Hundreds of feet below the tops of old-growth redwoods in Santa Cruz, California, wavy locks of sun-bleached blonde hair cascade over the sturdy shoulders of a beanie wearing, thick-bearded man named Alrik Yuill. He is an affable and charismatic Sculpture alumnus from Laguna College of Art and Design. He takes no note of the transformation of his breathe from warm, moist and invisible molecules to evaporating plumes of condensed vapor resulting from the frigid air. Instead, he’s enrapt in the natural undulating waves of grain in the primordial chunks of redwood scattered about his feet. To Alrik, every piece of wood, even in its most misshapen state of decay, is a work of art.
These gnarled and timeworn chunks of history will serve as the actual foundation for one of his own harmonious bronze creations that will be awarded as a trophy to the victors of the 2014 VANS U.S. Open of Surfing. The modern action sports champions who best glide across and fly over breaking ocean waves, like scraps of salvaged redwood, often travel far to come to dramatic and uncelebrated ends. In selecting just the right piece of wood, Alrik is mindful of this karmic incongruity. So, better than knowing which is right, he intuits it.
After hours of running his trade-weathered fingers over thousands of yards of fragrant, seasoned timber, Alrik clutches an exquisitely uneven plank and loads it into the back of his Toyota Pre-Runner beside an array of experimental surf crafts he shaped with his own two hands. There, the wood will wind and bump its way down and away from the place of its birth to the site of its glorious and inspired resurrection – Alrik’s spacious industrial living/work space.
Although only five miles separates the Huntington Beach Pier from Alrik’s studio, there’s a world of difference between the two locales. Over its 110-year-existence, the Huntington Beach Pier has been the site of historic events, monumental storms and infamous riots. There, George Freeth surfed in 1914. There, on multiple occasions in the 1980s, massive waves caused the Pier extensive structural damage. There, surf legends Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo established a historic rivalry.
Aside from hosting the occasional raw and spirited performance by friends/bands like Matt Costa, The Blank Tapes, Japanese Motors and Tomorrow’s Tulips, Alrik’s studio, for nearly the past five years, has remained a tranquil creative oasis. While Red Bull and vodka Jello shooters fuel raucous antics at the pier, rice cakes and wheat grass are all the rave at Studio Yuill. In fact, Alrik teetotals his way through life at an enviously steady pace. Here, The Girl and The Music arose from blocks of clay. Here, high performance, stringerless surfboards with complex flex patterns are shaped without computers. Here a trophy that is an homage to the natural, artistic lines drawn by old-growth redwoods, Tom Curren and the human form was conceived, sculpted and assembled. Here, a quiet champion of timeless style lives, breathes, eats, creates and sleeps.
When competition at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing concludes, surf fans pine to see whom the judges deem worthiest of taking home the soulful redwood and bronze trophies sculpted by a rare and uncompromisingly true artist. But those of us who know the trophy’s backstory might question who the real winner is. Is it the athlete, or the artist? Or is it both? One collects a trophy. One creates a vision. Which legacy would you rather leave?
For more of Alrik Yuill’s work visit his website at AlrikYuill.com