People Who Surf: An Interview With Palos Verdes Artist and Charger Zen Del Rio

SURFER: So, Zen, you have a pretty interesting background. Let’s start with that.

Zen Del Rio: Well, I’m from a full line of artists. Especially on my mom’s side. They go all the way back in Italy to the Renaissance. She was born in Italy and her family was, and continues to be, really inventive. My grandfather, her father, was an inventor and my mom, Gemma, immigrated when she was ten-years-old and grew up in New York City. She ran away from home at the age of fourteen and was a freelance artist her whole life. After she ran away, she lived in New York City until she was in her early 20s and then met this doctor, got married and moved to Mexico City. And that’s where I was born.

The doctor was your dad?
Yea, his name was Juan Del Rio and he was a sculptor and a physician. Sculpting was his real passion, but his family sort of forced him into medicine. He was an artist at heart.

Was your dad originally from Mexico City?
Yea. But, my parents’ marriage didn’t work out. My mom was big into papier-mch in Mexico. She became very noted for it and made a good living from it, so when they split up, she had enough money to immigrate back to the States and get us set up.

When she immigrated back to the US, how old was your mom?
She was in her late 30s I think. I was nine. It was in 1956.

And where did you guys end up?
Here, in Palos Verdes. She bought a house with her savings from papier-mch.

What were the first nine years of your life like in Mexico City?
It was interesting because we lived in a very affluent area with a lot of diplomats and stuff, but just around the corner was a full on street scene. So we liked to hang out with the street kids. They were a lot tougher and a lot more gung ho.

So was it a culture shock to go from there to here?
Yea. It was a huge culture shock. When you don’t live in the States, you have expectations of what America is. And there’s a lot to it, you know? It was a big transition. Even though I was raised being bilingual, I didn’t know American slang, so that was hard to clue into.

When did you start surfing?