Terasu is a lifestyle brand rooted at “a cultural cornerstone for surf, bike, and snow; for creative expression, gastronomy, and well-being; for those who seek wherever it may be found.”
About Max Houtzager (right), founder and creative director of Terasu: Max has his Marin (just north of San Francisco) roots to thank for his immersion in mountain biking and photography growing up. After one too many injuries, he decided to to stray off the professional racing path and explore another passion: surfing. A snowboard trip to Niseko sparked his interest in Japanese language, culture and food, which in turn led to a stint working in Japan. Max is now combining all of his passions into Terasu.
Korduroy: Where does the name Terasu come from?
In Japanese, Terasu means to illuminate. We thought ‘to illuminate’ was fitting because of the two meanings of the verb: the literal one, to light up — and the figurative one — to reveal or to open up a new perspective, both fit well with what we were hoping Terasu would be.
I think it is important to acknowledge light’s role as our main source of energy, not only in creating food but also waves, snow, etc. I feel like life can sort of revolve around light in other ways too. You could almost say humans are ‘light centric’. In terms of reading the space around us, I think that one reason a beautiful scene with nice light can be emotionally stimulating is because we read it as a sign of the ability to prosper there. Or a signal that the seasons are changing and that we should pay attention. Between its role as an energy source but also a path for communication, especially creatively, to me light is one of the most fundamental things worth living for.
Korduory: How did Terasu start?
At first it was what seemed like a simple realization about seeking synergy between spending time in the mountains and the ocean, and focusing on the food that can from nature and the environment that sustains it all. Most outlets focus on one specific thing and sweep aside the larger connection to nature and the seasons. In the beginning it was just about getting outside and enjoying nature, living sustainable healthy lifestyles and sharing the experience with others. I felt like there weren’t really any outlets for people that communicated that potential for a lifestyle and community that thrived on and united around that synergy of multiple pursuits.
I dropped everything at the time and immediately started bouncing ideas off everyone I knew who might identify with the concept. Friends and friends of friends latched on to the idea fairly quickly and before I knew it we had a solid group of creators putting together stories and dreaming about all the potential paths that doing so could take us. That small seed of a simple idea developed into a nice little community of sorts.
Over time, it became much more about engaging with the ocean, mountains, and food not only to experience the world around us in powerful ways but also as a creative endeavor, finding the nuances that make such a lifestyle worthwhile, looking for newer deeper perspectives and communicating them with others.
Everyone we’ve gotten to collaborate with along the way so far has been a huge influence in moving us in this direction. The way we approached stories centered around people and process developed quite organically.
Korduroy: How has Japan influenced you in terms of how you approach Terasu?
There are many things, but one of the more profound influences for me has come from spending time and developing relationships with a variety of people in Japan who taught me the importance of truly understanding someone or something’s ‘vibe’ or energy.
Creatively, Japan is an amazing place to be because people are so aware of the feelings that a space, person, or object can evoke, maybe partially because the language provides so many ways to express those feelings. There is an endless amount of mimetic and onomatopoeic words, whether they’ve been in use for a long time or were recently created, that are untranslatable to English. Some examples are words like heta-uma (a relatively new word) or wabi-sabi.
In terms of people, this understanding of someone’s aura can play a huge role in how a relationship develops. Reading this energy, which starts with how you met, can often lead to a deeper understanding of and connection to one another. When you then go to collaborate, or even just share perspectives and influence each other, it can often lead to significantly more beautiful and meaningful creations and real community.
A specific composition, shade of light, one person’s style that appears similar to another but is actually completely different- these things are minutely different but have always struck me on some level that is hard to understand. Starting to read ‘vibes’ more clearly and the subtle yet potentially more profound ways people communicate, I have only recently begun to truly realize why a certain aesthetic or style, a representation of personality and perspective and therefore a kind of energy, appeals to me. Developing a more conscious understanding of what feelings or messages that a person, place, or object evokes and why is really exciting to me. With Terasu, if we are telling someone’s story or collaborating on a project, building this understanding opens up infinitely more possibilities for creating things that didn’t exist before.
Korduroy: Who are 5 of your inspirations for Terasu?
Korduroy: Tell us about building a community? How does the Terasu community stand out in your eyes?
I admire a lot of ‘authentic’ communities forming right now. There are micro-surf communities near Tokyo that revolve around a certain break and are guided by a single small shop owner that understands how to create an environment where everyone can share and thrive on their shared lifestyle and values. Then there are large brands creating community on a global scale by communicating and maintaining a consistent vision through media both online and in print, hosting events, and even selling certain products. In the end, this leads to smaller, more local communities using it all as a sort of template. The internet has its pros and cons but in terms of community it’s pretty amazing that to some extent almost anyone anywhere can look to and/or participate in the outlet and concept that they identify with most.
So far when we’ve gathered people who easily identify with our vision for long dinners outside, it has been a truly rewarding experience and the relationships between people that have formed since are indescribable. Seeing these relationships grow and affect people’s art and careers in all sorts of ways is amazing to watch.
I hope that this community that has slowly developed around our ‘work’ stands out in that it’s not about being cool or the best or even core/authentic, but rather it’s simply people identifying their common perspectives and pursuits, and why and how you can share them, collaborate around them, and be creative. We started Terasu in order to try and take a broader yet more conscious and mindful approach to a lifestyle and community centered around the mountains, oceans, and food. Being authentic is important but it doesn’t really matter if someone thinks you’re not ‘core’ because you only ride shorter boards or don’t grow all of your own food for example. It’s all relative. As long as you identify with some common values and understand why you do, that is far more important than being able to do laybacks while getting barreled on a single fin, make sourdough bread from scratch perfectly every time or wear the most en vogue vintage clothing.
Korduroy: What’s next? I’ve heard rumors that there’s a book in the works?
Social media and publishing stories digitally have their merits (ionline is a great place to start for one), but deep down we’ve been itching to move more towards focusing on tangible creations and experiences. Content on a tiny bluish LCD screen will never compare to a more tactile experience with natural light that you can share with other people in the real world.
Our events have been some of the most rewarding projects, but we are especially excited to launch a small run of books made in Japan as our first physical creation, as well as collaborate with a few of our favorite makers in the US and Japan on other projects.
Korduroy: Can you include links to your 5 favorite Terasu articles or links to original content?
There are several in our upcoming book, Early Hues, but from our site here are 5 in no particular order: