Photos by Jam Hassan
Hometown: Cape Town
You probably already know who Mikey February is, but we thought he oughta be a part of this damn thing anyway. Why? Because Mikey can never get too much air time in our eyes. We love what he does, and how he goes about doing it. Whether he’s scoping out new zones around the world for waves, taking photographs, shaping boards, or getting disadvantaged youth into the ocean and stoked about surfing, Mikey goes about it like a cool offshore breeze on a mild morning, and we love to see it. We caught up with the modern prince of style, below.
I know you grew up in a pretty creative environment. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yeah, so my dad started his own graphic design studio in our house and I was just sitting around it all the time whilst growing up. He started doing work for Saatchi & Saatchi, and so his office moved there in the same building. And then my mom became a traffic manager for Saatchi & Saatchi. Every day after school, I’d get picked up and go straight back to the office. We’d spend weekends, long nights and a lot of we’d just end up having dinner there, it was pretty cool. When I was younger I felt like I owned the place, you know, that’s just what I was just used to. Everyone was super rad and I was surrounded by quite a creative environment. My dad has been a big influence and naturally, that’s the one thing that I feel like I got from him.
That’s pretty lucky. That was in Cape Town?
Yeah, that was in Cape Town. We lived in the city before I started surfing and stuff.
Were there other people within the business that you looked up to?
Yeah, I remember my dad had this one illustrator and he used to draw the raddest things, and I just remember being obsessed with his crazy set of coloured pens that he used to do all his sketches with. I used to sit at his desk and grab one of them and mess around. I was so taken with everything around me and it was just, colourful, it was interesting.
It’d be like a kid in a candy store sort of creative environment, especially before computers.
I think even like subconsciously, just the dialogue that was going on around me and the stuff that I saw visually had an impact. I remember my first custom board, it had that same illustrator’s work on it. I was like, ‘oh, I want to get a surfboard on my birthday,’ and me and my Dad went all over Cape Town and in the background they’d planned something for me. We got to the last shop and—obviously back then, they pretty much just had like only one 5’3″ or whatever—and I just found this board in the rack and I recognised the artwork immediately. My dad had gotten his illustrator to paint this cartoon stuff, all old war aeroplanes, like the kamikaze kind of stuff with circles and crazy crashes. I wish I still had it today, it was the raddest looking board.
I guess a surfboard is such a great canvas for people to explore with.
Oh, for sure. Especially when you’re younger, it’s a way to express your whole vibe. That was my favourite thing, getting a blank board, and my dad and I would sometimes get the projector and project rad stuff on it or things like pop art. It’s awesome.
You’ve drawn a lot of on a lot of your boards, I remember when you did those Africa boards. I think that’s a pretty cool thing for you to be able to have that canvas… It’s basically a walking billboard, right?
Yeah, it’s like a statement. It’s apart of your little surfing journey, it’s awesome. You feel like you have a voice and if you’re feeling something you don’t have to be loud about it, but you can just express it on your board and people might be drawn to it or notice it. I think that’s pretty cool. Besides your style, I feel like the board you ride and the way they look, you know, are like a book cover. That’s how people view you on the outside.
So, you spent a year on the world tour with the world’s best. What’s something that you learned about yourself or about surfing as a whole during that time?
Coming from South Africa, there wasn’t many successful free surfers or whatever. So mainly contests were the way that you are going to allow yourself to travel or get paid a little bit. That was always the goal since I was like 13, 14, I didn’t even think about things like free surfing or riding other boards. It was just how do I get to surf all my life? And then fast forward to the last couple of years and I made my goal of making the tour. It was super surreal. There are so many great surfers on the QS.
It’s a mixture of right decisions, but like also good things happening to you and things going your way. There are so many people who should make it, it’s not like you’re guaranteed to make it. So that feeling of finally making it was a feeling of accomplishment after trying for so many years. It felt like clarity on the whole thing. I wouldn’t say there was one particular thing I learned, but a lot of little lessons along the way.
One thing I did find was that the people on the tour do work really, really hard. At least the top 10 do, you know? They work every day of their whole lives: what they eat, how they train, all that kind of stuff. For myself, I had places and waves where I’d get like super into it but as the year went along, I just found that’s maybe not necessarily how I want to go about surfing.
I got a good result in Tahiti where I made quarters and I remember that evening, I was just so keen to have a few beers. And then I woke up in the morning and—I think Medina won the contest—I went on Instagram and saw he was up and training at the gym at like 5 AM at some fancy resort the next morning (laughs). With that though, I got to go on some really cool trips, I did one with Wade (Carroll) and Sam (Smith) to Ghana, that was probably the most fun I had that whole year in terms of surfing, and getting to ride different boards and having loads of fun. Working on those creative projects, like we were talking about earlier about creative surroundings and stuff, was something that was lacking on tour.
Through surfing, you’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and experience many different cultures, and you’ve really paid it forward to. Can you tell us a bit about some of the community work you’ve been involved with?
I’ve been part of this organisation called Waves for Change for quite a while. I think through being on the QS and touring and stuff, I had all of these amazing messages of just support from them. Being from the same hometown they were always so supportive. They’re an awesome organisation, they take these kids from really harsh, like, gang violence and broken homes, and have this set-up where they introduce them into the ocean and teach them life skills through ocean skills. Being so fortunate to be able to surf every day and do that for living, it’s super important to give back as much as you can. After one day, just spending time with these kids in the water, you see they are so happy for just the simplest thing of being in the ocean. It really makes you value what you have. We’ve done some really cool projects, we did a coffee table book for them where we had the top surf photographers and all the proceeds went to Waves for Change and we did a cool project with Vans and the Gudauskas brothers called Can’t Steal Our Vibe.
Being from Africa, the coastline’s amazing and there are so many amazing waves but for people in the communities… the ocean’s there and it’s such a positive and great thing for people. If you can kind of help guide them into what the ocean can offer them and assist that whole process, I think that’s a pretty awesome gift in itself. At the same time also, during all these projects we’re so fortunate ’cause we go there and get the waves, we film and get to experience the culture, but I think it’s really important to capture as much of it as possible. You want to give them a voice because they’re essentially what make your trip so special, you know. Whether it’s the music and the food, or the people that you meet along the way, if you can make it as inclusive as possible then I think we’re all winning in that sense.
So you mentioned music, and the music in the Nu Rythmo was all sourced from local people on site right?
Yeah, it was. It was a crazy experience. Sam reached out to one record label and he gave us a list of different musicians and then we ended up choosing the guy, Steven, who’s in the beginning section of the film. It was crazy, when we got there the guy in the hotel that we were staying knew this one band, and they set up and did a whole show in the garden. Then another place, these guys had live music every other night and we got to record that. We were very lucky in that sense, it just kind of always came to us.
And in that way, it’s not just giving back to the community in a charitable sense, but you’re really giving back to the culture and the people within those communities.
Yeah, it’s true. The same way you get joy out of surfing, they get joy out of showing their music so like, why wouldn’t you include it?
It’s like scoring a film in real-time.
What’re your hopes for the South African creative and surfing scene in the years to come?
I’m just excited to see with programs like Waves for Change more people getting exposed to surfing. I think it’s awesome because the more people—and the more diverse bunch of people that get involved—the more interesting surfing will get. I think the main thing is just to enjoy it for what it is and that’s just spending time in the ocean. Hopefully, it’s not only competing and it’s also being involved in cool projects and trying to expand it too.
Who are some surfers or creatives from Africa that we should be keeping an eye out for?
There’s this group out of Soweto and they’re called Soweto Skate Society. They’re a rock band kind of thing and that’s like, completely not the norm in Soweto. I think stuff like that’s cool, not settling for what you’re stereotypically meant to be doing. I think that’s gonna help inspire more kids to just be themselves and do cool shit.
One last question… You’ve been shaping boards at the moment. How’d you get into that?
My dad and I decided to just turn the garage into a little shaping bay. My dad shaped his first two boards which was pretty cool. It was my first time shaping without any other shaper helping me out and giving me guidance, so it was cool to have that freedom and not have that pressure of everything having to be perfect. But in South Africa, you couldn’t even get like a wood plane, so we were just using whatever tools we have in the garage and whatever we could find. It’s been rad, just being able to take your time tuning into the whole craft of it. My dad, he’s so into making it as different as possible… you know the rail at the tail, it’s usually a little bit sharp? He’s just like ‘nah, I’m not going to make it sharp, I don’t want a board that’ll look like anyone else’s.’ During lockdown, we’ve just been spending time doing stuff we haven’t given ourselves time to do, like I’ve been learning to play the piano doing a graphic design course. Just having fun.