Catching Up With Andrew Kidman, Part I

Andrew Kidman is in town from Australia so you've probably been surfing more than usual. I don't think the waves have been as big and consistent as they were fours years ago when he was here last. The evening he arrived in October marked the beginning of a week-long swell. Two Saturdays ago it was bombing and then there was last Thursday's barrel fest with sporadic desperado sessions in between.

Andrew will be giving an acoustic performance at Union Pool this Sunday, November 17th  at 8pm along with a special screening of his and Jon Frank's highly influential 1996 film Litmus.

I caught up with Andrew, who likes to refer to New York as "home" because his wife grew up in Queens, about being back in NYC, shaping, his new film and record. We paired the interview with Andrew's photos from the last time he was here.

[ Caddy in the snow.]

[Chris Gentile with his Uncle's leadlight work.]

Mike Machemer: It's been four years since your last trip to NYC have things changed much?

AK: I know Sandy really hammered Rockaway but I wasn't expecting the shorelines to be so riddled with our waste. It kind of blew me away. It would be great if every one of the surfers out there picked up some of the rubbish each time they made their way in from the surf. I realize it seems insurmountable, but I reckon if everyone did it the place would really change and there would be great pride in keeping it clean. I really feel for the creatures that live out there in the water and on the shorelines.

There seems to be a lot more surfers there which is nice. I really love seeing people enjoying the ocean, it's not like that at home, it's rare people take up surfing in Australia after they turn 20. It's something we just grow up with and if people don't surf when they're younger they generally don't take it up later in life. Here in New York it seems to strike people at any age and they just take it up and pursue it.

As for other changes, the local shapes look like they're getting better, seems like there's a real DIY culture going on here with the boards which is really cool.

[Franco Rinaldi with Lis Fish NY '09 and snow.]

[Franco's car with the Lis on top.]

MM: On the topic of DIY shaping culture you charge $1300 AUS ($1175 US) for your designs which might seem high to some?

AK: That's just what I charge. I don't make them unless the customer wants to pay that. It’s too much work for me and it's not worth the time. I'm pretty happy where I am with what I do with shaping. If something costs you $650 to make  what you need to charge $1300 otherwise you're ripping yourself off. It's basic economics. If a hot dog costs $1.50 to make, you sell it for $3.00. You won't go out of business making two hundred hot dogs at $1.50 and not selling them. But you'll have to sell your home if you make two hundred surfboards at $450 a pop and sell them for $650. There’s plenty of surfboard manufacturers that have gone out of business attempting this model of making cheap surfboards. It looks like they are making $200 a board, but there are so many other costs associated with making them that it just doesn’t work. Then they have a fire sale when the next model comes through, and they make the boards even cheaper. It devalues the whole industry because the punters out there think because they can get a board for $450 then all boards should cost $450. I think that’s always been a problem with selling surfboards.

[The most recent 8'6" surfboard Andrew shaped in France.]

[Joe Clams in the zone.]

MM: Tell me about your new film and soundtrack project which just premiered in San Sebastián.

AK: Spirit of Akasha is a modern celebration of Albert Falzon's 1972 classic surf film, Morning of the Earth. The  MOTE soundtrack was a gold record in Australia and Warner music who released the original wanted to see if we could make a contemporary film based on Falzon's template. It was an interesting idea, one I didn't think possible at first, but the further involved I got with it, the more interesting it became, especially with what the musicians were offering up as their homage to MOTE. It was really fun.

[The Windy Hills are - Paul Brewer, Jay Kruegner, Me. Missing are DP Porter and Marty 'Jose' Jones]

MM: Who were some of the musicians involved?

AK: The first musician I spoke to was Will Oldham. We've been talking about the music from MOTE for years. I knew he really loved the soundtrack, so I asked him if he'd be interested in writing a song for the new project and covering one of the old ones. He knew exactly which song to do and had the recordings back to me in a month. They were so beautiful, I was stunned listening to his version of Terry Hannigan's "I'll be Alright." It was pretty much like this with all the recordings, the artists put so much of themselves into it out of respect for the original film. You had mentioned Andrew VanWynGarden's (MGMT) love for MOTE, so I called him and his response was the same as Will's. Everyone just really wanted to give back to something they revered. For me that was the best part of the project, listening to these songs as they came in. Some of the other bands involved are Pond, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Brian Wilson, Dirty Three, Autumn Defense, Tom Curren, Atoms For Peace and others.

MM: Did your band the Windy Hills contribute music?

AK: Yes. We wrote the first song that appears in the film, "To Be Young/Apple Tree" and covered Taman Shud's,"See the Swells." I did a solo cover of Brian Cadd's "Come With Me." It doesn't sound anything like John Lennon's "Come Together."

MM: And you guys have a new record out on Warner too?

AK: Warner liked what we did on the Akasha soundtrack and when we finished the Windy Hills record we asked them if they'd like to put it out and they wanted to. We just made the record that we wanted to. They thought it would make sense to have more of our music available, seeing how they'd already invested in us being involved on the soundtrack.

[Mike Machemer]

MM: What music have you been listening to lately?

AK: Everything. The sander, the planer, garbage trucks, the ocean, kids, family going Loboa, he’s a legendary Basque songwriter, Willis Earl Beal, Jason Molina, Mickey Newbury, Jackson C. Frank, Tiny Ruins, Blake Mills...that was today. I just got the new Mick Turner record, Mick’s the guitarist in the Dirty Three, it’s so beautiful.

MM: Can you talk about your relationship with Derek Hynd. In some ways, Litmus made him relevant again and pushed his ideas to the forefront of experimental design. His part was the breakthrough in the film with perhaps the most inspired surfing. If you didn't have a Surfer magazine subscription in the 1980's you probably didn't know who Hynd was, or of his scathing top 44 reviews nor masterminding Rip Curl's "The Search" campaign. Litmus was humanizing, it showed a playful side of him and also what a great surfer he is, on any board.

AK: I first came across Derek when he was writing for Surfing World. His articles used to be called "Hyndsight" and had this 80’s winged eye as its moniker. Hugh McLeod must have designed it, it was classic. Derek ended up putting it on the rail of his boards.

His stories were usually pretty interesting, obscure riffs on surfing and culture. None of it made much sense to me, maybe I was too young to understand what he was talking about. He often referenced music which I liked. I looked into the punk and new wave bands he was talking about. It was like being let into a secret world if you could decode what he was writing about. I was probably around 12 or 13 when I started reading his stuff.

I ended up working at the surfing magazines pretty early on. Derek was working for Rip Curl, doing his Search stuff, so I’d see him around. I liked him, he was interesting. Terry Fitzgerald liked him as well. I’d always been friends with Terry so it was natural to listen to him talk about Derek and wonder about him. The old Surfing World's were full of crazy photos of Derek. He was always riding something different, even back then, his surfing was radical but like no one else's. He rode big waves as well which was impressive.

I took a trip to Jeffreys in the early '90s, Derek was building his house on the point, I didn’t have anywhere to stay so I walked down and knocked on his door. He said I could stay for 15 rand a night and welcomed me in. He went up to his turntable and put on a record and yelled out, "If you can guess who this is Kidman I’ll let you stay here for nothing!" I replied, Bauhaus's "Sky’s Gone Out" because that’s what I was into at the time. He yelled “Wrong!” and blasted "Stranded" by the Saints at full volume. A pretty obvious choice considering that they were an Australian band and the situation I’d found myself in – staying at his house!

I stayed with Derek for six weeks, and he was getting into his exploring design; Dahlberg channel thrusters, Des Sawyer customs, Frye eggs and keel fish. He even had some of the Parrish single fins he’d eventually ride in Litmus. Derek had the perfect wave at Jeffreys and seemed hell bent on checking out every design. He was ripping on everything, his surfing changed each time he took out a different board. It was awesome. He let me ride the boards as well, which really opened my mind to what was and what could be done. By that time Parmenter had already made me a Widowmaker which was mind blowing.  It was one of his really early widows. I'd  ridden single fins before, just '70s dogs, but the Widowmaker was something else. It was a new frontier for me.

[Derek Hynd surfing in New York.]

MM: So you'd been to Derek's before Litmus?

AK: When we made Litmus I knew Derek was a few years down the track with his exploration. I asked him if we could come and film what he was doing. By then he’d refined some of the boards, he’d asked Frye to make the fishes smaller and he’d added a little wing on the rail. He also had other single fins that he really liked. I wish I knew more about design at the time, I would have documented it in greater detail. Jon Frank and I were pretty young, we were surfing, filming, eating, surfing, filming, sleeping. Derek is a total surf Nazi, so there wasn’t much time for anything else.

MM: Miki Dora was down there too at the time?

AK: Sometimes Dora would come down with his dog and a slingshot and hurl rocks at the surfers on the point. It was pretty classic. Dora told us about the waves in Ireland. We actually met his girlfriend in Ireland the first day we arrived there. It was pretty weird.

MM: An attractive Irish lady?

AK: I think she was Californian. She was attractive.

MM: How about surfing with Miki?

AK: Dora used to sit out the back on each swell and only ride the best wave of the set. He used to drop in on anyone that was on the inside of him. It was epic to watch, surfers were clawing at him, trying to catch up but he'd leave them in the dust. I'm pretty sure he was riding a Lance Carson model, but I could be wrong. I never went near any wave he looked at just out of respect that he was still charging it in his sixties.

MM: Where was the Tom Curren part shot in Litmus?

AK: Curren we met down in France, he was staying with Maurice Cole, messing around with boards. That single fin was shaped by Matt Moore. Ellis Ericson was asking me about it recently. It was 6'x 18 3/4'x 2 1/2, pretty modern. Tom had ripped all the glass off near the tail, just forward of the fin and each session he was reshaping it to suit the feelings he was getting. You can see him kind of sliding out on moves, he was putting little grip points and channels in to compensate for this when he came in from each session, going back and surfing it unglassed. It was pretty classic.

The other footage of him Jon Frank shot in California. Jon and Tom went on a road trip to Frisco looking for waves. Sharky waters...Frank, there's no one  like him, he'll swim out in anything. He must know someone. The guitar stuff was shot at Tom's ranch in Santa Barbara. He doesn't live there anymore.

[Found in the river.]

-- words by Mike Machemer, photos by Andrew Kidman

Read Part II of Mike Machemer's Q&A with Andrew Kidman here!