Interview: Ellis Ericson
Big Sky Wire: A Rolling Stone
Big Sky Wire is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood speaks to Ellis Ericson about surfing, shaping and hooking up with world famous artist Barry McGee.
I came home the other day to find Ellis Ericson mowing foam in Andrew’s shaping bay. He was here as part of the Spirit of Akasha project. There were a few cameras clicking away while he furiously ploughed out a cloud of foam dust that got carried from the little room by the prevalent nor’easter.
I only just met Ellis but he had recently spent time overseas with a few of my close friends whom I haven’t seen for a while. So meeting him and talking story helped eased the gaps of not being home for so long. The common thread of surfing weaves through our lives creating that tight knit jumper that’s so fun to wear every now and again. Mahalo, surfing is such a gift.
CW: I just interviewed Barry McGee and he sent through some photos from his last trip to Sydney for Art & About. There were a few in there of you participating in some mischievous behaviour on the street.
EE: Yeah, I had a ball with those guys when they were here. I think I was in Bali at the time and I got a call from a guy called Pat Tenore the guy who started RVCA and he was like, “Barry and Josh Lazcano (AMAZE) are coming to Oz, you gotta go pick them up and help them out. They’re gonna need some really old surfboards, D-fins and they need to be picked up at this time.” I was like, “What? Alright…”
So you had to come from Bali to pick them up? Did you know Barry before this?
Well I knew of him but definitely not really to talk to him. So I came over and got my friends shitty old 80s Camry and I went to Barry Bennett’s factory and I was like, “ I need to borrow some old boards.” And they showed me upstairs and there was like sooo many old boards. And I just picked out the oldest, most twisted beat-up D-fins you ever seen and a few other boards and then threw them on to the car, boards were stacked up and then I went to get them.
And didn’t you guys spray paint the Camry too? I heard your friend wasn’t that stoked when you returned the car to her.
Yeah, kinda. We cruised around in it for a while and surfed a bit. And then they had to paint this space for Art & About. It was a side alley wall that they had designated and it was just an okay wall, Josh did a big AMAZE piece on it and then on the other side of the wall was Pitt St. It was a huge wall and they were left there alone with this cherry picker and they had sooo much Iron-Lac and they said, “we’re gonna do it.” They started there at 9 at night and didn’t finish painting til like 6 am. I saw Josh on Barry’s shoulders and they were on the cherry picker and it went like five or six storeys high and then another like six feet. Garbage men went past, cops went past but they had these flouro jackets on so they just thought it was all-legit. It was on the news the next day, so much hype. I think it is still there.
How long have you been shaping?
Probably for about three years, since I did my first board. And my father, Bruce was a shaper and I had done some time in the bay with him when I was younger growing up. He shaped all my boards previously up until then.
Is your dad still at it? Who else did he shape for back then?
He made his first fin in 1964 and made his first surfboard in 1969 and he is still shaping. He’s shaped for HIC surfboards in Hawaii through the 70s and shaped for Nirvana Surfboards through the 80s and 90s and now he shapes under his own name.
Where do you get inspiration from for new shapes?
It usually happens nearly everyday. I’m always seeing something…looking at older boards or someone might even paddle past on a board. Recently I looked back at a few of my dad’s old boards from the 70s and stuff. And from some new boards, you might see some subtle little things, like that is a nice tail or that fin set-up looks inviting.
What did you shape today?
It is a little 5’10” swallow tail single fin, off one of Andrew and Dave Parmenter’s templates that he had in there. It turned out really nice, not one I would normally do with the curvy outline without a flyer or anything. I’ll take it to get glassed tomorrow.
You seem to be a bit of a rolling stone these days? Where are you calling home?
Home at the moment... hmm… well I’ve spent the last six or seven months in Bali this year, so probably Canggu was for most of the time. I’ve got a really nice set-up over there. It’s a total ex-pat town, which has its pros and cons. I’ll go down the street and my friend Tom lives there and my friend Jimmy is there, all on the one street. So you get on your bike to check the surf in the morning and stop in for a chat. It’s really communal; it is a nice little hub. It’s not so remote that you are in solitude all the time.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by being around so many Australians in a foreign place?
Well you can always hop on a ferry to Lombok. All the islands are so close, that is why it’s so good too. You can get on a plane to Java, there are so many places to hide out over there if you want.
Last year, Alby Falzon returned from Bali and was jazzed to have stumbled upon you and Jimmy Kinnaird. He saw how you were living and surfing and what you were creating and said you guys were both “Morning of the Earth kids”. He asked you to be part of the Spirit of Akasha project. What do you remember about meeting Alby for the first time? Was it an apex moment with Alby, a reciprocation of stoke, like how the film (MOTE) has inspired you guys and now he invited you to be a part of this new project?
It was a surreal moment meeting Alby - I mean you’ve seen the film so many times, seen the names, the surfing and what was happening way back when and it doesn't seem like it could still exist. But instantly seeing the stoke radiating from the guy and his classic stories brought it all back - I think for my filmmaker friend Jimmy James it was a total meeting of a childhood hero kinda thing. Sounds cliché, but you idolize those figures and what was going on during that period and then next minute you’re in Bali, surfing and hanging out with Alby Falzon and it's kinda mind blowing. I dunno. I'm into the history of our sport and what has carved it, so to meet such a pivotal figure was a big deal for me...
For more about Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog here.
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