Happiness Interview: World-Famous Shaper, Surfer and Artist, Tim Bessell

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 Tim Bessell

Tim Bessell’s resume includes shaping over 48,000 surfboards; dropping into waves at Pipeline; and starting his own clothing company.  Recently, Tim teamed up with the Andy Warhol Foundation to create surfboards bearing images of the late Pop artist’s work.  Warhol lived near Bessell in La Jolla in 1967, and Bessell was inspired by his work.  Interestingly, Warhol directed a film called “San Diego Surf,” a 90-minute film shot in La Jolla.  Who knew?  But I digress.  I sat down with Tim on Sunday, and he said a lot of things you need to hear.

So, do you surf?

I do. 

And are you happy?

Am I happy? (Laughter)  You know, I think I’m on the road to happy.

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Tim Bessell

Well, that’s interesting.

But let’s talk about you.  You’ve done so many different things.  I read a little bit about you, and it sounds like you’re a person who doesn’t have a lot of doubt.

There’s always doubt when you’re self-employed, but you have to think beyond it.  You have to think beyond doubt.  Its like surfing.  You can have fear about surfing, right?  We all do.  Everybody does.  And when the surf gets bigger and bigger and bigger, your fear level goes up and up and up, because its natural.  Its natural to be afraid of something so powerful and potentially life-threatening or disabling.  But, if you ignore that, and focus on the task at hand which is one step at a time: getting in the water; getting out there safely; getting yourself in the right position for success; taking off; not falling; not being freaked out; not being afraid… you usually don’t eat it.  And if you do eat it, you’re going to eat it with a good attitude.  If you eat it with a good attitude, you’re not as likely to get hurt or make bad decisions.

I think there are so many different factors that come into play with happiness but if you appreciate what you have, you will be happy.  If you value the things that you have and the things that you do – that’s the road to happiness.  But everybody has their different happiness levels.  Some people are just happy go lucky, nothing seems to faze them.  Some people are never happy no matter what you do for them.  So there’s that A to Z personality type.

Would you mind giving us a basic explanation of the shaping process?

There are three levels of shaping.  The first step is the concept.  You have a vision in your mind of what you want.  So step one is concept and design.  Step number two, is how you’re going to get there.  Surfboard shaping is a classic subtractive sculpture.  You have a block, and you cut into it until you have a final shape.  The second phase is the roughing phase.  I take the saws; I cut the outline; I get my planar; I cut in the rocker; and I make things symmetrical.  I get it 95% to where I want it with all my tools.  The third phase is refinement.  Its attention to details.  Making sure everything is even; making sure all the lines flow; and making sure there are no scratches.  Those are the three phases of shaping a surfboard or any kind of art.  There’s the concept; there’s the execution, there’s the refinement.

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Tim Bessell

Perfect.  Thank you, that was perfect.  Do you think that dreaming big is important and why?  If not, why?

Yeah, I think you have to shoot for the moon and be happy to hit across the street, you know what I mean?  You have to have big dreams or else you’re never going to go anywhere.  Its all about having a certain level of consciousness.

I remember I was in Tahiti and we were on this tiny little double island called Wahini and we rented mopeds and drove around the entire island, which took like an hour.  We met these little kids on the other side of the island and we were hanging out, talking, having a really good time, and they said, ‘Where are you guys staying?’ And we said we were staying on the other side of the island at this place called Bali Hai.  And the kids said, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard of it.  We’ve never been there.’  It was like, from here, to the beach (quarter of a mile).  That’s their level of consciousness.  They had no desire to go to the other side of the island.  Not even to go see it.  I was blown away by that.  I couldn’t understand it.

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I think that the things that make you unhappy are jealousy, greed, bad decisions based upon those ideas, and living in the negative.  I think that’s why I’m so fascinated about duality in art.  Because you’ve got life, you’ve got death, you’ve got happiness, and unhappiness; you’ve got equity, you’ve got inequity.  And out of bad, comes good.  You know?  If I fuck up a board, if I fuck up a piece of art and have to fix it, it makes me decide on a new course of action.  And, when you have converging energies, that’s when you have the best surf.  If you have 100 mile an hour winds, 1000 miles away, that kicks up he swells and then you have an offshore wind, that’s when you have the most beautiful surf.  Opposing forces.  That’s what life is – its always opposing forces.  If you, like Buddha said, if you walk the line down the middle, without allowing yourself to be influenced too much by one or the other, you’re going to be okay.

Its is all about balance between yin and yang.  And its hard.  But the duality has always fascinated me.  You have one super strong force going one way, and a super strong force going the other way.  So what is happiness?  Happiness seems to be that you’re on more of the positive side.  But maybe happiness is not being sad nor happy.  Maybe its just the balance between those two.  Keeping yourself in a homeostasis.  An even keel.  But how boring is that?

There’s a great series on YouTube that I want you to look at.  There’s a speaker, a motivational speaker, from like, the 40’s.  His name is Napoleon Hill.  Have you heard of him? 

“Think and Grow Rich.”  

Yeah!  Yes!  I love that guy.  He says no matter how many times you fucked up in the past, that does not mean you’re not going to be successful in the future.  He’s absolutely right.  If you meditate on positive things, and that’s your mantra in your brain – it all comes down to self-fulfilling prophecy. 

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And I think being self-employed, you’re always wondering where the next dollar is.  That’s the curse of being self-employed.  But all businesses go through business cycles.  Its just part of nature.  You make money, you lose money.  Its part of being a business owner.  You make a fortune, you lose a fortune.  That’s the challenge of life.  Nothing is ever constant.  And I think if it was, we would lose the zest for life.  

Yeah.  I think I would rather have insecurity financially, than security financially and… I don’t know.

Well, here’s an interesting story.  This happened to my grandfather.  He was the chief designer for Boeing.  He started off at 13 as a pattern maker, as an apprentice for this guy down the street who taught him how to make patterns.  My grandfather became one of the most prolific designers of the 20th century.  He designed the first electric refrigerator; the first freezing unit; he designed the Pennzoil logo; the Rainbow Bread logo; he worked for Bridgeport oil…  

Boeing stole him away in his early 40’s, and he got laid off at 63.  By one company, man.  The guy was a genius, a creative genius, and him and 500 other executives got laid off.  And he was bitter.  They gave him a gold watch and no pension.  He was about three years shy of getting his pension.  He was just devastated.  He was probably bitter to his grave.   

That taught me a very important lesson.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life, 63 years old, working for someone else, having them have the power to tell me, ‘See you later,’ for no justification at all.  And you know, I’ve had successes and I’ve had failures in my business.  But, if I’m going to fail, I want it to be me.  I want to make that fucked up decision and learn from it, and not do it again.  

I think autonomy can lead the to the road to happiness, but some people just don’t have that in them to be self-employed.  And to want to make sure that that paycheck comes in because of your efforts and your creativity.  

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It took me 48,000 surfboards before I got the Warhol deal, you know what I mean?  So that’s a wonderful thing.  I’ve always thought that better things were going to happen for me in the future.  I also almost died once… at 22.  I had spinal meningitis, that was pretty upsetting. 

Oh my God. 

Yeah, that happened at a young age, so after that, I really appreciated the things that I have.  Every breath that I take is a gift from God.  Every breath.  If you look at life that way, you’re only going to be happy.  But human nature is, we always want 10% more than what we have.  That’s just human nature.  That’s the quagmire that humankind is in at this stage of development.  As my friend says, ‘we’re not that far out of the jungle.’

Yeah, there’s science behind that.  When good things happen, we forget them more quickly.  We hang on to negative experiences longer.  

Yeah, we’re self-destructive by nature.  But its also how you look at life.  For instance, if you look at death like its a bad thing, you’re going to be upset by it.  But if you look at like the natural course of life, and have faith that your spirit will live on…  This body is just a body, but your spirit will live on.  If you look at it that way, you’re not living in fear.

So it sounds like you definitely believe in a higher power… 

I believe that your spirit is eternal.  I believe that there is more going on in this universe than we can ever imagine.  There are seven billion people on this planet, so there are seven billion realities going on simultaneously. When you add in all the animal life, and all the plant life – its incomprehensible.  So its whatever you make of it.  If you fear things, then you’re going to be afraid.  If you embrace things, then you’re going to embrace them. I think it comes down to attitude.  I really do.

What I’ve noticed is, like attracts like.  I don’t really have a set belief system, but things seem to kind of follow by a rule.  If I’m thinking a certain way, things sort of follow suit.  

Yeah!  That’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think bad things are going to happen, they’re going to fucking happen.  And I’ve been that way before.  I’ve seen a lot in my life – good things and bad things happen like that.  But if you don’t put that much importance in either one, then you’re not going to be as effective.  Then again, some people are very manic – very happy and very sad.  Its better to be more at an even keel.  You’re happiness needs to be founded in reality.

What makes you happy? 

I like to eat really healthy food.  I like getting good exercise.  I like making great art.  I like making important surfboards.  I like having good relationships with people.  I like making money and not being poor.  I like what everybody else likes.  I like feeling good.

 What are your favorite breaks here?  

I love Windansea, and I love Black’s.  And I love Chasms, and Little Macaw.  Those are my favorite breaks in Southern California.  But I love Pipeline, and Cloudbreak, and Uluwatu.  There’s lots of places I’ve surfed that I’ve just absolutely loved.  Hanalei Bay is one of my favorite waves.  There’s so many.  They’re like women – there are so many to love. (Laughter)

Do you have any advice for 20-somethings trying to find their way? 

Watch Napoleon Hill (I laugh).  I’m not joking.  Here’s a perfect example: I just had an art show for an artist, a photographer, and he got offered a really good job in LA.  And he hated it.  It was in sustainability, doing research and stuff, and he quit after one week, because he knew it wasn’t him.  And I think that’s important.  I think you just need to know when to say “no” to life choices that are wrong for you – that are super critical in your future.

In college, I left my senior year with like six units to go to start my surfboard company.  I had started my surfboard company when I was 13, but my parents really wanted me to go to college.  So I went to college for an education, not for a degree.  So I figured it was my game.  If you’re going for education – you learn what you want to learn and then you leave.  But I went to decide that I really wanted to make surfboards.  To know I wanted to continue on.  God, I already done it for 10 years before I graduated college.  So, it goes back to my grandfather.  Most people need the security and discipline of other people telling them what to do.  But with safety and security comes lack of freedom.  And that’s the bed that you lie in.  If you’re going to do that.  So my suggestion is to decide what makes you the most happy and if you do it well, people will give you money for it.

We’re gregarious by nature, human beings need everybody, and if you have something to offer somebody, as crazy as it is, people are going to buy it.  Especially now with the internet, you have a global market at your fingertips.  Take advantage of that, you know what I mean?  So if I look back at my grandfather – he was a company man.  That was where he was best and 99% of people are.  I’m not that.  I don’t like working for other people.  Maslow talks about this.  He has a pyramid and at the foundation is food and shelter.  Everybody has a right to have that.  The next tier is social acceptance.  The next is love and happiness and family.  The very top of the pyramid is becoming self-actualized.  When you actually have the whole world at your fingertips.

Interested in seeing Tim’s Warhol boards for yourself?  Visit the surf shop or call Tim to schedule an appointment:

Bessell Surfboards
515 Westbourne Street
La Jolla, California 92037

Tel: (858) 344-7080

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8 thoughts on “Happiness Interview: World-Famous Shaper, Surfer and Artist, Tim Bessell

  1. Lucky you to meet these people and get to interview them. Interesting how each one has some wisdom that I needed to read!

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