Robb Havassy's house on Costa Mesa's West side is clearly an artist's place. I'm greeted at the door by his three wolf-dog half breeds. Inside, the shelves are cluttered with the odds and ends of a life spent surfing, listening to music, painting, traveling, collecting…
Havassy started his career as a painter long before he even realized it, painting surfboards for himself and his friends. At the time, he worked as a model and payed his way through a degree in sociology from UC Irvine.
“Sean Stussy was shaping my boards. I'd paint a board once or twice a year,” says Havassy, “from about the time I was 18 or 19 to about 25 or 26. That was the only carry over [to my art career]. That and taking photos.”
Robb interrupts himself as his wife brings their little girl into the room. “This is my daughter, Marin. You know, like Marin County. She's my light, my inspiration in getting this book published.”
“I never took a class, never thought of myself as an artist. Now it's my whole life,” he says. Modelling provided Havassy with a perfect means of supporting his passions. Six months out of the year, he says, he lived a charmed life at home, surfing and spending time with his family. “Income and free time,” he says, smiling. After being given an art set by friends at age 26, he began “dabbling” in art. The rest of us would hardly call the several hundred pieces he produced in his first two years “dabbling.”
“I call it art history backwards…I was totally self-taught, just exploring every aspect,” Havassy explains. “Once I committed to [art], life opened up.”
Fastforward several years, and here is Robb Havassy, a well-known and well-liked figure in the surfing world, and the creator and publisher of Surf Story, a project that is perhaps the most ambitious work of surf art and literature ever assembled.
With Surf Story, Havassy set out to use and capture what he calls “the literature of the culture.” “It's how we communicate,” he explains,” the talk story, talking with our hands.” The self-published book also takes on the daunting task of compiling the closest thing possible to an all-inclusive, all-encompassing work of art, about a lifestyle and culture that is by definition exclusive, eclectic and multi-faceted. “Surfing is all about being a local guy in some far removed corner of Oregon or somewhere, and having your little gallery or shop or whatever, and surfing your spots and everyone knowing who you are in that little scene.”
In Surf Story, it seems Robb hoped to provide snapshots into the many at once disjointed and interconnected worlds of surfing by telling what he calls “the story, and behind the story.” One thing he likes to say is that “even the worst surfer has a great surf story.”