Boards become prized display pieces in a new wave of collectible popularity

In surfers’ milieu, performance trumps aesthetics. But from a board shaper’s point of view, that can be boring.

That’s why, after many years of board-making, Eric Walden began dressing up his creations with art work about four years ago.

“They’re a lot more fun to build than plain white boards,” says Walden, co-owner, with his wife Jackie, of Chinatown Boardroom, where art fuses with the surf and skate worlds.

Inside the gallery are about a dozen boards, examples of what can be done with colored resin on a performance-oriented board, or with paint and photographic or graphic image transfers on fabric on more decorative models. Walden tapped several Hawaii artists, including Pegge Hopper, tattoo artist Kandi Everett, Maile Yawata and Heather Brown to create illustrated boards.

He says the colored resin is favored by longboarders, while shorter boards tend to attract collectors who find their compact size makes them easier to display.

“With all the different technology, you can pretty much have anything you want these days,” Walden says, while noting that surfers aren’t the trendiest bunch.

“There are guys who come in here and say, ‘I’d never ride that.’ Some people see it as being too flashy, but these boards are meant to be used.

“It grows when somebody sees what can be done,” Walden says.

Although the rise of the art board would appear to be a new phenomenon thanks to the increased importance of the visual image in popular culture, art has always been part of the surf-board’s history, with distinct trends marking each decade.

Aficionados will see several examples during the Vintage Surf Auction taking place July 17 and 18. Event producer and renowned surfer Randy Rarick has traveled to Rio de Janeiro, the Gold Coast of Australia and the shores of Lima, Peru, to bring back wood surf-boards from the early 20th century, including hollow Blake paddleboards from the 1930s, laminated boards of the ’40s, North Shore guns of the ’60s and pro boards from the ’70s and ’80s.

Rarick says boards of the ’50s sometimes bore tiki imagery, while the ’60s was the era of longboards and a wave of psychedelia or plain line graphics emphasizing the boards’ length. The ’70s ushered in airbrush aesthetics and free-flowing forms that resulted from the technique. Boards got wilder in the ’80s with the introduction of Day-Glo fluorescent paints, before becoming more sedate in the ’90s. Today, street graffiti, comic-book, anime and surf culture meet with an anything-goes individualistic approach to board art.

Among the most collectible names in vintage board art are those of John Sever-son, founder of Surfer magazine, who still lives on Maui, and Rick Griffin, known for his cartoon figures and psychedelic work of the 1960s.

But Rarick, a longtime collector of boards who has one for just about every surf condition, says a board doesn’t need to be painted to be collectible.

“It’s a handcrafted object considered to be a work of art in itself,” he says. “Far more important to those with a knowledge of surfing are the boards’ provenance in terms of who shaped it and who rode it.”

That may change as interior designers, hanging boards on walls for aesthetics alone, join the ranks of surf historians.

“I know of one collector who sold a lot of his high-end art collection of paintings, and he’s now got a collection of 50 surfboards because he likes the look of the boards,” Rarick says. “Another collector built his house with a vaulted ceiling to house his boards.”

A board’s desirability also depends on the age of the collector.

“I’ve got collectors in their 40s now, who relate to boards from the ’70s and ’80s, what they remember when they were young,” Rarick says. “They don’t want ones from the generation before them. They look at boards from the ’50s and say, ‘Those are dinosaurs; I don’t want those.’ ”

Chinatown Boardroom 1160 Nuuanu Ave. (808) 585-7200 www.chinatownboardroom.com

Vintage Surf Auction
Blaisdell Center
July 17: noon to 6 p.m., including Antiques Roadshow-style appraisals.

July 18: Viewing from 10 a.m. with silent auction from 2 to 4 p.m. and main auction 5 to 9 p.m. Pre-registration: www.hawaiiansurfauction.com

tagged in Eric Walden