EVIL PARADISE: Surfing and Artistic Creations with Sean Bernhardt

Sean Bernhardt enjoying a glimpse of the coming of spring. Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

Sean Bernhardt enjoying a glimpse of the coming of spring. Photo: Christor Lukasiewicz

“My style has always been evolving, but I am still heavily influenced by the surf and skateboard culture, DIY mentality and street art. The artwork that I choose to create goes along with surfing because the ocean is always changing. I like to always mix it up a bit and either work with paper collage, pen and ink, or painting. I like to have fun and express myself…” -Sean Bernhardt

Surfing is as much of an artistic pursuit as it is a sport or physical activity. Riding waves is a creative and skillful expression unique to each individual, that is why we can easily spot surfers we know based on style alone. To the untrained eye it may appear all the same, but to the devout wave sliding enthusiast even the smallest details reveal the distinction in each surfers approach. The wave is the canvas, the  board is the brush or pen, surfing is the medium and the surfer in rhythmic flow with his surroundings is always the creator.

Sean Bernhardt is a surfer, skater and artist from Monmouth County, NJ.  I recently caught up with him on our last swell and conducted a short interview. Read on and enjoy.

Zappo: When and where did you start surfing, what was the surf scene like when you first started?

Bernhardt: I started surfing around age 10 and paddled out for the first time at the Manasquan Inlet beach. The surf scene back when I first started was very intimidating. Everyone that I grew up with was getting into surfing and starting to do contests at the time. I felt like if you didn’t surf or wear name-brand surf apparel that you’d stick out in the community.

Zappo: Do you remember the first time you rode a wave and what that feeling was like?

Bernhardt: I remember standing on my boogie board and then slowly making my way into surfing. I always enjoyed trying something new on my board and just having fun with my good friends. The feeling was just like cruising on a skateboard, which to me was straight bliss because I would always be skating before and after school growing up.

Life and Creation

Life and Creation

Zappo: What was your first surfboard and what surf craft are you currently enjoying?

Bernhardt: My first surfboard was a 5’11” Natural Art that my dad picked up at a yard sale. I remember my board had bright blue painted rails, which made it stand out from all the other boards that kids were riding. Once I grew out of that board, I started riding a bit shorter performance board shaped by Fly Surfboards (Paul Baymore) from New Jersey. Since then, I’ve been surfing and supporting Solid Surfboards (Dan O’Hara). I remember seeing a printed surf ad of his somewhere and was really into the board models that I was seeing. Dan was working out of the Hamptons in New York and shaping by hand. I’ve always been a huge supporter of the DIY attitude. I shot him an email about eight years ago and put in my first order for a high-performance model, the “Cisco Kid.” I have been a part of the Solid family ever since. Dan is now living and shaping boards out in San Diego.

Zappo: When did you get into drawing and creating various forms of art? How is your artwork and surfing interconnected?

Bernhardt: I first started creating artwork as a child, always scribbling on wood scraps with crayons, pencils and oil sticks. Elementary school was when I found an interest in making artwork. Art became my favorite class, besides lunch, and I started drawing more often. My skills started to transform right after eighth grade and my focus was strictly on art class. I was super into drawing landscapes, especially of the beach or local scenery around where I live in Monmouth County, NJ. After getting a ton of positive feedback on what I chose to create, I started to just push my skills, work harder and get way more involved over the years trying as many new mediums as possible. My style has always been evolving, but I am still heavily influenced by the surf and skateboard culture, DIY mentality and street art. The artwork that I choose to create goes along with surfing because the ocean is always changing. I like to always mix it up a bit and either work with paper collage, pen and ink, or painting. I like to have fun and express myself, which is what artwork is all about and why I choose to create the work that I do.

Zappo: In the realm of both surfing and in creating art, what or who do you find inspiring and fueling to both pursuits?

Bernhardt: Just being alive and being able to see the beach inspires me the most. Pretty much everyone and everything around me keeps me motivated. I like to keep my ideas constantly flowing and try to keep my eyes peeled for anything simple and bold that can spark a new idea. It’s weird, I used to be really into the masters of the arts growing up, but now I am over that stuff. Recently, I started to write down simple ideas on paper that I’ve thought of over time and illustrate my own style that is fueled on tropical doom, the whole vibe of my side project, Evil Paradise. I like looking more into vintage magazines, cutting out images of the past and mixing them with what is going on in today’s world. My style is running on fun and mixed vibes.

Shark Lovers. Sharpie, pen and ink on paper. 2014.

Shark Lovers. Sharpie, pen and ink on paper. 2014.

Zappo: Where are some of the favorite places you’ve traveled to surf and are there any specific experiences that had a profound effect on you?

Bernhardt: I’ve surfed Trestles in California. That spot is really fun, but my most recent travel to Nicaragua was my favorite and most memorable trip. I really like the whole vibe that Central America gives off. I was lucky enough to have spent a few months down there with my girlfriend, Johanna, and get a feel for what some of the southern portion of Nicaragua has to offer. I was blessed with some great surf, ate local cuisine and met some great people along the way. Spending time in Nicaragua really opened up my eyes and mind. Just surfing and getting inspired by the surroundings helped cleanse my mind. I have some really good mental notes from the trip and really appreciate what this world has to offer.

Zappo: I think we all start surfing initially because it’s fun. As we spend more time dedicated to surfing, it can take on different and sometimes deeper meanings for many surfers. What does surfing mean to you?

Bernhardt: Surfing means expression to me. Every surf session you may engage in is usually different. Conditions aren’t always the same, but you can make the best out of it, especially here in New Jersey. It’s a great way to escape, not think about the daily struggles and enjoy your surroundings.

"PUNKS NOT DEAD" - Nicaragua - Photo: Johanna Corino

“PUNKS NOT DEAD” – Nicaragua – Photo: Johanna Corino

Zappo: Between surfing and creating surf inspired art, where would you like to see yourself in the next five years?

Bernhardt: In the next five years I would like to be working full time as an artist in the surf industry, enjoying life with my lovely girlfriend, and be living somewhere warm. This winter has been pretty bad, I’m really sick of the cold, minus scoring some of the best surf sessions in a long time. I’m going to keep my ideas consistent, keep improving my skills and collaborating with as many companies as possible.

"PERMANENT VACATION" - Paper collage on canvas. 2013.

“PERMANENT VACATION” – Paper collage on canvas. 2013.

Zappo: What albums are you currently jamming to keep your creative juices flowing?

1.Thee Oh Sees- Floating Coffin
2.Miko Miko- We Be XUXA
3.Night Beats- Sonic Bloom
4.Sonny & The Sunsets- Antenna To The Afterworld
5. King Tuff- Was Dead

Zappo: What are the most meaningful lessons you’ve received from the ocean and surfing?

Bernhardt: Never underestimate the ocean.

"DEAD BEAT" - Sharpie, pen and ink on paper. 2014.

“DEAD BEAT” – Sharpie, pen and ink on paper. 2014.

For more of Sean’s work: seanbernhardtart.com / insta: @space_bat_killer

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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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