Matt Biolos: Drew Brophy, …Lost, and The Black Sheep Aesthetic
Posca pens and the rise of …Lost
(Guest) Editor’s Note: Of the varied surfers, characters, artists and designers that have passed through our lives in this wild ride called …Lost, few have been as impactful and more embedded into our story as Drew Brophy.
In early 1996, after our first few videos hit the consciousness of surf culture, at the infancy of our popularity, I was struggling to keep up with things. Except for a brief stint having my girlfriend helping paint, I was still essentially shaping and Posca pen painting nearly every board myself.
Like a twist of fate, in Spring of ’96, as I was preparing to fly to Japan for a month-long shaping stint, Drew confidently waltzed into our factory, proclaiming he could take over any and all board art needs. After seeing him boldly blaze though a few sample boards, I was sold. He was hired and off to Japan I went.
I returned to my sales manager, Rick Hazard, welcoming me back with the biggest shit-eatin’ grin you could imagine. In the 5 weeks I was gone, Drew, with Rick’s support and prodding, had turned our surfboard production on its head: what was once only “custom order” paint pen art was now a production line of over the top, radical, retail-based stock boards like no one had ever seen.
It was a turning point in our business and made for a major point of difference that grew, and lasted for years.
Because of the popularity, Drew began joining me on most of our international shaping trips. For the better part of a decade, we went on a global run of fun. We traveled, worked, surfed, partied and worked together around the world. East Coast, Hawaii, Japan, Peru, Brazil, Europe etc. The art he created we then rolled into our tee shirt and boardshort lines.
Everything has it run, and as Drew developed his own brand and business, he ventured out on his own. But on solid south swell, when Trestles is pumping, we like to sit outside together, talking about the good ‘ol days, while teaming up, splitting set waves.
-Matt “Mayhem” Biolos
(Drew’s new book, Painting Surfboards and Chasing Waves, is available at booksellers worldwide, or from Drew’s site, here.)
“Airbrushing is more technical, I knew that these pens would allow for a lot more freedom and creativity. I knew there was opportunity there” – Drew Brophy.
Story by Jake Howard
Coming up a surf-stoked kid in 1980s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, presented myriad challenges for a creative kid like Drew Brophy. A naturally talented artist with a penchant for powerful surf, by the time he was out of school the writing was scribbled on the wall.
“I had to get out,” explained Drew. “Myrtle Beach was a dead end for me.”
Growing up competing on the East Coast during the heady days of Kelly Slater’s grommethood, Drew was determined to keep surfing, even if he didn’t have quite the abundance of talent that his Florida neighbor did. After a stint painting boards in Myrtle Beach, in the early ‘90s a desperate Drew bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and never returned.
“I went to the North Shore to paint boards and surf Pipeline. That was the dream, but like anything, I guess, that wasn’t the reality,” said Drew. “I got some work painting board, mostly airbrushing because nobody was really using the Posca paint pens. I got to a point where I was painting the top guys’ boards. Some big-name guy would come in, explain what he wanted, and I’d paint his board, but getting paid was a different story. And I’d be out at Pipeline with all these guys and they treated me like shit.”
It didn’t take long for disenchantment to settle in. Then Drew hit rock bottom at Pipe, literally, smashing his face and body on the reef. He was a broken young man, without any money or direction, and mounting medical bills. Drew pursued a scenery change. He linked up with an old friend from Myrtle Beach who’d moved to San Clemente.
“I rented his garage and that’s where I lived when I first moved to California. I met Matt [Biolos] and we hit it off right away,” said Drew. “This would have been around ’95 or ’96.”
“I went to the North Shore to paint boards and surf Pipeline. That was the dream.” – Drew Brophy.
Matt and Mike Reola were on the cusp of launching …Lost Surfboards. Drew quickly delivered the irreverent aesthetic touch. Having mastered the art of airbrushing surfboards in the factories on the North Shore, he had also been honing his skills with Japanese Posca paint pens—a medium which had been largely ignored by surfboard artists.
“Airbrushing is more technical, I knew that these pens would allow for a lot more freedom and creativity. I knew there was opportunity there,” said Drew. “We’d do anything we wanted on a board. There weren’t any rules. If somebody came in and said they wanted a picture of a goat with his eyeballs falling out riding a rocket ship, we’d do that. And I’d sign the board—nobody was really doing that back then either. The artists weren’t getting any recognition.”
At this point in the evolution of surfing the Momentum Generation lorded over everyone. Kelly, Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Ross Williams and company defined “cool.” There was also an air of elitism in the blossoming surf industry.
“We were the misfits,” flatly said Drew. “We were the underbelly, the guys that were outcasts, and we accepted a lot of different people into what we were doing. We were trying to figure out how to make all this work, so we could still have fun and surf every day. The competitive aspect had become very serious. We didn’t want to sacrifice what we thought surfing was really all about. We wanted to keep things loose. Mike was making these videos with Strider, Shea and Cory Lopez, Wardo and everyone, so that was part of it. Matt’s boards were more progressive. And then I’d paint them.”
As business started to build at …Lost, Drew and Matt hit the road together. Both dedicated to their craft, they jumped on the trade show circuit and started grinding.
“There were other artists contributing at the time, but I’d go with Matt to these shows because I could paint 100 or 200 boards over the course of a weekend,” said Drew.
“Things took off. Within a year I started making good money. We all did,” continued Drew. “I’d never had any money, so I didn’t really know how to spend it once I had it. I bought a car and a house with the money I made painting surfboards.”
Drew still lives in that same house with his wife and 17-year-old son.
“Matt worked so hard, and I was right there with him. I don’t think it would have worked if he’d slacked off, but then that’s not Matt. We were going everywhere, shaping and painting and surfing. We had a lot of fun during that time,” continued Drew. “It was like the dream had come true for us.”
In the early 2000s …Lost made the decision to expand and start producing a clothing line. Drew’s art was to figure prominently.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever done is when I went in to see Matt in his shaping bay and tell him I was out,” said Drew. “I was offered a lot of money, but I was going to have to be in Irvine in an office working. I couldn’t do it. I still wanted to surf every day, enjoy my family and do my art. I didn’t want to have that corporate structure over me, so I walked away.”
Drew has since blazed his own trail. In the ensuing years he launched Drew Brophy Designs, and with the support of his wife, Maria, they’ve built a remarkably successful art business. They do commission work with brands big and small, but one of their masterstrokes was figuring out the licensing game. Drew’s art has appeared everywhere from cheap boogie boards, to coffee mugs, mailboxes and camper vans. The consistent revenue stream has freed him up to travel more, stay inspired, and, of course, keep surfing.
“I’m still in the water almost every day,” said Drew. “I wouldn’t say this has been an easy journey, but I’ve been able to do it on my terms and stay true to why I started doing this in the first place.”
“I’m still in the water almost every day. I wouldn’t say this has been an easy journey, but I’ve been able to do it on my terms and stay true to why I started doing this in the first place.” – Drew Brophy
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