Ellis Ericson is a pilgrim in the truest sense. Raised in Byron, he now considers Bali his permanent address, though he’s constantly on the epic quest of finding neglected peelers (his holy place). At the time of our conversation, he was circumnavigating New Zealand in a camper van with a Kiwi-based magazine hunting waves -- camping like a band of migrants in ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery, eating and sleeping on the road, and tasting the local breweries along the way. Or so he described, “Looking at the swell map, since it’s an island, if it’s onshore on one side, it’s offshore on the other.” After our interview, he then hopped a plane to Japan to hand deliver his latest shapes to our newly opened Pilgrim Surf + Supply residency with Beams in Tokyo and caught a few really good ones, judging by his Instagram.
Ericson has realized the age-old theory that in order to evolve forward, one must be versed in the past. At 24, his interest in revolution era surfboards and culture has manifested into his own shapes and ideas under the moniker Sunflower. He references the historical, but if you look closer, you’ll notice the progressiveness in his designs. Here, Ericson gives us some context into his surfing, shaping, and insatiable appetite for travel.
Tell me about your upbringing...
“My mom surfs regularly, my dad surfs, my sister surfs, so we were a very beach orientated family. We moved up to Byron Bay when I was about 8 years old from down in Sydney. I think my parents were just looking for a bit of a change and a bit of a relaxation and surf all the time. It’s a pretty free-thinking town and the waves are long; there are some characters that live there for sure. I guess I’m a bit of a product of that, I was at the beach since before I could remember so one way or another I was going to be surfing for sure.”
“From the ages of 10 to maybe 16, I was predominantly riding high performance shortboards, doing the competitive thing, traveling the world and doing that sort of jazz -- riding that sort of wave for that type of shortboard. I went through a stage in my life where it got a little stale, I just sort of lost the stoke. I wasn’t really getting siked on surfing that much, and I started to look for something more than just competing and always trying to progress in that way. I started riding different boards from a few of my friends who were getting into it at the time. I started looking at older shapes and getting drawn to that side of the sport more, as well as that side of the culture.”
“I got into my history a bit more and realized how rad surfing was and I ended up getting back in the bay with my dad, who was a shaper through the ‘70s and ‘80s and still shapes today. I reconnected with him and picked up the tools. He’s a great craftsman so I took on an apprenticeship under him and basically turned a new leaf with my surfing. I got really into my equipment and it reignited a love for the sport and a love for the craft. I’ve just been powering on since then, trying to evolve my shapes, trying to better my boards, trying to surf the best waves I can.”
How did you end up at the designs you shape now?
“I was drawn initially to older shapes because I really wanted to go back and revisit the era. People can call it a retrospective trip or whatever but when I started riding the older boards that I’d find at thrift shops or at the dump, I felt like it suited my surfing better than the thrusters could. I thought I could express myself more freely when I was surfing, it felt more natural. When I was growing up, riding those short waif-ery boards it felt like I could never be who I wanted to be on a wave. Mid ‘70s and late ‘70s shapes, and the early ‘80s twin fins, definitely allowed me to do so. The stuff that was going on in surfing at that time, the experimentation of designs, and the characters and the free minds they had, was also very attractive to me. I just really like that time in the sport and I was drawn to that.”
“I was really into the evolution of the mini-gun and gun, and that classic tear drop ‘70s shape, that Dick Brewer and a few other shapers were doing at the time. The Australian shapes I was influenced by were some of the boards that Terry Fitzgerald was making in the early ‘70s and the lighter MR twin fins. I was living in Sydney at the time I started getting into shaping, and there was a lot of history there with the evolution of the shortboard via Bob McTavish and Midget Farrelly.”
How do you feel about the word 'retro' especially when applied to you? I feel it's overused as a blanket term in surfing...
"Many people call what me and some of my peers do a 'retrospective trip' -- it's easy for brands to label, promote, expose, sell clothes etc. The general public can understand it right away and make a decision on whether to buy into it or not. Some people love it, some people hate it -- to tell you the truth I'm not really thinking about how the term affects me. On the shaping side of things, to me, it’s more similar to the act of appropriation in art. I like there to be very strong features from the past in my shapes, but in no way a direct copy of the primary inspiration or object. Creating, for me, is done on a subconscious level, much like my surfing. I’m not really thinking about past or future when shaping or riding a wave, I'm just acting on feel, knowledge and technique to create what I like at that present moment."
Who or what are some of your contemporary inspirations?
“There was a lot of history around me and a lot of boards that were accessible to look at and get ideas from, so I definitely drew a lot of inspiration from some of the experimentalists or pioneers of the early shortboard and the ‘70s shortboard as we know it, and that Australian scene. But now, if I’m going to inspiration, I do a lot of stuff with Neal Purchase Jr. I really like his boards. I’ve been lucky enough to do some boards with Andrew Kidman as well, I really like watching him shape. I draw from those guys these days as well.”
Traveling is something you do more often than not, how did you begin traveling so frequently?
“Surfing’s been blowing up for the last ten years, I think rapidly more than ever before. Crowd pressures and searching for that solitude, or stoke, that you get just surfing with a bunch of friends on a perfect wave and not being hindered by massive crowds or parking meters or that sort of thing is getting more difficult. Getting away from it all and really focusing on the essence of what is surfing and testing your equipment. Australia was getting pretty expensive for me, a couple years ago I was not getting quality waves or quality of life for the dollar I was spending, so I packed up and moved over to Bali and just dedicated my life to finding good waves, surfing good waves, testing my boards and looking forward. I wasn’t going to get it done in a concrete jungle with heaps of crowds and pretty average waves, I was going to get it done in the best waves I could find. I made a conscious decision to push that way and it somehow keeps falling into place and I keep getting plane tickets…"[laughs]
"Being with RVCA the last couple of years, I’ve had the chance to meet some great artists. Kelsey Brookes is one that comes to mind, he’s a really good friend of mine. The way he started off as a scientist and wasn’t happy with that path, so he turned around and started traveling and painting and now he’s an artist. I definitely look at the way he’s lived his life and how he’s found an outlet and became what he is today. It’s pretty inspiring. Another guy I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with and surf with is Barry McGee. He’s a friend of mine and he helped me do my logo for my boards. The way he lives his life -- his froth for surfing is unbeatable, he does more time in the water than me."
What's on the horizon for you?
“I’m going to be mixing up my shapes. I’m going to continue a few models that I’ve had but I’m going to pretty much change everything up this year. I'll keep the aesthetic going but work on really making my boards specialized. I’ve been working on a few outline breaks and some fin set ups and I’ve been kind of keeping it under wraps, but they’re gonna be out pretty soon. They’re in the testing zone right now so give them a few months and I’ll be out with some new shapes! I’m pretty excited.”
Take a look at Ericson's Sunflower boards (available at Pilgrim Surf + Supply locations) here.
Words by Chelsea Burcz, all photos by Jimmy Jazz James.