Making things look cool with Drew Brophy
Interview by Jan Bernard
If you have ever surfed through the Internet and tagged surf art you must have come across Drew Brophy’s paintings. I remember the first time I saw his work, it absolutely blew my mind. Not to wonder that Drew’s profession as he describes it: "It's my job to make things look cool".
An accomplished big wave rider as well, Drew flies around the globe every time he has a chance to charge a big swell.
While he was attending high school, Drew’s guidance counselor told him the following: “Drew, you can’t just surf and paint your whole life.” And so he did.
We have been wondering what goes through Drew’s mind so we decided to hit him up and let him tell us:
1.PS: Hi Drew, first of all. Could you tell us where you where born and how you got into painting?
DB: I grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The waves were small but it was great for surfing as a young kid.
I started painting when I was very little. My Kindergarten teacher told my mother I was good at creating energy with my drawings.
2.PS: How did you start painting surfboards and when did it occur to you that you could make a living out of it?
DB: I began painting my own surfboards because they were old and beat up, and I wanted to make them look new.
But I really got into surfboard painting when I was a teenager. I was a competitive surfer and I always painted my own boards. The local shaper, Kelly Richards, hired me to work in his surfboard factory painting all the boards.
On my very first surf trip to Puerto Escondido, my surfboards were painted wild and crazy. I got a two-page spread of me in the backside tube in Surfer Magazine, just because my board was painted.
3.PS: What where the main difficulties you encountered on your way to success?
DB: At the beginning, it was hard to convince shapers to buy into my technique of painting surfboards with Posca paint pens.
Early on, I worked in factories where you airbrushed surfboards during the beginning of the manufacturing process. It was very limiting painting on the foam.
I was painting on my own surfboards after they were glassed, with Posca Paint Pens. The surfboards didn’t look like “they were supposed to”, so shapers wouldn’t let me paint their boards that way. This was the late 1980’s.
When I moved to Hawaii in the early 1990’s, I thought that I could get shapers there to let me paint their boards with the Poscas. I pitched this style of painting to every surfboard company in Hawaii. I was disappointed that none of them got it; they just wanted me to airbrush.
Even when I arrived in California years later, I pitched the idea of painting with Poscas to shapers and surfboard brands. Nobody realized how cool it was, and I was so frustrated.
Then, Matt Biolos (of …Lost) and I teamed up, and the rest is history. We opened up the box of creativity. We changed the way that surfboards were painted, forever.
4.PS: You charge some pretty serious waves. I was there for the big swell in Puerto last June and saw you catch some bombs. When did you start surfing big waves?
DB: As a kid I always dreamed of surfing big waves. I believe as a surfer you either love big waves, or you don’t.
Growing up, the bigger the waves got, the better I surfed. I was 19 when I took my first trip to Puerto Escondido. It was the biggest wave I had ever seen!
For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place. That was the trip where I got my first shot in Surfer Magazine.
5.PS: What brings you back each time?
DB: I have traveled around the world and surfed some of the best waves on the globe. For me, Puerto is still the ultimate surf trip.
I watched the locals grow up. I've seen big swells over the years. It feels like home to me.
6.PS: Do you have any special training regimen to survive a 20 footer on the head?
DB: Ha! 25 years of experience, yeah. My whole life.
7.PS: We love your paintings and painting techniques. What did you use for your first paintings and how did you get into Posca paint pens?
DB: As a kid I used anything I could get my hands on; crayons to spray paint.
A friend of my parents, Mr. Rosen, was an executive who traveled to Tokyo every month. One trip he brought me back a set of Posca Paint Pens as a gift. Back then, nobody in the surfing world had ever heard of Posca.
I started painting my own surfboards with Poscas, and I realized it was a great way to paint surfboards. I could paint better, with more creativity, faster. It just clicked for me.
8.PS: Whom did you look up to while growing up (surfers, artists, etc.)?
DB: I looked for a role model or mentor that could help me, but I never found it. My truest inspiration was the places, the traveling, and the waves that inspired me to go see and surf.
All the places that I read about in surfing magazines, I wanted to go there. I dreamed of Tahiti, Mundaka, Australia. It wasn’t people but places and waves that drove me.
9.PS: Your high school counselor told you that you couldn't surf and paint your whole life. Did you ever get back in touch with her?
DB: No, I never got back in touch with the counselor. But Mrs. Cannon, the principle of my high school, is one of my biggest fans today. We still keep in touch.
10. PS: We know that you are also one pioneer in the SUP movement. Could you tell us about your trip with Seth Warren paddling the 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon?
DB: It was one of the scariest, most beautiful trips I’ve ever taken. The water was 42 degrees and without a life jacket, you would drown instantly.
It was a 16 day trip. By day 8, I was ready to go home. But once you’re in the canyon, there is no way out until the end. So I had another 8 days to go!
11. PS: What kind of music do you listen to?
DB: Led Zeppelin.
12.PS: We know Eddie Vedder is a big fan of your work. Could you share with us the kind of artwork he requested you to do for him?
DB: For Eddie’s 40th birthday, Laird Hamilton commissioned me to paint a silver surfer on a new standup paddleboard as a birthday gift for him. It was killer!
13.PS: Do you have any favorite surfspots?
DB: Puerto, Pipeline, Teahupoo, Mundaka, anywhere with big left barrels.
14.PS: Of all the surfboards you have painted, is there one that you could not part with?
DB: Gerry Lopez shaped me an 8’0” 70’s pipe gun. I painted a killer “chasing the dragon” theme on it. I haven’t ridden it yet. I’ll never sell it.
15.PS: Do you have any pointers for the hopefully upcoming artists?
DB: Think about what it is that you want, what kind of lifestyle you want to live, and what you want from your art. Once you know with clarity what you want, then you can have it.
One last thing: I’m stoked to have been commissioned to paint a surfboard for the Los Cabos Open of Surf Event. It will be presented to the winner of the women’s 6-star ASP Event.
Maybe we will get some big south swells, I’ll see you down in Puerto!
PS: Mahalo for your time Drew, hope to see you next summer!