About Surf Artworks

Surfer, journalist, activist - Julien Roulland just came through with Surf Artworks, a book honoring the history of surfing, and highlighting how artists throughout the decades managed to capture it and make it their own. We hit up Julien with a few questions in order to learn more.

Let’s start out the classic way - may you describe your personal background, and how you first found out about surf culture?

I first took up skateboarding on a plastic board back in 1979, biking on my Raleigh and eventually landed the Santa Cruz "Poseidon" deck in my teenage years, which I would abuse at the Fontaine des innocents skate spot in Paris, back when Street Machine skateshop was on rue Bailleul. I then started tagging all over the Natas Kaupas and Rip Curb Hossegor contest posters I had plastered all over my bedroom walls.

Then I resorted to Baranne [shoe polish coming in tubes, particularly handy on walls] in order to wreck havoc all over my middle school whilst listening to the Beastie Boys, and spray cans on the walls of gare du Nord at nighttime back when NTM and Cypress Hill were regularly emptying our lighters dry. Besides those activities I was also getting into cosmology, philosophy and physics. Needless to say, I might not have been on the most right of paths.

Thankfully, part of my family is from the Landes region of France, which enabled me to withdraw myself from urban angst every summer in Capbreton, where I took up bodyboarding at the age of 10. There was a [surf] shop at the Prévent and the Santocha was a dream-defying wave for us. Straight out of the dark, into the blue.

In 1988, when I was 14, I left to Senegal and started standing up on my board, which was a home-made shape designed by a local Englishman. I was hooked on surfing ever since. A truthfully therapeutic passion. Been living on the côte Basque for 23 years - I devoted my whole life to surfing and traveled to every place I ever dreamt I would.

I met numerous locals and went to quite a few spots worldwide, that’s when I started to freelance and write articles for specialized magazines. Writing about this universe and sharing stories about it just felt natural. I also worked at Daniel’s Longboard’s workshop for a while, working on the polishing of the boards.

One - lovely - day, Surf Session magazine

eventually offered to hire me. I couldn't believe it, it was an opportunity I just couldn't miss. I worked for them for 13 years. An amazing creative era, packed with incredible trips, waves and people aplenty.

Nowadays, I've chosen to get a tad away from the pace of monthly deadlines in order to be able to better focus on journalism of another form, which is the one of actual books, exhibitions, documentaries. I also founded a non-profit organization, "Les jardins pédagogiques", where we teach kids how to grow vegetables using permaculture-based techniques.

How is putting a book together any different from crafting monthly publications?

This book made me aware of how crucial time becomes when it comes to putting together substantial - or altogether quality - work : you need to collect the right information, take the time to get the interviews done, go and get in touch with the activists in the culture you are studying, all the while having to decide on the different editorial options, risking to mess it all up.

The venture to get all the photos was especially fascinating and definitely took longer than I could ever hope for in the context of having to wrap up an issue every other three weeks.

I've made over 150 magazines, photos and books, I was starting to feel like I had been around the block a bit. So now, this feels like a new birth.

Making a book is a long-term enterprise, how do you even start with the process?

This book was a long, passionated ride. First thing I did was to question how I was going to start going about it, actually. When does the surf history get to the point where you can start talking about customization, personalization? Then I quickly realized, everything had already been there.

Messages and techniques change, but the intent, and act of creation and - even beyond that - artistic expression altogether, it's all fully part of the nature of man, ever since its origins. That's when I started to feel a bit dizzy - not to say I straight-up wiped out!

Therefore, before I could even start going on about the history of customization in surfing, it's art history as a whole that I had to deal with. The bigger picture, let alone the evolution of surfing, of the world, the cultural revolutions, the musical revolutions, comic books, movies, graphics... I almost drowned! Needless to say, I had to read a lot, before I could even get to write a single line myself.

I really didn't know about art history all that much, but I felt very well at ease in that department. I instantly caught a good feeling of values similar to the ones in surfing, such as freedom, rebelliousness. Feelings artists used to express themselves throughout all ages, that helped transform the world.

That's the way I approach surfing, like an outlet, a form of happy protest in the face of a society in which I can't find my place, with this extraordinary chance I have to be able to become one with the forces of Nature in order to find a direction in this universe.

Can you go deeper about how you picked the featured artists?

The first rule was that they had to be accomplished in how to work with drawing on various types of medium, all the while having some kind of affinity with surfing. Motto for the editorial direction was to scan through all the different universes specific to each big surf nation, which eventually amounted to many, many beautiful folks. And we could have gone even further!

If you had to keep just one, who would that be?

Basquiat!? No, you have to go through the book and find out how inspired and gifted all of them are. What really is surprising is how commonly those artists share similar influences, regardless of the cultural distance separating them. One could even argue about the existence of a common profile of a certain range of tastes.

Creating is a way to give a deeper meaning to existing, to live fully. Surfing and street art could only meet at the end of the day because they are fruits from one same root: freedom! Freedom to live as one wishes to live, and express themselves with no restraint.

What would your references be if you had to mention just one book on surfing, one book on art and one movie for people to watch, that could work as extensions from the book?

Surf book reference would have to be Le monde du surf [The World of Surfing], written and illustrateur by my two friends and fathers of this type of work: Sylvain Cazenave and Gibus de Soultrait. I just bought a bunch of art books, but seeing as the gesture only comes second to the thought, I would mention André Breton's Manifeste du Surréalisme [Surrealist Manifesto]. The movie would be the documentary piece on BasquiatThe Radiant Child ; or the one in which Banksy mocks a street artist [Exit Through the Gift Shop]. Otherwise, Morning of the earth for the surf spirit.

Okay, let's wrap this all up with your idea of what would be your ideal project?

Ideal project would be to shoot a documentary movie for this book - no page count restraint, and a world tour featuring all the best artists and shape workshops!