Tony Larson Arts up the Surfboard Game


How do you make surfboards look cool again? Hire a skateboarder, of course.

Surfboards have always been used as canvases. From lightning bolts to paint pens, it's been nice, but hasn't always been pretty. With its hiring of skateboard graphic designer Tony Larson, SUPERbrand has found their niche. And it is pretty. We caught up with Larson to find out what makes him tick.

SURFING Magazine: Tell us about your background in art and design.
Tony Larson: I’ve been involved in the skate/surf industries since I was a kid. We all skated and surfed growing up here in San Diego. I ended up getting accepted to Cal Arts in Los Angeles and graduated as a painter, but I needed a job after graduation and returned to my roots in skateboarding. I was a designer and art director at Girl Skateboards for about nine years and really cut my design teeth there. I learned from the best working with guys like Andy Jenkins, Rick Howard, Michael Leon, Rob Abeyta Jr. etc. I left Girl in 2007 to be Director of Advertising at DC Shoes, which was essentially art directing all of the print media for surf, skate, snow, moto etc. Learned a lot there too. Working with Ken Block is like taking post-grad marketing lessons.

How is working with surfboards going to be different from working on skateboards?
Really, it’s not any different. Obviously, surfboards are a lot bigger, which makes the design choices a different process. I’m considering how a board will look from a distance, but I think I do that when I design skateboard graphics too. However, there is one major difference: We haven’t even scratched the surface on the possibilities for surfboard graphics. It’s an unexplored realm in terms of using the in-lay technology, and I’m frothing over the graphic concepts we have planned. It’s like being part of a renaissance.

What do you hope to bring to surfboard design?
Well, I hope to be part of a new way of thinking in terms of surfboard graphics. In my opinion, it’s pretty stagnant and has been for a long time. I love some of the traditional spray and tinting work done by the masters in the surf world, but this is a whole new thing. We’re talking about unlimited color palettes and unlimited layering and detail opportunities. It feels like when skate graphics went from silk screening to printed papers. The game is changing. Two years ago, SUPERbrand sort of brought a whole new look to surfboard designs and the way they are marketed. It made a lot of the surfboard industry take notice. Board manufacturing had never been approached that way. Talented shapers and a great team working towards making a full surfboard brand and boards that have amazing graphics. I’m here to bring another point of view and keep the momentum going here.

SUPERbrand has a small team (Ry Craike, Dion Agius and Clay Marzo). What kinds of ideas do they bring to the table?
Dion has great ideas. He and I have similar tastes and choices in design, so it’s pretty easy. He sends over imagery that he likes and I work into his graphic. We go back and forth a bit, and it gets done. I have a lot of experience working with team riders in skateboarding, so I understand the process. Some guys have a lot of input and some are happy with what I come up with. I appreciate both sides of it.

When you're making a new design, how do you approach a blank surfboard?
When I design, half of the work is done before I even start on the board, so I’m not too intimidated by the blank board. I pull tears from magazines, save photos, find shit on the ground, discover new music, whatever. I get inspired and motivated and then tackle the design stuff.

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