Andy Warhol Goes Surfing

Sunny SoCal surf culture is not often associated with Andy Warhol’s city-slicker, Studio 54-centered image. Of course, nothing pop culture escaped Andy: in 1968, he made it to the West Coast to produce San Diego Surf, a wandering 90-minute foray into the city’s beach scene that was screened for the first time last week at MoMA. In what is probably best described as a dazed, feature-length montage, surf culture gets the classic Warhol treatment, and is made out to be a cesspool of eroticism and bourgeois spectacle.

As a surfer and an artist, Tim Bessell was inspired to return the favor and give Warhol the surf treatment. “It’s both surreal and real at the same time,” he remarks of the film. “For me, growing up in La Jolla a few blocks away from where it was shot, I have personally lived this movie. La Jolla is no stranger to affluent people living a life of perverse sex and drugs.” To commemorate the film’s release, he’s designed the first of a series of limited-edition surfboards in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation, all emblazoned with some of Warhol’s best-known works. Dance Steps adorns a classic nine-foot longboard designed to run the nose of big surf; Skull appears on the six-foot, high-performance short board for choppier seas; the diminutive five-footer known as a “fish” is playfully decorated with Last Supper.

“I would venture to say that Pop Art and the surf culture were born together,” Bessell offers. “Music played a big part of the development in both these movements, as well as photography and color.” The boards are a labor of love for Bessell, who constructed them by hand of polyester resin and hand-shaped polyurethane foam. Warhol’s artworks are the only aspect of their design that Bessel hasn’t handcrafted; they are digitally printed onto technical fabric, but even they are affixed to each board by Bessel himself. “I couldn’t think of a better way to showcase some of his best work,” he says, having looked to Andy as a major influence since they met during his art and architecture course at San Diego State.

Bessel, who has shaped more than 46,000 surfboards over the course of his career, considers these his magnum opus: “My intention was to produce the best surfboards of my life,” he declares matter-of-factly. For him, though, nothing quite compares to his college role model. “Andy is still rocking it from the grave over 40 years later,” he marvels. “Now that is true genius.”