SWELL: Hey JJ, thanks for taking some time to talk to us. “Inspiration LA” is pretty awesome and somewhat overwhelming for me, It’s my first year at the event. Have you been to the event before this year? How has your experience been so far?
JJ: I’ve been coming to the event since it started really, I was invited by Rin Tanaka. One of my friends, Brian Bent, was featured in a book that Rin published, and I think thats how I met him. It’s been the best event so far, definitely the best turnout. It’s something I wouldn’t miss. it’s something where I’m like “Inspiration is coming up! when is it? where is it?” type thing.
SWELL: Wow, that’s pretty cool. I didn’t realize you had been coming to the event for so many years. Do you think this years event has been any different than past years? Seems like there is a fair amount of surf brands and other new product vendors mixed in with the handmade wares and vintage resale booths.
JJ: The new booths are not exclusive to the surf community really. Last year, there were a lot of guys from Washington. Boot makers, belt guys and stuff. I really felt that stuff. The leatherworking thing was bigger than it was this year. This year definitely got the most attention compared to other years. There was a good mix of new brands, this year it was more geared towards that anyways. This years show was more to show the full-circle of implied inspiration as compared where it being more objects to inspire . They did a really good job of defining what the show is. This is Inspiration, how do you guys use it.
SWELL: I really dig the “1 off” screen print that you did for the event: cruisin’ a hot rod coupe with instruments and surfboards hanging out the back – the epitome of Classic American Surfing style, but not that bubblegum Beach Boys-ish.
JJ: Thanks. Its actually drawn from a photo I shot Brian driving a hotrod he built. I tried to draw some instruments and board hanging out the back. that was my inspiration really behind it. hotrods, cause thats what I’m into. and the music thing, cause that was the theme of the show this year.
SWELL: Theres a ton of awesome people representing this classic surf lifestyle from across the decades here at Inspiration LA. From dudes like yourself and Matix to different people at brands like Brian at United 50 and Cycle Zombies. Seems like a lot of people seeking to get back in touch with the esoteric fundamentals of surf culture by doing things like building their own boards or owning a bitchin’ Dodge van.
There seems to be a resurgence of the classic American surf lifestyle, what has been a biggest influence for you to kind of live this way?
JJ: Oh definitely, It’s been something a lot more people are sort of into. The two biggest influences in my life were my Pop definitely and Brian Bent. There’s too like the Stopnick’s. My Pop was always doing things with his hands, shooting things, and riding things from bikes to boards. He just loved being around the outdoors and I will always remember that part of him. I’ve known Brian for a long time too, Being just a character and I grew up around him, playing music in front of just friends or like people we knew, And through Becker we had a skate night every tuesday, we did pizzas and we’d just go to the skatepark. For me, their inspiration kinda grew and developed. I think it’s kinda what we’ve been a part of around here.
SWELL: How do you feel about where this type of ‘Classic’ lifestyle is in surfing today and where it is going in the future?
JJ: There’s roots to it, you look back at ‘Endless Summer’ or any of those films that Bruce Brown or Hal Jepsen did. Surfing to them, back then, was just one of the things that they were into because it was something that loved to do and to be inspired by that. I mean, I dont even think there is anything wrong with the way surfing is going, I just think that there’s kind of almost a definable difference between the culture of surfing and the progressive mentality of surfing. Its 2 different things; there is the sport and then theres the lifestyle that is surfing.
For me the future, and for kind of a lot of the kids I surf with: the ones that are influenced by the history of surfing and influenced by sort of the ‘past, present, and future’ of it – these guys are creatively based and creatively minded, and the lifestyle is going to continue to grow. It’s something that’s identifiable to even the non-surfer. People that don’t really surf, but someone that works with their hands, builds something and goes and uses it. Builds like a car, or bike, or skateboard or whatever it would be – I can look at that at those guys and think thats rad, and I can identify with that. The future of this movement, to me, is really going to kind of ‘Save Surfing’. you know? Save what the core of surfing really is. I think on a global scale, its whereever you go. its being true to what you are, and who you are and that kind of program. A lot of the ‘free surfers’ are just like adapting. Just move to an island, surf and adapt to that islands style. Like running around in sarongs or whatever. How does that help the people understand who you are? It’s just interesting to look at how much a lot of these ‘free surfers’ travel and there are a lot of people, I think, globally known – but not really really plugged in to their local environment. I think that’s something that I’ve really really a huge part of. I mean, we have great waves in California and I’m able to ride the type of boards that I ride everyday. It’s not like I’m struggling to find a good surf spot. Theres tons of hotbeds of surf spots around; places like San Onofre that have a ton of history, Blackies has a ton of history too, then there is Malibu, Rincon. All those type of waves are right here.
SWELL: Do you think it is kind of hard for a lot of people to relate to that type of globe-trotting surf lifestyle compared to something like your “Old California” trip you did with Matix? That trip basically took place in our own backyard. That looked like a pretty rugged experience but I’m sure the times with friends and waves probably made it worth it all.
JJ: Totally. When we put together that baja trip, a lot of that reflected on my character. It was just making what we had work, a realistic surf trip – $300 budget and thats what you can do. As opposed to going to indo, and sailing on a boat thats like 7 grand and you save for your whole life to do. That’s just not realistic for a lot of surfers, thats how I want to approach creating the look. You can score really good waves going Ocean Beach for a weekend. It’s something were bringing to back to Matix: We really want everything to have a good inspiration behind it, and I think the same thing really about the future of surfing.
SWELL: Over the past few years expanding, the product line you have been developing for your product collection, can you describe the vibe that is represented in the JJ Wessel Collection for Matix?
JJ: Its just a working class, work with your hands, from the ground up mentality. building something. It’s not super forward and outlandish, more of a classic look. At first, when I started there, all the trunk lengths were something I wasn’t very comfortable with, being super long. I know have that some people have that kind of style and what not, but for me personally, I wanted something in the 19″ to 20″ range instead. So we shortened the hems up a bit. The first line was more of a military inspiration for me, that was and influence of my character as a kid. I really wanted to stuff to be kinda practical but yet military inspired, as much as we could get it to be that way. For when first line that we worked on hit, I was just like “man, this is right on target.” The second line, thats coming out now, is a re-enforcement of the first line. its really cool to see finally a complete package of stuff as opposed to just my first pair of trunks. It has to start of small but then it kinda grows. We have been able to increase the number styles: whether its different shirts, matching a tank top to another piece, or button-up… whatever it would be. Alot of that design stuff has been super cool to be a part of. I hope that eventually it gets to the point where I’m doing seasonal items, like for winter – a pant. it would be pretty cool do a pair of pants.
SWELL: You’re getting closer to a what sounds like a complete line, only missing some pants. I think that ‘Signature Pants’ have worked well for other matix ambassadors, so lets see where that goes for you in the future. Speaking of pants, Are there any specific Matix Pants you like to wear?
JJ: For me, With denim, I’m more of a Gripper guy and I like the RAW washes, more like the workman type stuff. I’ve been wearing the Mike Anderson Chino a lot when I skate, its just looser and the fit works better for skating. I Like both of those quiet a bit.
SWELL: Coming back to your line, it features a unique camo for your signature boardshorts and pocket hit on the tank. Did you help design that camo or other print designs?
JJ: For my signature boardshort, alot of it was pulled from inspiration that I had, but a lot of the camo inspiration came from a Vietnam War era camo, that was the idea behind it. We did a hawaiian-ish pattern too, that was off of a 60′s pair of Jansens that was like a pair I had when I was a kid. The pair of Jansens were a bit too, umm, “forward” – really way too short, but the print itself was cool. We wanted to do something similar to that pattern and it turned into a piece that’s a lot different but something I liked a bit more. With the Desert Scape shirt, I saw Targas (Art Director, Matix) drawing up prints and I told him I thought that one was cool looking. He decided to just lay it out on a button-up shirt which turned out rad for me, Ive always like surfing in button-ups. I dont know why – it’s just like the best thing. When you surf in a tee, it just gets soggy, sticks to you, but then stretches out and just gets weird. I feel like a button-up for some reason, just works. In my mind, that its just the best thing to surf in. (laughs)
SWELL: You have the opportunity to draw from different eras and significant styles from your life and use that as a point of inspiration for your line. How would you describe the vibe working with the Matix design team, are they pretty receptive to your input?
JJ: Thats one of the coolest things about it, You’re sitting down with the design team and They’re really listening. They’re like “Oh, You wanna do this? Alright, cool.” Instead of the alternative which is just getting stuck with a clothing line that you have to endorse because you’re sponsored by a brand. It’s a lot easier to say that I’m stoked on the stuff, cause I really am. Even With Matix as a brand, now in the position they’re in, there is more freedom to really define really who they are. In the past they merged with DVS and it was more of a different structure.
SWELL: Wait, I hope you’re not on some sort of mission to end surfing in tee shirts. There some feral surfers that may take offense to that or furthermore be out of a job.
JJ: I’ll rock a tee shirt too, if theres something like a printed shirt with more of a plastisol feel to it or heavier weight tee. It’s even something we’ve talked about during design a lot too: having a “real” tee shirt, not what was real trendy before – not that kinda thinner, lighter, almost european style tee. I’m more into a tee that feels like a tee, feels likes it going to last, feels like its going to go through the washing machine fine and not gonna come out all tweaked.
SWELL: The “Inspiration” event is teeming with brands and items from the past 200 years, and not to be overlooked – there are tons of creative people here too. It’s a lot more than just old musty clothes. Everywhere I look, there is an interesting typeface on an old hand-embroidered patch or somebody creating some form of newness from something old. Are the kind of people that are attracted to this event part of what inspires you later on?
JJ: It’s a big part of being at the show for me. I’ve been talking fin design with Mitch from Captain Finn. We’re going to be building specific prototype fins for a few certain boards that we’re going to build with the Becker factory. Thats just part of a bigger prohect I’m working on with Becker, we’re doing a series of boards. It would be like 4 boards: a longboard, a mid-length, a shortboard, and like a twin fin. Something like that with the custome fins built for them. Also, PF Flyers also really caught my eye, they have been a brand for a very long time, its something I grew up wearing. I lost sight of them as I started wearing Converse and the brand kind of went away in my mind. Now seeing the way they laid out the history of the brand at the show, they had photos and print from the very beginning all the way up to now – just a lot of cool teeny things that were a part of building the brand and that came out of it. I’d really like to work with PF just cause it fits who I am.
SWELL: I noticed that there was a few items representing Tyler Surfboard x Matix collection hanging in the booth. How did the collaboration between them come about
JJ: Well, Tyler Ezekian is a master craftsman and probably hands down one of my favorite surfers. Easily one of the top surfers in his era but then has also built boards since ’84 in a little industrial city in LA called El Segundo. He’s been building boards from scratch: shape it, glass it, ride it. the whole thing. That is one guy that is great partnership for Matix cause he is a master craftsman. I can see the brand really growing more and more in the direction of, really honing in on the craftsmanship side of it. Theres a huge opportunity to see that it’s not just about progressive surfing, theres other things out there that can inspire you to go have fun. Enjoy the ocean, enjoy getting to the beach, and enjoy building a surfboard.
SWELL: Its great to see that durable materials and quality construction are influencing your work with Matix. If they are listening, hopefully they will be inspired into creating something that can survive a lifetime or two.
JJ: One thing I always get inspired by being at the show, is to almost look at everything from a removed perspective. Nowadays, with the internet, we can just search stuff but its a different thing to have a tangible object in front of you that you can grab. Its like; wow, this is a shoe from the 1900′s. I’m really stoked about The fact that Matix is willing to create these things and that they are aware of the fact that durability matters. They know its not just a trend but its about who people are and what they want to be. I used to only wear these old police belts, the ones you get at the swapmeet that were pretty rugged and durable, but I couldn’t find a truely good solid leather belt that was built to last. Then for christmas, they made a leather belt for all of the Matix team members and it was perfect for what I always shop for, so rad. They’ll be rolling out a great line of accessories including belts like the team one and wallets to, I can’t wait for those to hit. A lot of that inspiration for that type of product came from the same inspiration behind the show really. With guys like Rinn, they are ahead of the curve really, in seeing what they want at the show and what people want to see. It’s almost like going to a well picked out swap meet, ya know? Its like you can go to the swap meet and find good stuff – buts its hard, cause you have to dig, search and find. While at a show like Inspiration – it’s just all there.
SWELL: Did you buy anything at any of your favorite booths? I was really just going to check it all out and look at what is offered. I ended up taking home a nice Jyumoku bag for my wife but missed out on an authentic Hawaiian Prison shirt.
JJ: I didn’t buy anything this year, but there was definitely a couple things that I really wanted. More than a few things that would just be so sweet to have. It’s the stuff you just don’t find anywhere but this show. That’s why I was super stoked to have the Matix guys that are key components, as a part of the show cause its such a different show, perse than Agenda or shows like that. Those shows are more geared towards pre-booking or selling stuff and kinda very business driven. Inspiration, is the type of show you go to and get, well… inspired. For me most specifically its about the people and the relationships I’ve developed with the likes of Mason from Dyer, Mitch from Capt Finn, or my good friend Brian from United 50. Theres just so many dudes in there that are so talented.
SWELL: Lastly, is there anyone out in this big world that you would like to thank?
JJ: My Wife of 3 years, definitely my better half. Matix of course, On A Mission, Captain Finn, Stance socks and I just started working with Uppercut Deluxe. Don’t forget Becker Surfboards, they’ve built boards for me for the past 10 years. And you know, I’ve worked with the guys at The Becker Factory. Everything is in-house there. They shape, glass, sand, polish… everything, It’s done there. I shape some of my own boards and things like that, and learned all that from being up there in The Factory. I kinda treasure that, as far for me thats something I really enjoy being around that. It’s inspiration to me.
Be Sure to Check out Matix Spring 2014 Collection Now at Swell.