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A Surfer’s Perspective: artist Erik Abel

Artist Erik Abel


“Having my life revolve around the ocean seems to have a comfortable rhythm,” says surf artist Erik Abel.

Based in Ventura, California, Erik surfs, makes art and travels. He comes from a coastline rich in the history of melding surfing and art, of surfers drawing inspiration from the ocean to tell their story through visual expression. But, how does surf art differ from other art forms?

Erik explains: “Surf art has waves and surfers in it and is usually painted by somebody who loves riding waves. Maybe that’s the only difference; only a surfer can really make surf art. I kinda like that.”

Visual exploration is a key theme in the artist’s highly stylized and graphic, ocean-related art, which is created on wood with acrylic, markers, colored pencils and other media.

“My art is mostly simple and direct. The color, shape and composition take charge over meaning or content. I’m a very visual person,” he says.

“My eyes need to be stimulated when I look at something not my brain. My brain gets enough exercise when I close my eyes at night…I need art to calm me down and keep me sane with nice pretty colors and big shapes.”

Erik’s work is found enlivening not only the walls of surfers but the advertising and products of creatively inspired surf and skate companies, including the promotional artwork for this month’s world surfing tour event, the Reef Hawaiian Pro, which features the newly crowned 11-times world champion, Kelly Slater.

A line of skateboard graphics for a new US company are in the pipeline and Erik is the next artist to feature in a new t-shirt line for Ventura’s Coastal Classics.

And, stretching the traditional concept of the canvas, Erik is fresh from a live art showcase at the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo in Del Mar, in which he live-painted a surfboard as part of The Board Art Benefit – A Surfer’s Perspective.

Surf Art by Erik Abel

The Board Art Benefit, was held in aid of the charity, SurfAid International, and brought together 26 of the world’s leading surf artists and surfboard shapers, including the legendary surfer and shaper, Gerry Lopes. The collaboration saw artist and shaper partner to create live art on 13 surfboards, all of which will now be auctioned in coming months.

Erik teamed up with local Ventura surfboard shaper, Robert Weiner of Roberts Surfboards, for the event. Together they helped to raise much-needed funding so SurfAid can continue to deliver its community-based health and emergency response programs to isolated communities in the Mentawai, Nias, Telo and Banyak islands. Many of these communities have been devastated by numerous natural disasters, including the Boxing Day Tsunami (December 2004), Nias Earthquake (March 2005), Mentawai Earthquakes (September 2007), Padang Earthquake (September 2009) and Mentawai Tsunami (October 2010).

Of the Board Art Benefit Randal Schober, Executive Director of SurfAid International USA said: “We were honored to have Erik and other prominent surf artists be a part of the recent Board Art Benefit. The unique collaboration of board shaper and artist attracted thousands of interested attendees and brought awareness to our mission. We are very appreciative to Erik and the other artists for generously donating their time and talent to support SurfAid.“

The not-for-profit organization was founded by physcian and surfer, Dr Dave Jenkins in 1999 after an eye-opening surf trip to the Mentawais when he found he was the first doctor to ever step foot in an isolated local village and found women and children dying from malaria, malnutrition and inadequate living standards – things that he knew were treatable and preventable.

Photo by Michael Lawrence for Surfaid

While Erik is inspired by the natural world, he says that it is also inspiring to think about the effect art can have on modern culture and beyond, which is why it’s important for him to support the work of SurfAid.

“It takes honesty, compassion, and integrity to start an organization that goes into isolated areas to help with basic needs, especially after big natural disasters. It is respectful and inspiring to know that there are companies and people out there who actually give a damn,” he says.

In line with his philosophy of the potential for art to positively impact the world he has also launched the Fish Outta Water Project, in which he leaves free artwork in public places, encouraging strangers to take them.

In between his busy professional schedule and community projects, however, there will always be time for his biggest inspiration, surfing, Erik says.

“The surfing lifestyle will always be the biggest influence in my life until I am unable to surf anymore. There is nothing more exciting than going to a different country and culture to hunt waves.”

As they say, only a surfer knows the feeling.

Erik Abel’s public art project | Fish Outta Water Project

Roberts Surfboards |

Board Art Benefit |

Erik’s site
Erik’s art

6 comments to A Surfer’s Perspective: artist Erik Abel

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  • Just thought I’d mention that the Board Art Benefit has a website of it’s own with the most up to date info about the event as well as more great art from all the artists involved. Anyone interested should check it out!

  • Thank you Kirk and Jeremy – I really enjoyed writing this article. Erik’s art is beautiful and the work of SurfAid is amazing and inspiring.

  • We appreciate that you took the time to visit and leave a remark, Kirk. Best of luck to you and your incredible organization. I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots of good things from SurfAid in the future.

  • Thanks Erik for your great donated art and Sandy and Jeremy for the support. Best wishes Kirk, SurfAid

  • I love all this. Love Erik Abel, his art work, and SurfAid International.

    I think Sandy described SurfAid to me as a kind of “Doctors Without Borders” run by surfers. They lay out their compelling mission with clarity on their website—I hope people take the time to visit their site.

    And of course, Erik’s page is full of beautiful things. Thanks to Erik for giving us the interview and to Sandy for writing it!

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