Earning my living as a professional fine artist is pretty much reason enough to count my blessings. My to-do list often contains things like ,”1. Paint 2. Go to the Gym 3. Surf or hit the skatepark 4. Send out art print orders to customers 5. Write a Blog 6. Travel to (insert cool location here).
With an increasing frequency, I have been rewarded by the Universe with some experiences that are just surreal and this past week was one of those weeks.
I was asked by our friend Julie from the World Skin Cancer Foundation to be one of the sponsors for this year's Slater Invitational. There pretty much isn't a week that goes by that I don't get a handful of charities or events asking me for something to donate. I admittedly have a problem with saying no even though this all costs me thousands every year. I believe in karma and feel that it's my duty contribute through my talents.
As a side note, my father just had a melanoma removed from his face less than a month ago, so this cause is definitely one that I knew I had to be involved in. Plus, I'll be the first to admit that I've been a fan of Kelly Slater's surfing career since I was a pimply teenager, so for these two reasons, we knew that we were off to Florida.
Our friend and legendary tattoo artist and painter, Mark Longnecker (www.EndlessSummerTattoo.com) was kind and generous enough to offer up his gorgeous home to us in Cocoa Beach which was beyond generous and truly made our stay that much better.
He became my shred partner from the day we landed. We gathered his local crew and hit the wind chopped waves right away. The gusty winds drifted us about 1/2 mile or more down the coast but we caught some sweet ones nevertheless. Mark treated us to some local style Karaoke that night after meeting Kelly's brothers, Sean and Skippy Slater and the rest of the event crew at a local pub.
That Thursday night was the kick-0ff party for the event. It was a clear but breezy night with live outdoor music. We made our way inside eventually and caught up with our friend G. Love and his crew and had a few rounds and caught up a bit. Garrett (G. Love) introduced us to his friend, professional surfer and star of FuelTV's Drive-Thru, Benji Weatherly. After the kick-off party, we made our way up the street to some techno-club place where we all danced and hung out. I, of course, proceeded to bust out some breakdance moves.
The event itself was so fun. Besides the 15-25 MPH winds and bad hair days, we all enjoyed watching the pro surfers squeeze out every workable inch of wave. CJ Hobgood and others tore it up while the random kite-boarders flew across the chop suey surf. There was a half-pipe set up with some serious rippers and lots of cool locals enjoying the scene.
The evening's event was long anticipated by us all. Our friend Garrett (aka: G Love) was the headlining musical act. I had two large Fine Art Giclée prints on exhibit which helped raise money for the charity.
Before the show started my friends said “Jay! Kelly's inside looking at your art and there aren't a lot of people around bothering him“. …I thought to myself for a moment….Do I really want to be “that guy”? ….Remembering the past 20 years of watching him surf on TV and I decided, Yes,…Yes, I think I do want to be that guy.
I went inside and saw Kelly checking out my art and quickly wiped off the childish grin. I thought about what would be the cool-guy way to meet your childhood surfing hero? Surely I have accomplished enough in my Art career to have some sort of cool opener. I could have told him of some of our mutual friends and acquaintances or asked some deep question based on his new book I am reading or asked how he liked my surf art. I know he's just a dude like me, similar age, similar philosophies on some topics I've read in his interviews. It just so happens he has super magical surfing powers that no one else on Earth has.
I asked a friend from the charity to introduce us and she gladly agreed. Before I had time to breathe she grabbed my arm to introduce us and just then my beer splashes up in the air and in what felt like slow motion I watched it splash next to Kelly Slater's foot. I apologized as he told me he was just checking out my Surf Art I had on display. I later talked to my friend Mark about this and his first Kelly Slater experience was even funnier, so I didn't feel as bad after that. At least I got a cool pic!
The show began shortly thereafter and in true Philadelphonic form, he rocked the stage. We were super stoked to be in the VIP area next to Kelly and G's crew and friends and I was at the front of the stage catching every bit of the show.
It seemed to be a perfect night. Good friends, great music, my surfing pro's to all sides of me and just when I thought it couldn't get better, G calls up Kelly to join him on some songs. They played “Rodeo Clowns” and “Can't Go Back to Jersey” and some others. Of course my camera battery decided to poop out on my just before Garrett surprised the crap out of me with two onstage shout-out's to me which I think gave me some local bro-points. Thanks G!
The next evening Rob Machado and Taylor Steele were at the center of attention. They've been on tour with their new film, The Drifter which premiered in Cocoa that night. it was an incredibly brilliant film (read more about The Drifter here)
After the film I introduced myself to Rob Machado and Taylor Steele. I have been an admirer of both of their talents for a long time now. As an artist who paints a lot of surfing and ocean genre paintings, having guys like Rob and Taylor to help feed my thirst for inspiration is a pretty major component to what I do. When I introduced myself, I was super stoked to have them both tell me how familiar they are with my Surf Art already. They told me how they've always loved my work since they've first seen it. I would be lying if I didn't admit to how honored and blown away I was to hear that I had the respect of these two surf icons.
The week we spent in Cocoa totally flew by. We flew back home with huge smiles and enduring memories, but not before Mark and I hit the local cement skatepark. Some random kid told me he was going to punch my balls, proof of great parenting at work.
Thanks to all of our good friends, supporters, event-cooridantors, The World Skin Cancer Foundation, The Slater Invitational, Mark Longnecker and Endless Summer Tattoos and all the fans we got to meet for making this such a fun trip!