A longboard surfing safari

Time Out Tokyo interviews surfboard genius Robin Kegel

A longboard surfing safari

Currently visiting Japan is pro-surfer, Robin Kegel – considered the best surfboard maker of the decade. Robin’s surfboard brand, Gato Heroi, brings together surfing and art and feature original designs with punch, and it’s attracting worldwide attention as a leader in the California long board scene. While his designs – which include marbling on a white background–may be new, Robin says that his ideas for surfboards come through his study of the history of surfing, which dates back to the sixties.

The theme of this trip is ‘surfing safari’, and it has seen him travel to California, Hawaii, Japan and Australia with one of his handmade longboards and his wetsuit in hand. He's back in Japan to show a compilation of his film and music travelogues; the event, ‘Break Tokyo, JP’, was held on April 11. With Gato Heroi boards decorating the event space, and music from California band Tomorrows Tulips filling the room, a seemingly satisfied Robin told the crowd, ‘I don’t want you to have fun, I want you to get stoked.’

Robin, 26, has been making boards since he was 16. While we expect he could talk all day about surfing, we wanted to find out where he gets his inspiration.

You do a lot of travelling, don’t you?
RK: Well it’s not really like I’m really travelling. I rarely go to new places. It’s more like I am just going back to the same places over and over again. I really feel like I am home when I am in Costa Rica and Hawaii. And, I’m also in Japan three times a year.

Is there somewhere you always visit when you are in Japan?
RK: I usually participate in the ‘Greenroom Festival’. It’s a collaboration event of surfing related art, music, video and photos. It is really cool. I once had a booth there and a lot of my friends came out from the US. It was a really good event. I have never been here during cherry blossom time, which is a shame, but I love Bon Odori and I’ve also participated many times in Fish Fly Japan which is a surfing event in Shizunami Kaigan in Shizuoka. I also love going shopping at Loveless. I have a good friend, a French designer, whose clothes have been sold there. I think I remember going to their opening party. But more than anything, it is awesome coming to Japan during the typhoon season. Surfing in Japan from September to November is so much fun.

Which surf breaks do you recommend?
RK: Tanegashima is the best spot. Another place I sometimes go is Inamuragasaki. When it’s the typhoon season, this place is almost like a mini version of Hawaii. Chiba sometimes has good waves, but if I am going to go to Chiba, I would just as much rather check Sendai or Hokkaido.

What are you favorite surf shops?
RK: I like Seakong. Say when you go to a golf shop, there are all the golf clubs there lined-up. Well, Seakong has this really huge collection of boards. It is really awesome. They even sell my boards.

How long does it take you to make a surf board?
RK: Well, it really depends on the board, but it usually takes about two days to make the shape. It then takes another 6 hours to apply colour and laminate it. Then sand it down. I’d say it takes about two weeks.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when you are making and designing your board?
RK: I really like Monet. I also really like natural things and often observe animals. I get ideas for making board from their shapes which are amazing, and from seeing birds and insects change colour to blend in with their environment. Even though the shape of the board is always the same, it is really interesting to be able use colour to make the board look slimmer or wider. I am also inspired by Rick Griffin. That guy is an unbelievable artist. And, also the Grateful Dead and Steppenwolf. I’ve seen a lot of album covers and I think I’ve been influenced by a lot of artists, but I reckon you shouldn’t idolize people. Respecting them is a good thing though. Everyone has to walk their own path…and yeah, you can surf the waves anywhere around the world. That’s really the best inspiration.

By Akiko Toya
Translated by E. Kavanagh
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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