Surfer, artist, tradesman, family man, and the newest RAEN ambassador, JJ Wessels, is a man who knows full well the balance of keeping things simple while bringing variation and nuance into everything he does.

We sat down with JJ to talk about how his career came to be, the importance of craftsmanship, inspiration and impact, an ideal day through his eyes, and what the essence of California is all about.

Photography by Jack Antal.

What inspired such a unique career path for you?
Well I've always been passionate about my time in and around the beach and from an early age started to really become passionate about surfing. In high school, I stepped into more of the art side of it. I tried out for the surf team one year and didn't make the cut. So, I took an art class instead. Come senior year, I was super passionate about art and didn't even try out for the surf team. I was kind of over it.

Not having that kind of approval from my peers at the time had a really positive effect on me. It helped me learn something that I could share with others and express myself with in ways that actually showed people more of who I am...outside of any competitive environment.
Living in the San Clemente area and being around a really core surf community always lent to either surfing or shooting video or things of that nature. So, I started to consistently find myself either in front of or behind the camera.

Around 2002, my friend Thomas Campbell made a film called The Seedling and that really inspired me; the guys in it, the surfing, and the overall the direction that was behind it really inspired me to treat my surfing as an artistic medium, which in turn inspired me as an artist too.

I think I'm just a product of my environment and that has led to me being around a lot of like-minded people who I have been able to partner with while doing the surfing and creative work that I love.

“... it really inspired me to treat my surfing as an artistic medium, which in turn inspired me as an artist too.”
What do you hope people take away from your surfing and your art?
Well, life's just so heavy and you go through so much. I want people to not take things too seriously all the time. I want to keep creating and I want to motivate people to do the same; to simply do the things they really enjoy doing.

For me, surfing has been an incredible gift, and so that’s what a lot of my art is. I just want to bring some of that into someone else’s path and encourage them to live life, be free, and really enjoy what we’ve been given.
What does the term ‘handcrafted’ mean to you?
I think handcrafted to me is something that's imperfect, something that you really put a lot of effort into. And your original vision isn't always exactly the way it turns out, but sometimes that's better.
“...and your original vision isn't always exactly the way it turns out, but sometimes that's better.”
What’s the ideal day through the eyes of JJ Wessels?
I love starting off the day with my wife and my son and taking that wherever the day leads us. Being with them is something that I really treasure, regardless of the circumstances like weather, waves, or anything like that.

I’ve really enjoyed the time I've had with my son; being able to bring him to the beach to be around some of the things I'm doing is rad and it’s exciting to already see him starting to pick up on some of that.

It’s also important to me to just be outside, either creating, hiking, or going places I've never been. But either way, spending my time with my family is my dream situation.

What does California mean to you and why have you chosen California as home base?
California has a bit of everything from snow, desert, beach, agriculture... we’ve got so much variety in the land and especially in the people. I mean, it’s a total melting pot. In California, you can put 10 people in a room and you'd have a very contrasting perspective of what people's values are, where they want to be, and who they want to be... but I think the commonality in it all is the adoration for what a great place we all live in.

California has really given me a place to thrive, to plant seeds, to grow, and to have a foundation to branch out into other parts of the world, always coming back with a greater perspective of where I live.
This state just has so much to offer. Growing up we spent a lot of time in the desert. My dad was into dirt bikes as much as he was into the beach. So we went to the desert a lot to camp and to just get away from people—that was my dad's thing. He loved taking a weekend and going out to find space where there's just no one around that we could have fun at.

Now, I really love to go to places like San-O where you can spend a full day surfing, being in and out of the water, watching my wife surf while I hang with my son on the beach, taking some photos, barbecuing... and there’s a great community of people there to do it all with.

Then there’s the NorCal area where you can experience the woods but be on the coast. That's always been my favorite kind of outdoor experience where you still have surfing in the background, but it’s more about the environment. The best trips are where you go camp in the forest and you come out and you find a good wave. And you're like, wow, that was killer.

California is a kind of DNA, I guess you could say. California’s foundation is all about entrepreneurship and people willing to go out and take the risk to start something. Every generation here has an opportunity to be a part of the foundation of what influences a lot of other cultures and I think that’s really special.
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