your life or artwork?
Andrew: It’s okay. I think there are too many surfers on the tour and not enough wildcards. It’s pretty obvious who the best surfers are and I like to watch them surf when the waves are good. It’s a distraction watching it. When I was a kid growing the only surfing you’d see was on the news at night when the big comps were in Australia, it’s everywhere these days which is pretty cool.
Kevin: What kind of technology did you use to shoot Akasha? How does it compare to what Morning of the Earth, and Litmus was shot on? How much consideration to you put into the camera equipment you use for your films and how does it effect the final product? Is there anything to be said for the Low-FI not overproduced aesthetic and sound in films, music, and surfboards?
Litmus Box set on the shelves going Cuckoo Bra
Andrew: We used every format really. The cameraman were using whatever they owned. Morning of the Earth was just one cameraman (Alby) using one camera using 16mm film, I just threw it out to people like Jon Frank, Mickey Smith, Patrick Trefz to shoot what they felt would honor Alby, which they did, it was a full collaboration honoring Alby’s filmmaking and the songs that scored the film. Litmus was shot on hi 8. I can’t say I consider it that much, camera’s are just cameras, they all work, for me it’s more about the story I’m trying to tell. Cameras these days are just incredible, the slo mo, it’s mindblowing. I love watching surfing like this. If I had money, I’d have cameras that could shoot like this.
Kevin: How did you become a surf artist/ shaper/ musician? Is it something you one day decided to do or was it a slow process?
Andrew: I started playing music when I was a kid, my parents wanted me to do it. It’s just something I’ve always done, I love it. Surfing was the same, I started doing it when I was a kid and I loved it and I’ve just kept doing it, shaping is a part of being a good surfer I think, when I was growing up all the best surfers were shapers, Simon Anderson, Terry Fitzgerald…I grew up as a kid surfing with these guys and watching them shape, working with them to try and make the boards better. It’s infectious, it just rubs off on you, I wanted to shape boards so I could make my surfing better and attempt to ride the waves how I wanted to ride them, get new feelings.
Kevin: Whats your day to day like, and how much time do you put in to creative process and traveling? Have you made a conscious effort to avoid the 9-5 daily grind?
Michele Lockwood has great style in and out of the water!
Andrew: I’ve never thought about 9-5 grind. I just try to work everyday on something, keep the bills paid doing things I like doing. It’s not easy but we get by. We live a pretty low-key lifestyle. If the surf’s good I try to go surfing. It’s not always good so I work on days like that or hang out with my kids and Michele. We have a good life, we’ve been very fortunate to live in rural Australia, food is local, the air is clean, we collect our own rain water, the kids go to good schools, we really don’t need a lot more.
Curren usually stays with us when he comes out to Oz, last year he was right into stand up boogie board riding and Gus got right into it as well
Aleks: Dude, thank you so much for your time I need to get over and visit you and da family! Kevin thank you for putting together this interview I really appreciate it. Aloha!
I had a certain tee shirt in sixth grade, and this special tee shirt had magical powers to confound and perplex. Donning it was a "full-on rad" statement to the world of a little surf rat's mind, a statement that this little duck-tailed grom has thrown his lot in with the surfing life and this tee shirt proves it. The rest of you be damned. The iconic Sex Wax tee shirt is this magic shirt of which I speak. Then and every bit as much today, it's the preferred way to make this statement even if it is now more widely understood. The magic in the shirt has strongest effect against people who don't surf of course, as the shirt screams "SEX" in odd combination with the word "wax", which usually sounds to non-surfing folks like some kind of personal lubrication brand....or does it provide pleasurable friction?. It grabs attention, funny looks, scornful disapproval from confused elders- especially when you are a kid wearing it. It's both baffling and offensive, and most importantly it provided a clear separation of comprehension between tribes in southern California at that time. Either you get it, or you don't. The world in my mind, at this time, was divided between these two groups; one cool and the other, "lame-o", So for a kid in sixth grade what's not to love, right? I think my elementary school gave up on banning the damn shirt, I mean the stickers were absolutely everywhere, which was perhaps the biggest marketing coup of all for the Zog's brand. In Solana Beach, North county San Diego in the mid 80's, we were in the midst of the absolute glory days for surf brands like Vaurnet sunglasses and Jimmy Z pants, Op, Offshore and on and on. Those brands have disappeared from the landscape now and few have survived the era. It goes without saying that Sex Wax is a brand that has passed the ultimate test of time. If any marketing company could figure out how to bottle this business success mojo, or even replicate it consistently, untold riches would await them. Fortunately we can ask the man behind the brand, the wizard of Zog, what goes into the special sauce of the brand. Here's what he said:
PP: Surf brands that have been around for as long as yours more often than not come from very humble beginnings. So i'm going to go out on a limb and say that your company, a company that started making a wax special for surfing in the 70's, didn't get any venture capital money. Tell me a little bit about that moment in time when you thought "Hey, I think this can be a big thing". Did people tell you that you were crazy? So yeah, how did it all start?
Zog: In 1969 I had a surf shop at the Santa Barbara Airport and met Nate Skinner who was also renting space in that area. He was familiar with wax and the various materials that could be used to alter its characteristics. Over a period 3 to 5 months month’s Nate created surf wax formulations and I would test them. By 1972 I was ready to start producing and selling Sex Wax. I had no idea what to expect. Initially two college friends gave me $5000 each in exchange for 5% partnerships in the new business. Sometime within our first two years of operation, I was able to buy them out and give them double their money back. Nate held a 15% partnership for his instrumental role in developing the formula and helping to design some of the original homemade equipment we used at the time. Back then, I was making and wrapping the wax in a friend’s run-down garage, so overhead was very low. During the first 1 to 2 years, Sex Wax was a part time “gig” and I continued to supplement my income by shaping and glassing Zog Surfboards.
PP: Im 41 and realize now that I'm not old enough to understand what it was like to surf in the era before specialized waxes were developed. I'm not even sure how paraffin, or whatever other substances were used were applied. Did you drip on beads of wax from a melting candle? What sort of substances were used then to adhere your feet to your board besides paraffin, and was paraffin waxing awful enough that you saw a big improvement in the experience of surfing to be had in the existence of a special wax?
Zog: Parawax was the brand name of what was probably the most popular wax to be used for surfing on the West Coast during the 1960’s. This was a basic paraffin wax which was sold in grocery stores primarily for canning fruits and other perishables. Parawax was much more difficult to use on surfboards than the softer surfboard waxes we have today. A number of different techniques were employed to apply the first coat of paraffin wax to your surfboard……………..
You could try and just rub it on at room temperature for the first coat, but this was very difficult You could submerge block of paraffin in warm or hot water to soften it and then rub it on. You could melt the wax and either drip unto the surface of your board or paint it on with a brush
Once the first coat of wax was established you would just rub on additional wax prior to each new surf session. If you had forgotten to take any wax with you to the beach, you could always put your board face down in water to cool the waxed deck and then rub by hand with wet sand to rough up the wax surface.
PP: We went through a period in the early 90's where a lot of pros were using full deck traction pads. Was there a time when you thought that wax might disappear from surfing forever? I had one board with full deck traction, and I think I still have scars on my ribs from an epic day of surfing where I forgot a rash guard, so there were obvious flaws in the full-deck traction design. You would think that they could reformulate the foam so that it didn't take meat off your bones, but that didn't really happen and wax is still a staple. What is it about wax that makes it superior as traction to have survived these wax-less technologies?
Zog: I was somewhat concerned when tail pads and full deck traction pads first appeared on the market. As it turned out the full deck pads never really took hold and these days a lot of surfers are waxing their tail pads. The full deck pads for the most part were too rough and caused too much skin irritation. Full deck pads were also too expensive and to my mind quite ugly. With surfboard wax you can select from different levels of softness and stickiness to get whatever combination of traction and paddling comfort works best for you when you “trunk it”. Last but not least, there is the ritualistic aspect of “waxing up” just before you enter the water. Surfing is often described as being somewhat of a religious experience by many of its devotees, and “waxing up” has become a meditative “time out” that is the precursor to this holy experience..
PP: Just out of curiosity. You must have a great idea of where in the world surfing is really getting popular because you get to ship out wax all over the world. Are there some countries out there that are sending you orders for wax that would really surprise us? Where in the world have you see the most dramatic, increased demand for Sex Wax? I imagine for the embryonic surf scene in Yemen, the brand name might get nabbed at customs for being obscene. Does this sort of thing happen?
Zog: When we first started exporting Sex Wax, I was probably most surprised by the market in Japan. Japan ranks much higher than most people would think when it comes to the number of active surfers. At this point Sex Wax export sales are fairly stable within most coastal countries. Some of the other surf wax market countries that might seem a bit unexpected include the following:
Czech Republic Germany Hong Kong Israel South Korea Vietnam Sri Lanka
PP: Okay, I'll stop beating around the bush-SEX WAX "the best for your stick"- these are trademarks of the brand that should probably be case studies in post-grad marketing classes. I read on your website that this was you and the chemist Nate Skinner's homage to the truism that sex sells. What's amazing is that it's not the image of hot bikini models suggesting the idea, or you presenting a lifestyle of adventure and exotic women, whats amazing is that you proved that presenting the word alone, simply S-E-X in big letters, is enough to summon the marketing magic that follows. In my opinion, I feel like the trademark shirt graphic presents the words "Sex Wax" so boldly, yet so purposelessly (for non-surfers of course), that a persons brain goes haywire trying to understand why they are seeing this everywhere (even on kids!) and that they must be missing out on something; something like some plain, good ol' fashioned sex perhaps? In short, it makes people not in-the-know feel like they are missing out on something and they cannot stand it, In your opinion, what is your theory behind why people in places, places even thousands of miles away from breaking waves, are ordering your shirts on a daily basis?
Zog: Nate Skinner helped me out with the Sex Wax formulas but didn’t have anything to do with the name. When it came time to come up with a brand name, I asked a good friend, Hank Pitcher to come up with something for our wax. Hank, who is now a well known artist and teaches at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, didn’t take very long. A few days after I made my request, Hank showed me what was to become the Sex Wax label that is so well known today. Mr Zog’s, Sex Wax, The Best for your Stick, and Never Spoils was all there and encapsulated within semi circular segments which comprised the overall circular label with an “old fashioned” feel. To be honest, I did not know what to think of it at first. Initially I felt this label was extremely strange and probably too controversial to use with for our surf wax. After a few days thought, I decided that being outrageous would be fun and consistent with my sarcastic nature. It was a happy go lucky period for me with very few responsibilities so why not! I realized that the Sex Wax label would bring immediate attention to our product, and I felt that we had a very good surf wax formula. If our surf wax was not up to snuff, then the outrageous name would have “back fired”.
People respond to the Sex Wax label in any number of ways, but it is a good fit for the psyche of most surfers. Outside the surf market “Sex Wax” is a bit too edgy for some people. We do sell a lot of t-shirts, but the controversial nature of the Sex Wax name does impose limits to our apparel market share. Sex Wax apparel sales will most likely never be as big as the other major surf brands, but the public’s brand awareness of Sex Wax is huge.
I do like the straight forwardness of the Sex Wax label; it is direct and thoughtfully provoking. As mentioned in your question, Sex Wax is not akin to the titillating visual imagery of a Carl’s Jr. Commercial. When Mom discovers a bar of Sex Wax in Junior’s closet, Mom may decide that it’s time for that long delayed discussion about the “Birds and Bees” which is good thing, but probably a little embarrassing for Mom when she finds out what Sex Wax really is.
PP: I'm not sure if Sex Wax has a place in the Surfing Hall of Fame, but it goes without saying that it has become one of the most uniquely identifiable and original of surf brands to people worldwide, whether they surf or not. Any brand dreams for that sort of recognition, so the fact that you have secured your place in the mainstream as a surf brand selling wax and a tee shirt, without selling in Target or even changing a damn thing, is rather remarkable. A solid surf team through the years helps, a consistent product that always performs on demand and is is widely available is definitely key, but most importantly- an amazing bit of marketing magic that makes you stand out from the crowd by a wide margin. You must be incredibly proud of your achievement, I mean, how could you not?. When you look back to the very beginning, from where you are now, what thoughts enter your mind? Say the gameshow Family Feud had a question like, "Name some things that have to do with surfing", you can bet one of the top three answers is going to be "SEX WAX" along with "The Beach Boys" and "Gidget", with "Laird Hamilton" coming in a close fourth. It's no longer just an iconic brand in surfing, but it's been appropriated as a wider part of American culture. That is pretty damn incredible when you think about it.
ZOG: I am proud of both the quality of the surfboard wax we have produced over the years and the success of the “Sex Wax” brand name. In many ways, I have been very lucky and I have also relied a great deal on others to help me along the way. Sex Wax has been fortunate to enjoy a favored status within the entertainment industry starting with the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and most recently being the answer to one of the questions on Jeopardy. The Sex Wax brand has reached an amazing level of recognition as millions of bars of Sex Wax have migrated around the globe based on a reputation for quality that has been spread primarily by word of mouth..It has been an amazing journey, and a bit of blur looking back. The one thing that I can take credit for is all the effort I have put into Sex Wax. Sometimes I feel like I am running this business and other times it feels like this business is running me. It’s a double edged sword.