Words By Eric Greene — Images By Andrew Blauschild
I’ve had this fantasy for a while about what it would be like to be a real journalist. Like, wearing a tie and sitting amidst a sea of cubicles while phones ring on every desk and a dragon-like editor wearing suspenders sits in a fish tank office with his feet on the desk.
Then, my phone rings and an anonymous caller with a voice decoy gives me a lead on an incredible story that will be the break in my worthless career. I grab my tweed blazer and run out the door to jump in my Volvo and drive slightly over the speed limit towards the scoop of a lifetime. Later that night I sit in a bar called Shenanigans and tell my fellow journalists about my incredible day solving crime via my pen while they buy me shots of whiskey before a gorgeous photo intern drags me into a taxi with a one-way ticket to her place.
But then I wake up in real life and realize that I’m a week late on a single page interview I was supposed to write on some pro surfer who’s too lazy to return my calls, but it doesn’t even matter because nobody I work for will notice that my interview with Mr. Boring is a week late. So instead of doing my work, I walk to the West Village and go for lunch with Andrew Blauschild, co-founder of Kookbox Surfboards and sixth-generation New Yorker (third-generation New York surfer).
Drew has a story. It’s not a crime-solving career scoop, but it’s as juicy as things get in the surf world. He started a brand with his friend, Joel Tudor, the brand became successful, some shit happened, and everything ended up in a courtroom and on the front page of The New York Post (The Post!). Kookbox took a bit of a hiatus for a minute, but now it’s back and Drew is the solitary front man of the brand. He’s like Timberlake, but in a sea of surf brands, so maybe he’s more like Paul Simon after that Garfunkel guy kicked rocks.
Because the situation of Kookbox is still undergoing a legal transition, like a big fat elephant in the room, I unfortunately cannot spill the beans of this story and therefore I will have to buy my own shots of whiskey and will not be going home with the photo intern. I’ll be taking the bus with a one-way ticket to my shitty apartment, but when the elephant is out of the room I will bring you the complete story, from both sides, and it…is…awesome! Until then, here are some words with Andrew “Timberlake” Blauschild about the past and present of New York surf culture, photography, and how chicks used to dig bankers but now they prefer surfers.
Have the legalities of the Kookbox situation been resolved yet?
Not yet. I get a lot of questions at the beach, but I’ve started to hit up all the shops and get the accounts rocking again.
I guess you can’t comment on much while it’s still in the works.
We can talk about positive things. I’d rather talk about photography or New York or whatever. I’m trying to take the high road. I don’t want to talk about it. It sucks. So what about Monster Children? Did they ask about me? Do they know about the brand?
No, they didn’t ask, but I assume they know the brand.
What’s your background with New York, photography, and surfing?
I’m born and raised in the Bronx. My family has been here since the 1700s. I started shooting photos when I was 12, so 30 years ago.
Is it true your grandma used to surf the Rockaways?
My mom told me the story, but I guess in the ‘20s and ‘30s Rockaway was the place to be, where all the cottages were. In the summers, the Duke [Kahanamoku] and Tom Blake would show up and give lessons, and my grandma took some surfing lessons. There was obviously no wetsuits then and nobody surfed in the winter. Winter surfing didn’t get popular until the ‘90s and it was pretty empty then. I’ve been surfing the beaches in New York and New Jersey all my life.
How and when did Kookbox start?
Kookbox started in… 2007? It began as a collective and collaborative effort—on my end it was mostly photography. There was no Instagram and Facebook wasn’t that popular, so it was a platform for me to share my photos. Like, when did Surfline start? There weren’t really surf reports or sites like that then. We used to listen to the buoy reports and I would take pictures of the swells, then show them to other surfer friends, but it was taboo to show too much.
So for you, Kookbox was about your photography and nothing about selling fancy surfboards?
It was just a visual thing, you know? I did a lot of the general business, but Joel had all these connections for making boards and my part was mainly through photography.
Will I sound like a kook if I ask what a kookbox is?
In the 1930s, Tom Blake looked at aircraft wings and thought the design would work as a surf craft. He stuck a sailboard fin on one and they paddled them out in Hawaii. All the locals on solid wood boards were like, “Who are these kooks on the boxy boards?” And those boards were then referred to as kook boxes.
For real? I thought it was a homemade instrument to play in the subway station. Has the brand been on hiatus during the legal situation?
I wouldn’t say hiatus. Business is business and it’s par for the course. These things kinda happen and partners go their own way when things evolve. Kookbox is great and we have amazing new products and loyal fans, and we’re in shops all over the world. People don’t care about this legal thing because they just like the brand and the boards. Like, if Mario Andretti stopped driving a Ferrari, people would still like Ferrari because of the quality of the car and not who’s driving it. Kookbox has always been a collaborative effort between a lot of different people.
Do you feel like 2014 is a re-launch for Kookbox in a way?
To me it’s always been an art project because I love surfing and I love the culture and history of surfing. If the market told me, “We don’t want Kookbox,” then the brand wouldn’t exist. It’s not a money project and I’m not out there selling out, but the market has told me they want it. It’s not a fashion brand. I’ve had plenty of opportunities in New York to put logos on the right people and get in the right stores, but that’s not what it’s about. For me, it’s about photography and collaborating with great surfers and creative people I like and respect.
What’s the brand direction now?
We don’t really have a team. Guys like Joel and Harrison [Roach] and Rob Kulisek were riding the boards, but there were never contracts or anything. Some people have gone elsewhere and there are some new people, but it’s always been like that. Same with shaping. We’ve worked with Hank Byzak, Wayne Rich, then AJW and Rusty, and there’s new guys coming onboard. I mean, if anyone came here with a cool idea to share with us, we would take it and run with it. It’s surfing and it’s supposed to be about fun. It’s not that serious.
Not serious like you only want to make high-end boards and logo t-shirts?
Of course. Like the classic old school surf brands I was raised on. Back in the day surf brands weren’t fashion. They would make equipment and you would buy their t-shirt to represent and support. Now it’s gone the other way, where brands market surfing by sourcing fashion products from China and tagging it “surf.” That’s a hot subject these days.
How’s your photography scene these days? You still selling off the Ghost Boards series?
The Ghost Boards thing has been great. It’s been sold to a couple different gallery owners and some celebrities have bought pieces.
Ooooh, like who?
I don’t want to say. That wouldn’t be right. They liked it and wanted one for their private collection.
[Laughs] They’ve gone through private sources and they’ve been happy to have them.
And you print and frame them with Charlie Griffin?
Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. I met Charlie through surfing and he’s one of the best printers in New York City. For instance, he’s Cindy Sherman’s printer, who’s one of the highest paid photographers in the world. He’s very very good at what he does and has taken me under his wing. We’re working on something bigger to do together, but I’m not going to say what it is yet.
There’s gotta be a million struggling photographers in this town. Do you feel like surfing has given you connections to different successes?
Sure. Especially because surfing is such a hot topic these days. But some of the stuff I’m selling and working on has nothing to do with surfing. I mean, I really love surfing, but I don’t want a big picture of an over-saturated wave on my wall. The Ghost Boards came naturally when I was shooting the boards we were making, trying to capture the new shapes. I never intended to show or sell them.
They’re so good! Can people view them online?
Yeah, you can see them on my website: andrewblauschild.com
You also have a place in Montauk?
In the Springs, which is the woods of the Hamptons. It’s historically the artist community.
Like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and those crazies?
Yes. I really like it there. The people are landscapers and fishermen and they’re just real. They’re actually some of the best surfers out there, but you’ll never hear about them. They don’t have Instagrams. They work hard and then go surfing every day.
You must’ve seen it change a lot out there over the last two decades.
But everything always changes. It’s been a huge change in the last ten years. I think with social media and everything being so shareable, it’s become easy access and the secret is out.
You really think Instagram is the difference?
Well, I think the scene has changed and moved further out the Hamptons. Montauk is another hour from all the other places.
What do you think about the change in surf culture here in Manhattan?
It’s not the surf scene. Fashion is fad. Sure, there are surfboards and wetsuits in so many shop windows, but those will be replaced with something else when it can’t be monetized anymore. Very few surfers have grown up in this city, but things have changed and everyone wants to surf. I get it! Learning to surf is the greatest. When I was a kid learning how to surf, it was the best. When you’re not jaded by anything and finding your place in the lineup… that’s the best. The journey is the best.
Like when you see first timers in the water and they’re having way more fun than you.
Yes! They don’t know any better and are experiencing those unbelievable feelings of discovery.
Is it weird that people all over the world look at New York as a surf destination now?
But do they? There are no surfers here. In a city of eight million people, maybe there are a couple thousand surfers. Even if there are twenty thousand surfers, that’s still nothing. There are millions of basketball players.
But at the same time, there’s nothing new about surfing here.
No, not at all. It’s an island. Long Island has waves. New Jersey has waves. And everywhere has its day. I don’t know how to answer that question. What was the question again?
I guess that you’re a born-and-raised New York surfer and you’ve watched surfing try to find itself and acquire a presence here over time. And with everything being so shareable these days, do you think it has become a cool scene?
When I started surfing as a kid, all my friends in the Bronx were like, “What the fuck is surfing?” I was the kook. Everyone was trying to MC and breakdance or play ball. It was like that for a long time in New York City. I used to go to this rock’n’roll party in SoHo all the time and whenever I talked to girls, if I said I was a surfer, they’d be like, “Surfing?” Surfing was so lame. Then they’d go talk to the banker guys. Those were the guys.
Wolf of Wall Street days.
Yeah, but now they’re the banker wankers and those guys are fucking clowns. All the girls think surfers are cool. If you surf and do yoga and are into juice press, you’re the guy.
Do you have an opinion on Saturdays? Because everyone here seems to have an opinion about them.
Not really. They’re successful at what they do and they market themselves well, so props to them. It’s not easy to be successful in this city, and with so much competition, their timing was right and they tapped into it, so good for them. Are they from New York? No. Are they New York surfers? No. Maybe it’s like back in the day with graffiti art and breakdancing or MC’ing… Real knows real.
What’s the direction of your photography right now?
I’m working on projects. I’m shooting behind the scenes for a documentary on a fashion designer and I’m working on some studio stuff when I’m out east. I’ve been gaining a lot of access to people out there and going to their homes to shoot portraits. It’s amazing. Politicians, designers, old school city icons…
And what’s the future for Kookbox?
There’s not really a plan. It’s unfortunate there’s been some hiccups, but any business has that. There’s always the potential for problems when money is involved, especially when people are passionate about what they’re doing. Joel and I were friends for 16 years—a long time before we collaborated together. He introduced me to a lot of people in the surf world and gave me a lot of opportunities. I tried to do the same thing for him out here and he loved New York. It was a cultural exchange. We had a lot in common with surfing and both have backgrounds in martial arts. But things change and what are you going to do? At the end of the day, I wish everyone well. And that’s something I want to mention about Kookbox. We want to do positive things. We want to help the community. I don’t care about making a million dollars and a great fashion line.