Do. It. Yourself. The trending acronym is all over the cultural landscape these days, but it’s always run deep in the surf world. Surfing grew and prospered on the shoulders of self-reliant visionaries, and no one understands and appreciates this more than artist/photographer/writer CR Stecyk III. His range of knowledge doesn’t stop there. Over the past four decades, Stecyk has quietly served as one of surf, skate, and street cultures’ chief architects. Point to something cool in these worlds and chances are Stecyk had a hand in it. Just a hint of this comes to life in Stecyk’s newest film project, Fin. As hard to nail down as Stecyk himself, Fin is a 15-minute, “ever-evolving” short that celebrates DIY characters of past and present. To get more insight (and maybe more confused at the same time), we asked Stecyk to give us the CliffsNotes on Fin. We’re still confused. But even more interested.
You’re seeing mainstream culture as a whole—along with the surf culture—jump on the DIY bandwagon. How did this happen? Does it dilute the real garage culture that’s existed all along?
Marketing titans try to quantify the efforts and accomplishments of individuals in order to reduce autonomous beings and independent action into acceptable commodities. Intelligent one-off design solutions force-fed into mass-production cookie-cutters do not a renaissance make. Technology today allows films to be made and distributed on cell phones and operas to be created entirely on tabletops. You can foster revolution from a mobile base. Because of this, anyone can do everything themselves from anywhere. Command and control structures are resistant to this groundswell of change, but there is nothing they can do. Ateliers will proliferate as a result. The best playground is already the gutter and the best art is on the avenues. More and better waves are being ridden every day with more diverse equipment.
You’ve described Fin as amorphous and always evolving. Can you explain that? Why this format instead of a traditional film short?
Hawaiian stories come out of an oral storytelling tradition, while the American-European narrative ethos follows Greek precursors. Why have a three-act structure in which the heroes and villains interact so predictably? Vanquished conscious drama mirrors the activity of waveriding more accurately. The beauty of surfing is that it is infinite in its variations and there is no right or wrong way to do it.
If you were to explain Fin to someone who knows nothing about the project, how would you describe it?
It is a paean to purpose-built design that takes place informally throughout the coastal zone. Andy Warhol said, “Art was whatever you could get away with.” In my situation it is all about not being caught and being in the right place at the right time. People who do well in the ocean have a different skill set from those who excel on the land. Sidewalk surfing remains an oddity as it bridged the gap between the earth and the ocean. If you view skateboarding today as an activity apart from its being part of a multi-billion dollar economic generator, it is still an activity wherein extant forms are traversed and energy is generated. In surfing the energy gains are more obvious. A surfer on a 30-foot wave is dealing with pure, unbridled energy. That 30-foot wave releases about 10,000 kilowatts of power when it crashes onto the shore. Since waves go wherever they want, and life is whatever you want to interpret of it, I reckoned that a film experience like Fin made sense. Also the film has some of that grimy garage culture underbelly in it, that functional, make-it-better-through-deconstructive-tinkering ethic.
How has garage culture shaped American culture as a whole?
The Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics who invented mechanized flight. Henry Ford was a farm boy who eventually built 15,000,000 Model T cars. They were lightweight, bulletproof, and economical, and thousands are still working today. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg started in a garages and tiny rooms. Those four manifested modern personal computers, operating systems and social networking.
What surfers over the years can truly be considered icons in the DIY world?
Tom Blake, the photographer-inventor of hollow boards, surfing books, life saving equipment, sailboards, and patent holder for the fin; Bob Simmons was a pioneer of the surf sleeping car (the rec vehicle), as well as hydrodynamic theory, twins, composite constructions, boomerangs, swell forecasting etc.; Dave Sweet, who sold the first polyurethane-core board also did reinforced foam/fiberglass photo reconnaissance planes and exact size foam redwood trees; Dale Velzy, who was at one point the world’s first large board builder was also a hot rodder-biker-cowboy-leather crafter-blacksmith; Hobie Alter excelled at surfing equipment, catamarans, sailboards, glider planes, and fishing apparatuses; George Greenough, who made high aspect ratio fins, flexible kneeboards, boats, waterproof camera systems, and performed paradigm-setting in-the-tube cinematography; Tom Morey, who initiated Trisect breakdown boards, Slipcheck sprayable riding surface, removable and adjustable fin systems, the honeycomb hat, pro contests, and the Boogie; and Herbie Fletcher continues on as a shaper/filmmaker/artist/pioneer of traction decks, jet ski surfing, and tow-ins, etc.
Can you tell us about some of the modern day DIY surfers who are contributing to the sport and surf culture?
This is a matter entirely open to an individual’s interpretation. So my answer is a list of people that I invariably hang with and know of. The Stopniks and Cycle Zombies, Dale Solomonson, Dave Parmenter, Mitch Abshere and the Captain Fin cartel, Greg Martz, Erik Simonson, Carl Ekstrom, Tyler Warren, Scott Anderson, Matt Barker, Paul Gross, and Richard Kenvin.
If it is amorphous and ever-evolving, will Fin ever end?
Not as long as my luck holds out. Fin will conceptually continue to change and adapt as further people discover it and recombine its elements. Mathematically it has already received enough basal exposure on the Internet that its eventual aggregate audience is infinite. This is the nature of a viral art form; it inevitably transforms into an entity of its own choosing.
[Fin will be premiering on Wednesday, February 8 at Hurley’s )( Space Gallery in Costa Mesa. Admission is free. Click here or more info.]