Surfing is my lifeblood. Always has been. Plain and simple, it’s what I enjoy most. Sadly, living on the East Coast isn’t just as conducive to the ideal surf lifestyle as you might imagine. Regardless, I’ve constantly pursued what I love despite my location. Countless hours have been spent sitting in front of my computer reading the latest news, on the phone listening to friends brag about their wave of the day from oceans away, and immersing myself in everything the surfing world has to offer. And sometimes my crossed fingers would be rewarded with hurricane swell.
The big shift in this story comes when I moved 3,000 miles away from home to a slice of American paradise called La Jolla, California. This is no average surf town as there is an abundance of waves, art, culture, and people who constantly enthuse over any and every thing surfing. My kind of place. I immediately encounter a familiar sign upon arrival in La Jolla. While the 7-11 store on the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Westbourne Street triggers a bit of childhood nostalgia (post-surf Coke Slurpees were a childhood delicacy), it’s the sign directly beneath that catches my eye: Bessell Surfboards. I learned to ride waves on a friend’s classic 9’0” Bessell longboard and the prominent red and white logo on the corner takes me back. I had to meet the man responsible for my stoke—Tim Bessell. He and I sat down in his modern art museum of an office. This is his story…
Tell me how your journey started. Where did Bessell Surfboards come from?
Tim Bessell: “I grew up in La Jolla and started shaping at 13 when my brother gifted me an old stripped-down longboard, which I reshaped into my first board. My first creation was a six-foot, single fin pintail. I shaped, laminated and sanded it all on my own. My neighbor had also picked up shaping and when he finished his first board, I helped out and corrected his mistakes. From there, everyone in high school knew me as the shaper and came to me when they wanted boards.”
Sounds like you were quite the local celebrity. How did you transition from high school shaper into professional shaper?
Well, I knew the guys who started Sunset Surfboards in Encinitas and they told me their sander broke his arm. They offered me his job and I did that for six months. When he recovered, I transitioned into sales but it turned out that wasn’t for me. Then the owner, Eddie Wright, asked if I wanted to be the kneeboard shaper and I gladly accepted. I was stoked to get back into the shaping bay. As it turned out, the Japanese market in the mid to late 70’s wanted shortboards, so the birth of shaping shortboards as a business apart from longboards was born. At that point, I was 18 and wanted to move to Hawaii…mainly to surf the famous Pipeline. I saved up about $1,000 and moved on what money I had. The money only lasted me four months on the islands, but I became a custom shaper for Lightning Bolt—one of the premiere board manufacturers at the time. When I came back to the mainland, I worked my way through college as a production shaper for Lightning Bolt in North County. Billy Caster had let his shaper go and offered me the job. Then after college, Bessell Surfboards took off. As of now, I’ve shaped over 47,000 boards.
Judging from your office, you’re certainly more than a surfboard shaper. From the looks of it, you’re an accomplished artist too. Can you tell me about that?
After Bessell Surfboards started seeing success, I got involved in a clothing business on the side. When the recession hit, I felt like I should put surfboards on the back burner. That never happened. It was my lifeblood. My friend Carl Ekstrom got a patent on asymmetrical tails before I started shaping and sold some of these unique boards to Andy Warhol who I later got the opportunity to meet at his production factory (studio) in New York City in my early twenties. They had a friendly relationship that allowed Carl to make the connection between Andy and me. It was at that point that I got the rights to make these Warhol-inspired boards due to a serendipitous series of events. From there, the surf and art collaboration began.
He’s known for making some bizarre films along with his world famous artwork but have any of Warhol’s other works inspired you? If so, how?
Absolutely. I actually have the great opportunity to put on the premiere of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s movie, “San Diego Surf,” which I’d like to do at some point in the near future. It was filmed here in La Jolla in 1968 and, like all of Warhol’s movies, is bizarre and slightly offensive. Regardless, it is a chance for people to see the parallels between Andy’s and my life. He was here filming the movie and I was shaping surfboards. It gives the viewers insight into how our lives crossed paths. As for showing “San Diego Surf,” the movie may be shown with “Andy’s Quiver” on display or separately. The inspiration for me making “artboards” was my admiration for Andy Warhol as an artist and a designer. What is for sure is the influence he had on my work is undeniable.
Your ‘Andy’s Quiver’ boards certainly have stretched the bounds of surfboard art. What’s next?
We are designing a whole new model called “The Flower Series” as we speak so stay tuned.