Tim Bessell: Cali’s Renaissance Man of The Sea
Surfing, like dancing, falls into the rare category of performable activities which can be considered primarily both a sport and an art. A football player is not judged by how gracefully he tackles another man to the ground, and there is no marketable value in the underlying aesthetic of a batter’s swing; but with surfing, the manufactured ease of a long barrel ride, or the beauty of a drawn-out bottom turn reflect a mastery over wave and equipment that only the best surfers can call their own. What generally goes unsaid, though, is how so much of that grace and ease of movement is made possible by the unsung architects of the surfing experience.
Tim Bessell is one of the world’s most renowned shapers. With over 46,000 surfboards shaped, and a career spanning 40 years, his experience is almost unparalleled within the industry.
Having started surfing at an early age, Bessell was already hunched over foam decks in his garage and shaping by his thirteenth year, and working as a professional in the Sunset Surfboard shop by age 15 — by which time he had already shaped 200 boards. Soon after that he moved to Hawaii to shape for one of the worlds pre-eminent manufacturers, Lightning Surfboards, and was humbled at how much he had left to learn. “After 500 surfboards I thought I was [at the top of my game]; after 5,000 I realized I didn’t know anything, and now after about 40,000, I feel like I am finally comfortable.”
Bessell will be quick to tell you that there is much more to shaping than just a simple understanding of board mechanics. With a long background in the arts and architecture, he cannot help but think of shaping in a more dynamic light.
“Surfing is both an art and a science,” he explains. “You’ve got to know about hydrodynamics, but you’ve also got to have an understanding of form and aesthetic.” Both aspects of design must be employed because, in Bessell’s words, “the end result of every design is the experience a surfer has at the end of it, riding a wave.”
Recently, Bessell has made another stab at blurring the borders between shaping and art. With the acquisition of a license to portray images from postmodernist legend Andy Warhol, he has decided to push forward on a line of boards decorated with pieces from the Warhol collection. For Bessell, this is “a dream come true,” so if on your next ocean adventure you see a surfer emerging from under the lip riding a six foot thruster plastered with pictures of Campbell’s soup cans, you can know that somewhere out there in the world, Tim Bessell is smiling.
Within the surfing community, Bessell has made a reputation for himself as a renaissance man of the sea. With his hands now in furniture design, gallery art, and the conversion of shipping containers into homes, you cannot go far in this town without running into one Bessell project or another, and that is most certainly a good thing.