The Company We Keep
The concept for this project came from a pretty simple place: I have a lot of really talented friends who are doing some really amazing things, and I want to tell their stories. From musicians to bike builders, surfboard shapers to barbers, the common thread is that these are passionate people who have dedicated their lives to doing what they love. Whether its how they make their living, or a weekend side gig, the creative expression is the same.
Scotty Stopnik may have said it the best, “It’s a weird thing to be inspired to do something”. It’s a hard thing to put your finger on, what exactly drives you to create? What drives you to put so much time, energy, and passion something for no reason other than the fact that you love doing it? For myself, it comes from these people, from friends who are pursuing their own creative passions. Seeing their work, hearing their music, learning of their upcoming projects, all of it drives me to pick up a camera, take a photo, edit a video, or tell a story. For myself, and what I have found as a commonality for everyone through this project, inspiration often comes from the company we keep.
The stuff I have learned about how ones mind works is being a creative thinker and having a more lineal approach to something is left and right brained, and I really find the beauty when those two start to dance.
Walk into Donald Brink’s shaping bay and you’ll be hard pressed to find a surfboard that looks much like anything else out there. It’s not that Donny couldn’t build your standard thruster, he just doesn’t want to. He enjoys the task of unlocking a new design, of taking an idea in his mind, sketching it out for a client, and creating a fully function, one of a kind piece, designed to perform. Donald’s track in surfboard building has a clear start from his youth. While very much into painting and music as a kid, Donny always had a mind for how things worked, and when he began surfing the transition was natural. He wanted to figure out why certain boards worked a certain way, what made a quad faster, what made a squared off rail different.
Talk to Donny about boards and you might as well grab a seat and crack a beer, because you probably wont be going anywhere for a while. At the end of the day Donald realizes that you can learn how to make just about anything work, and breaking down your approach to surfing, and having fun doing it, is where the key really lies. “You just have to trust it. I think the conversation of how to ride a board is far more important than what’s going on with it. Technique is always going to triumph the design.”
Music began as a family affair for Steve Hennings. His dad got the family playing at young age, and eventually Steve and brother Dave began playing shows together. When Steve first met his future wife Jessie both of them were playing music, but never played together, “it was kind of an afterthought, but on our honeymoon we brought guitars to the Canary Islands and got a gig playing together at a restaurant there.”
While music was always a part of Steve’s life, at a young age it was skating that was his biggest drive. From an early age Steve’s ability on a skateboard was far beyond others, and eventually caught the eye of brands like Hurley and Birdhouse. “It was a good experience to tour the country with Tony Hawk and see the climax of what it could be.” Steve got to learn from some of the all time bests, and although his professional career didn’t carry on much past high school, competing at such a high level gave Steve experiences and tools that he draws on in all parts of life now: whether that’s playing music, working at his office, or raising his own family
Both music and skating are once again a family affair for the Hennings. Their two sons often sit in on jam sessions and can always be found at the skate park with dad. As they raise their family, Steve and Jessie have placed a huge focus on keeping them in a creative environment. They boys might not be able to actually play any songs yet, but it’s more about the experience they are having. Now when they all play together, in the living room or at a gig, the focus is to invite a mood into the room and leave people with something they remember.
Sometimes a conscious change in life can lead to a lot more than we expect. For Scott Young, that all started with the decision to pursue barbering. Scott, an early client of Kings Club Barber Shop in Dana Point had been noticing and empty chair in the shop for a while, and feeling the need for a change in life figured he might as well ask the owner Mike about it. “One day I just thought it’d be a good direction to go… it kind of seemed like it would fit my lifestyle. I hit him up one day and asked what was up with that empty chair.” Mike said that he was just waiting for the right guy and Scott figured that was him. A year later Scott graduated barber school and as promised Mike had the chair waiting for him.
For years before this Scott had been playing music, spending about 5 years with one band, writing all of the songs, playing guitar, and living out the grind of a gigging musician. “There was a time in my life where the juices were flowing and music was being created, but eventually that dried up.” A constant schedule of shows meant that they began playing the same stuff over and over, killing the love of playing and writing music for the guitar. A new wife and a budding career as barber eventually put a much-needed end to the touring lifestyle.
However the love of music and the need to create never left, so Scott decided to recreate the excitement he once had, by learning to play the accordion. Soon after, a client of his began coming in and talking about the band he was in. He gave Scott a CD, but like it so often happens Scott tossed it aside. Eventually, after enough persistence, Scott gave it a listen and was blown away. It was folky, Irish, Americana, all sang with so much soul and conviction. Scott immediately shared it with and old band mate who talked him into setting up a jam session. The pieces fell in place and created what is Vinnie and The Hooligans.
Dustin Franks has been playing music at some capacity for about as long as he can remember. Junior high bands, solo gigs, DJ’ing, yacht rock cover bands and local gigs, what Dustin is playing may not matter as much as the simple fact that he is playing. There have been two real constants for Dustin in life: surfing and playing music. Growing up in San Clemente was the perfect place to fine-tune both. “There’s so many talented musicians in San Clemente, its known for being a surf town but there’s a lot of great musicians so it kind of goes hand in hand.”
Dustin grew up surfing with the Gudauskas Brothers, Greg Long, Mike Losness, and a seemingly endless list of world-class local talent. For much of his life surfing was the priority, Dustin wasn’t pursuing a professional career like many of his friends, but his skill level and time in the water was there. But, at just 20 years old Dustin had to have the first of what would be two heart surgeries, pulling him from the water through his recovery. That’s when the focus shifted. Laid up in bed, Dustin turned to writing music and playing guitar, and he poured everything he had into it
Music has taken Dustin far and wide, including a few summer stints in Montauk where he began DJ’ing with Mike D (yes, the Mike D). Now its back on the West Coast, where among other projects, he’s started a band with Marc Ford. Dustin still surfs and plays music with a lot of those old friends, drawing influence and inspiration all from the little hot bed of San Clemente.
Ask Scotty Stopnik what he does for a living and you might not get a clear answer. Not that he’s trying to be aloof or give you the run around; it’s just that there isn’t really a definitive answer to it. While “surf brands” have been the main source of income for much of his life, and he does indeed run stickers on his boards, Scotty hardly relates to being a pro surfer. Sure he surfs, very well, but he also builds custom motorcycles, he runs a company called the Cycle Zombies with his brother and cousin, he hunts swap meets for anything he can turn around and sell, he draws, paints, skates, acts, does stunt work–he hustles. “I surf and goof around and build motorcycles and ride them,” says Scotty while checking the waves in his hometown of Huntington Beach. “What you want to do for work is something you love to do, and I’ve done it for 15 years”.
It sounds glamorous, but it’s not always easy. Scotty recently parted ways with long time sponsor Hurley, meaning even more so now that the other facets of life will become more mainstream. But the whole point isn’t where the checks are coming from, it’s on a living a lifestyle that hinges on creativity, on self expression, on family and inspiration from the people you surround yourself with. “There are a lot of creative juices that go through our family. It’s a weird thing to be inspired to do something, being around like minded and different minded people makes you want to go full throttle even more.” For Scotty the most important thing is raising his growing family in an environment that places importance on hard work and being passionate about what you do, even if that’s skating in the front yard or ripping around on dirt bikes. “I just want to pass something I love to do on to them, and seeing them do it is one of the coolest things ever really. My kids are learning to read music, and it’s opening up a whole new chapter. I feel younger than I was 5 years ago, having that whole creative vibe and being around my family is really inspiring to keep doing cool stuff and fun stuff together.”