Surfing World - - Introduction - By Sean Do­herty

Meet the NYC art stu­dent who’s slid into sight with his fric­tion­less free­dom. This is the elec­tri­fy­ing zing of By­ron Bay’s Ari Browne.

“Yeah, I just got out of the shower and I’m sit­ting here nude. In the sun. It’s quite pleas­ant re­ally. What are you up to?” Af­ter in­form­ing him my clothed body is planning a full day of clothed ac­tiv­i­ties, I dis­cuss the idea of catch­ing up later to in­ter­view him for Surf­ing World. “Great,” replies Nude Ari. The man who threat­ens to turn fin­less surf­ing into some­thing truly rev­o­lu­tion­ary – rev­o­lu­tion­ary in terms be­yond sim­ply spin­ning wildly on a wave – turns up to the in­ter­view fully clothed. Mi­nus shoes of course. One of his fel­low art stu­dents had used flour as snow as part of her in­stal­la­tion ear­lier in the day, and as we sit on the edge of Ban­ga­low Creek, Ari’s dan­gling his dusty white feet into the wa­ter as we dis­cuss mat­ters of surf­ing and art. “Man,” he griz­zles, “It feels like I’ve got bread be­tween my toes.”

Ari Browne an­swers the phone i n the nude. Thank­fully it's only a voice call.

SW: You’ve just about fin­ished an Arts de­gree. Have you al­ways been ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined? AB: Yeah, I went to a school that pro­moted in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion. That came nat­u­rally to me any­way, but the school nur­tured it. I come from a cre­ative fam­ily too, and it’s al­ways been some­thing I’ve found ful­fill­ing, re­lax­ing and stim­u­lat­ing.

How would you de­scribe your paint­ing style? Look, it’s so var­ied it’s hard to pin it down to one thing, but I like ap­proach­ing things in a way that’s rel­e­vant to the medium. If I’m do­ing a paint­ing I like to treat the paint like paint. Ma­te­ri­al­ity is a big thing for me. I was just do­ing some print­mak­ing and it’s in­ter­est­ing for me to ref­er­ence the his­tory of print­mak­ing while I’m do­ing it. My art has al­ways been a com­bi­na­tion of the ma­te­ri­als I like work­ing with, the ideas that I like, and mak­ing them fit the themes I want to con­vey. It’s about us­ing those tools to be an ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tor. Some­thing like that.

Is there a cen­tral theme that runs through ev­ery­thing you do ar­tis­ti­cally? It’s al­ways chang­ing. I move around a lot but have al­ways liked pop­u­lar cul­ture. I al­ways liked land­scapes too. It’s hard to talk about it ob­jec­tively and answer the ques­tion, what it is ex­actly I do, be­cause I don’t think about that a lot.

You talked about pop cul­ture ref­er­ences; what kind and what era hold an in­ter­est for you? It’s in­ter­est­ing to look at con­tem­po­rary pop­u­lar cul­ture, peo­ple like Caitlin Jen­ner and ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pened around her and how all that stuff works in the States. It’s such a weird world, pop cul­ture. I try and ex­press it hu­mor­ously al­though it’s hard to avoid a bit of dark­ness creep­ing in.

You spent time re­cently study­ing art in New York. Yeah, I did six months at a place called the Pratt In­sti­tute. It was crazy. It was an ex­change for six months and I got there in the win­ter and it was freez­ing. It was the year of those big bliz­zards. It was just as valu­able as a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence for me as it was aca­dem­i­cally. I had heaps of beer to drink and there were so many dive bars there. I think I saw them all.

How did a kid from By­ron find his feet in the big city? I felt dis­placed for the first month, try­ing to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing, but af­ter a while I re­alised that was un­achiev­able and I just needed to re­lax and stop try­ing to think about ev­ery­thing ra­tio­nally and log­i­cally and just cruise. I guess I was over­whelmed for a while and the en­ergy of NY was so in­tense and the prox­im­ity to peo­ple at all times was trippy for

"What do I do? I'm out of con­trol the whole time, so maybe peo­ple see me and think I'm out of con­trol the whole time. I don't know. Maybe that sums me up."

me. And I guess those things all added up, but fuck, it was one of the coolest ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s such an amaz­ing city and such an ap­pro­pri­ate place for what I was study­ing too.

Did you go over on your own? I was cruis­ing solo. To­ward the end of the six months I flew to LA and met my girl­friend and mates and we bought a car and drove south into Mex­ico. I tapped out at Salina Cruz while they went to Panama. That was a cool trip in it­self.

Was the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a By­ron surfer in New York im­printed on your art? A lot of my work was to do with my ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing there. I bought a push­bike and one of my favourite things to do was just cruise around take pho­tos of peo­ple do­ing stuff – or not do­ing stuff – and I turned that into a lit­tle zine with some draw­ing and col­lage. That was one of the best things for me, cruis­ing around the city, peo­ple watch­ing. I did meet this Aussie guy who’d been liv­ing there a while, a guy named Banjo Mclach­lan.

Isn’t he a pho­tog­ra­pher? I re­mem­ber see­ing his shots of Ozzie Wright a few years back. Yeah he is. He’s mates with Ozzie and a re­ally good pho­tog­ra­pher and he works now as a pa­parazzi pho­tog­ra­pher. He was great to hang out with and knew the city and rode around on his pushie too, tak­ing pho­tos. I also had cool Korean house­mates from school, these hard­core gamer dudes, and they were pretty sick. Did New York feel a long way from home? No, I didn’t think about it so much. It was so stim­u­lat­ing. There were times think­ing back I just re­mem­ber wak­ing up know­ing I had the day off and think­ing, what will I do to­day? I’m in New York with a whole day to look around. I was too over­whelmed and stim­u­lated by new things all around me to even think about home in that way, but there were times for sure I wouldn’t have minded just head­ing down the beach for a surf. I ac­tu­ally had boards and a wet­tie there with me, but the lo­gis­ti­cal, freez­ing night­mare of go­ing surf­ing was too much. It was ab­surd. It would’ve been cool to go for a surf, but I pre­ferred not to con­tract pneu­mo­nia.

I was look­ing through the alumni of the Pratt In­sti­tute and it’s a fa­mous, eclec­tic crew that’s come out of there. In or­der on the list were Robert Map­plethorpe, Robert Redford… and Rob Zom­bie. Who are they? Who’s Robert Redford?

He’s a fa­mous ac­tor. And Rob Zom­bie is the singer of White Zom­bie in the ‘90s, the only white guy al­lowed to wear dread­locks. Speak­ing of be­ing in

char­ac­ter, I’ve seen your clips and you can slip into char­ac­ter pretty easy. Do you surf in char­ac­ter, or do you surf as a pure ex­pres­sion of the true self? I’m not in any char­ac­ter. Maybe I’m a more hy­per­ac­tive ver­sion of my­self, I tend to get ex­citable, but nah, I just try and be my­self when I surf be­cause I think it’s one of the few times in life you re­ally can.

If you were watch­ing your­self surf and didn’t know your­self, what as­sump­tions would you make about your char­ac­ter? Good ques­tion. I don’t think about that re­ally. I hope my love for surf­ing comes across. It’s such part of my iden­tity, which is a mas­sive cliché to say I sup­pose. I don’t know; it’s a hard ques­tion. [Pon­der­ing] What do I do? I’m out of con­trol the whole time, so maybe peo­ple see me and think I’m out of con­trol the whole time. I don’t know. Maybe that sums me up.

What’s your learn­ing style? Are you the kind of guy who likes to learn things on your own, or do you like a bit of in­struc­tion? Es­pe­cially if prob­lem solv­ing is in­volved I get great sat­is­fac­tion in putting things to­gether my­self. If I get some­thing that comes with in­struc­tions I get great sat­is­fac­tion in not us­ing them and try­ing to put it to­gether my­self. I don’t know if it’s the same with the rest of my learn­ing. I like re­al­is­ing you’ve learned some­thing of your own ac­cord and found your own so­lu­tion, but I value a good men­tor or a good pro­fes­sor.

Do you have one of them in surf­ing? I’ve al­ways loved Ozzie’s surf­ing. I re­mem­ber I used to watch Doped Youth every af­ter­noon. I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and still think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I like peo­ple who ex­press them­selves. It’s hard to go past Cur­ren, but there are so many. But I like the fact Ozzie is still hav­ing fun. I like peo­ple who are play­ful in the ocean and who are play­ful in the waves and do­ing things on a wave that are un­ex­pected. I like Ozzie do­ing a cut­back then chop-hopping out of it. Some­thing you don’t ex­pect. I got off on that for sure, not know­ing what some­one’s go­ing to do. And a guy like Dane is good for that, kind of wild and er­ratic but in to­tal con­trol at the same time.

How do they teach art? It seems a hard thing to teach. What did they teach you in New York? My paint­ing pro­fes­sor in New York was an ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist dude who’d had his 15 min­utes of fame, got ex­hib­ited in the Guggen­heim I’m pretty sure. I think he was a big deal once upon a time. He was a re­ally dog­matic teacher; this is what you do, this is how you do it, you don’t do it any other way or fuck off. He didn’t say that of course, but that was his en­ergy. But I kind of liked that. Okay, I need to do it this way. I’ve had a very open ap­proach to learn­ing most of my life so it was nice for it to be sud­denly clear in black and white.

If surf­ing is in­deed art, then is fin­less surf­ing high art or an in­sane per­son paint­ing with his fin­gers? For me it feels more sub­stan­tial. It could be a higher art for me in that it changes my ap­proach and even changes the way I process all the in­for­ma­tion around me while I’m surf­ing. It’s a dif­fer­ent mind­set and a dif­fer­ent set of rules and dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria for what’s the right thing to do. You’re more con­nected… even though you have no fins. You get feed­back from the ocean in dif­fer­ent ways, which is cool. I get more un­ex­pected sur­prises than I do surf­ing a board with fins. I’ll be go­ing along a wave and some­thing will hap­pen and I’ll find my­self think­ing,

you know, I can never re­call that ever hav­ing hap­pened to me be­fore in my whole life. I have that thought a lot, go­ing fin­less.

The thing that al­ways gets me with fin­less boards is how fine that line is be­tween the board driv­ing hard on the thinnest of rails and the board just want­ing to break free and spin like a Fris­bee. It seems to cre­ate this elec­tric sen­sa­tion com­ing up through your feet like drag­ging your feet across shag­pile car­pet. It is like that, it re­quires me to con­cen­trate more than I would if I was surf­ing fins, and that goes back to how it changes the way I see things on a wave. I don’t know if I put it into words prop­erly. It’s not my con­scious­ness, it changes my… per­spec­tive. That’s it, per­spec­tive. I’ll kick out of a wave and I can’t re­mem­ber it be­cause I was so… what’s the word?

Ab­sorbed? That’s the per­fect word for what it is. I get lost in it. I’ll kick out and I won’t be able to re­mem­ber what I just did and that doesn’t hap­pen when I surf with fins. I’m more ab­sorbed and stim­u­lated so it feels like a greater thing for me when I’m surf­ing with­out fins. Even just go­ing down the line is an achieve­ment some­times.

What do you see when you’re surf­ing fin­less and look­ing down line at Len­nox and there’s 50 me­tres of wall lin­ing up? Do you see a mil­lion pos­si­bil­i­ties? Do you see too many pos­si­bil­i­ties? Do you see any at all? I think that I think less, and try and just glide. I rely on… I don’t want to say in­stincts, but that type of thing. Less a log­i­cal and ra­tio­nal type of think­ing. It’s more flow which is a sim­ple way to ex­plain it. It’s con­tra­dic­tory in a way, that the board is very free but also sets lim­i­ta­tion on the way you can surf it, and I have to ac­cept its bound­aries. There’s only so much the board can do and that’s also the joy of it, push­ing that thresh­old of what I can make it do. [Crack­ing up] Is that an answer? Af­ter surf­ing a finned board for a while, what’s it feel like surf­ing a board with no fins again? It’s good to have con­trol!

Are we try­ing too hard to paint them as dif­fer­ent things or are they all just surf­ing? It all feels like surf­ing to me but they feel at po­lar ends… not quite op­po­site but ad­ja­cent, and things cross over be­tween them all the time. That cross­over can be in­ter­est­ing. I love it all. There’s no bad surf­ing. I get pretty rest­less and I ride a dif­fer­ent board pretty much every ses­sion and that’s a big part of my surf­ing, al­most the defin­ing thing. Swap­ping is good. It’s only lim­it­ing in a way in that you can’t… there’s all these dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines I’m par­tak­ing in and I’m try­ing to im­prove in all of them but spread­ing my­self a lit­tle thin.

The jack of all trades. Mastery is harder when I’m al­ways chang­ing out. But in the end it’s all about hav­ing a paddle.

It seems a very gen­er­a­tional thing. My gen­er­a­tion we were so ap­plied to a lim­ited num­ber of things and spe­cial­is­ing was what you had to do, while your gen­er­a­tion swaps boards every five min­utes, jumps jobs, trav­els to places you’ve never been and seems to have a more open view of the world. It’s pretty true. It’s a more flex­i­ble ap­proach to life.

You were born in New­cas­tle but have lived in By­ron most of your life. Who would I be talk­ing to if you’d stayed in Newy? Err… Johnsy? [Cracks up]

Are you a prod­uct of By­ron? I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been so open­minded and ex­per­i­men­tal in the surf. Maybe I could’ve ended up there if I’d stayed in Newy as I’m nat­u­rally in­quis­i­tive and don’t like do­ing the same thing over and over. I’m rest­less like that and I like change and By­ron is al­ways chang­ing. Peo­ple don’t give you scathing looks here if you’re do­ing some­thing out of the or­di­nary.

They give you scathing looks if you are do­ing some­thing or­di­nary. True.

What’s the most nor­mal, stock stan­dard, board you ride? I’ve got a Hypto Krypto, which was so pop­u­lar, but in per­fect waves that thing was fucked up. I loved that board. Apart from that my most nor­mal board would be my hy­dro­foil boo­gieboard.

Who de­signs your boards? Ev­ery­body. The Rab­bit’s Foot, the fin­less board I ride a lot was shaped by Ryan Lovelace. I’ve got a 5’1” fish I’ve been surf­ing out The Pass that I made my­self with the wide point re­ally far for­ward, which is a nice thing. I said to my­self I’d love a small wave board that paddles fast and surfs fast and I found that. I was stoked. I couldn’t be­lieve I came so close with that board. I’d made a cou­ple of dud boards be­fore that, but that was the first board I nailed. I called the board The Golden Age of Dog Root­ing, which is an­other story in it­self. But The Dog Rooter goes re­ally well.

What about The Lazy Su­san? A mate said to me, “Imag­ine a disc on the deck of your board that spins around while the board goes straight,” and I went, “Let’s go!” Straight to Bun­nings. That was fun do­ing that, just a lit­tle dis­ori­en­tat­ing. That spun me out.

Where does fin­less surf­ing go from here? [Laugh­ing] Down the line? I’ve al­ways dreamt about do­ing an aerial ma­noeu­vre on a fin­less board, that’d be pretty spe­cial, but I don’t know if it’s in my skill set to be hon­est. I don’t know. Some­where it’s mak­ing peo­ple happy.

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