Interview: Curious About Gabe…

Gabe Sullivan’s two-tone green VW Bus with a blue racing stripe first burst onto the scene in the pages of Surfer Magazine in 1997. Gabe continues to drive his trusty Bus on assignments for Surfer and the numerous additional print and digital media projects, both within the mainstream and outer fringes of culture, in which he is perpetually involved.

Photo: Scott Soens

How did you get started with your monthly column Curious Gabe in Surfer Magazine?

Prior to starting the column, I’d been working with Surfer for about three years, first as an intern and then as a contributing editor/photographer. Surfer was doing a theme issue where essentially the entire magazine addressed the question of; is now the best time to be a surfer? So I called then editor Steve Hawk and pitched the idea of going down to the beach and interviewing surfers on the topic, and presto, that was the first Curious Gabe column.

What determines your question of the month and where are your favorite places to ask them?

I like to correspond the topic with a theme or interesting story scheduled to appear in another section of the magazine that month. Other times the questions are determined by whatever is catching my interest at the moment. I also get great question ideas from friends, family and colleagues. Favorite places I’ve asked questions include Israel, Bali and New Zealand. But no matter where I am, I try to always stay on the lookout for intriguing people to interview and good light for shooting.

Photo: Demea Dorsey

What have you learned about people over the years through this process?

I’ve learned not to judge people on appearances. Sometimes the most low-key person will come up with the most brilliant response

Any outrageous stories from your interviews over the years?

I ended up marrying one of my interviewees, so I guess that’s a pretty outrageous story, right? It was on the North Shore during the Pipe Masters when I asked my then future wife Sierra, if she could remember her first wave. She said something about learning to surf at her uncle’s surf school in Western Australia and getting tangled up in a patch of seaweed on her first wave. I was quite smitten, but sadly, I wrote her email address down wrong and had no way of contacting her. But the hand of God intervened and I happened to meet her again five months later at a mutual friend’s house in Venice Beach, California. But it wasn’t until I saw her yet another five months later on the sidewalk in Santa Monica that we went out on our first date the next evening.

Photo: Nick Clements

Do you have a favorite question and answer?

My favorite question was suggested by former Surfer art director, Tim McCaig: ‘Would you rather surf every wave perfectly, or surf perfect waves forever?’

Favorite answer is from Gary Busey, mainly because at the end of the interview, he seemed to slip into character as The Masochist from the film Big Wednesday. The question was: ‘What’s your all-time favorite photo from Surfer Magazine? His response: “Out of all the pictures you’ll find in Surfer Magazine, there are no pictures as strong as the picture you have in your mind and you feel in your heart that comes from actually riding a wave, seeing a double rainbow or the little raindrops on your surfboard. All that comes into you like a piece of heaven. Surfing is a personal issue about being alone to find your self. And it’s not a sport for sissy boys.”

Has anyone asked you any interesting questions in return?

Yes, it’s always fun when interviews turn into interesting conversations.

When and where did you get your infamous VW Bus and how is that bad boy running?

I bought it from a guy my Dad knew during my sophomore year of High School near San Francisco. Four re-built engines and countless trips to Baja later, and the old Bus still runs pretty good on most days.

Photo: Brett Hillyard

You’re also handy with the camera. How’d you get into film?

I got into film via photography. I was a photojournalism student in college and I’ve been a fan of cinema ever since seeing Stars Wars for the first time in 1977.

For those who don’t know Gabe Sullivan outside of Surfer Magazine, what other endeavors are you involved in?

I run a small production company and direct motion picture content for brands on the web. Simple Shoes recently commissioned me to make a short where I interview people about what it means to live a simple life. I also do a bit of modeling and TV commercial work to help pay the bills. Last year I started shooting and writing for Men’s File, a vintage-style enthusiast magazine from the UK. Lately I’ve been looking to Leroy Grannis and Ron Stoner for inspiration for my photography and reenacting surfscapes reminiscent of the late ‘50’s/ early ‘60’s. I’m fascinated by that time period because everything from the clothing to surfboards to cars seems to have been built to last a lifetime and designed with the perfect combination of functionality and elegant minimalism.

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