Lee Wilson is perhaps one of the more interesting stories in modern surfing. Born and bred in Indonesia, educated in Australia, a one of a kind accent and life to match. What makes Lee so interesting is how completely relatable his story is. Most you reading this will no doubt sympathise and relate with what you find below. Simply put he’s a human being, who’s faced some real problems and has had to make real sacrifices when it comes to ?real life? as a professional surfer. Something that we seldom hear or see in the narratives of the WSL demi gods. Following his recent hook up with Brixton we caught up with Lee to talk life, creativity and what’s next.
Who are you for those who don?t already know?
I can?t answer that question right now because I?m working on who I am.
How has the relationship with Brixton came about?
I was invited to the Rip Curl Padang Cup a few years back. They were cutting my hours at work because nobody was eating at their restaurant so I quit. The chef was a prick anyway. Long story short, I basically came home to Bali and started to surf again, preparing myself for the cup, in hopes to win 10k to get my life together (dreaming). I had a whole new perception of surfing, and although I was foreign to it, I actually started to love it in a different way. It was fresh. I approached it differently and I gained some momentum. Adam Warren (former Director of Marketing for Brixton) contacted me one day thanking me for kicking it with Oliver Kurtz (former Brixton rider), and offered me some clothes to show his appreciation. I was just stoked to surf with Oliver, plus, we were both just trying to get some footage in the bank so ‘thank you’ was more than enough. I kindly turned down the clothes because I didn?t do it for anything in return (also had some dope thrift gear that I had collected at the time that I cherished). We left it at that. A couple of months later I was blessed with another letter from Adam but this time he offered me a spot on their team. I took it. The Padang Cup was cancelled that year due to lack of size. I’ve been free surfing ever since.
You turned your back on the contest scene and even gave up surfing for a bit. What brought you back?
Honestly, I hate contests. Always have. I never gave up on surfing. I had no income at the time and needed to work, so I ran coffees, did dishes, and sold surfboards in NZ. I sold my art and t-shirts at the markets on the weekends. NZ was cold and expensive so I moved to Australia and worked in a restaurant as a Dishwasher/Waiter. I made Roti Canai and Curry and sold that at the markets on the weekends for cash jobs with this dude that had the same name as me (no tax). Waves were average in NZ and in Noosa, so when I had time to surf, I was lucky if there even was any. I never gave up, it just wasn’t my priority. I had mouths to feed. I studied art when I could and painted a lot. Sold some pieces here and there. I gained a new appreciation for life and when I got sponsored again, I was all in. For a greater good. This is what brought me back.
Your art is pretty well documented, how important is this to you and how do you think it influences your surfing?
When I had to move away from Bali and work, I had to let everything go. I had to make believe that my dream as a Pro Surfer was over, and to focus on work so I could provide for my family. I started painting a lot, it was an outlet and another source of income. I did so many paintings and sketches. I started doing portraits. Biggie, Tony Soprano, Kurt Cobain and a few private commissions. Then I painted a portrait of Frida one day, and I was so impressed by my work, I couldn’t help but feel gifted. When I say, I felt gifted, I felt that nothing was going to take my dream away from me. No matter where I was or how hard I tried to pretend, I had a dream to begin with. It was a part of me. Art was and is everything to me. Surfing, sketching, painting, cooking, all of who I am, falls under Art. Art doesn’t influence my surfing, surfing is another discipline of art. This is how I perceive surfing now. I see it as an instrument. I understand.
I always think that creativity for the most part is conditioned out of us as we go through schooling system and enter adulthood. A child will sit, make, and live in a fantasy world all day long. But in school you?re told what you?re good at, what you?re not good at etc. That natural creative growth is somewhat stunted and as we grow as adults, creative output becomes somewhat unnatural. Can you comment on that? Was it difficult to try and find your inner child again from a creative point of view?
I totally understand that question and do agree that some schooling systems stunt creativity. My year 8 art teacher called my mum in once to discuss a piece I submitted to her. Saying my art was too vulgar and that my mum should be concerned. I was lucky that happened, I realised that my school cared very little to nothing for the creative. From that day, I only listened in 3 classes. Math, Home Economics and Hospitality. I basically said, ‘fuck you’ silently in the other classes and sketched till the bell. I passed all 3 subjects. I even studied real hard one math test just to prove to everyone that I could beat the A+ student. I schooled him on that test, everybody including the teacher was tripping. My parents realised it was a waste of money having me at that private school and moved me to a public school. I surrounded myself with the things that brought me joy. Friends, food, art, surfing, and skateboarding, cooking shows, surfing, and skateboard flicks. Vandalising everything with ink and paint. I?m still the same. Weird now to think at such a young age I was able to understand and say fuck the system. Looking back, it was almost dumb. I was only 13. Maybe I was older than I thought. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
My inner child was never lost, on the contrary, it was something I was trying to forget. I only tried to forget because I thought it was a ‘responsible’ decision. I soon realised that it was never going anywhere. It’s who I am and to work with it. I am happy.
Skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing etc have always had such strong roots in art with many pros really establishing themselves in a creative practice outside of skateboarding. Gonz, Mark Oblow, Ed Tempelton etc, even John John Florence doesn?t suck with a camera?..! Why do you think this is? What individuals and or brands did you look to when you were younger for inspiration? what got you stoked on the visual element of action sports?
I think it’s because they all fall under one category, and that is Art. Growing up I liked everything. Flip’s ‘Sorry’, all of Taylor Steele’s flicks, ES’s ‘Menikmati’, all of Spike Jones? flicks, all 411VM’s just to name a few. I like big tricks done with style, shot from more than one angle, shot tight and shot pulled back edited in a unique way to a unique song. Artistically unpredictable, if that makes sense.
What projects have you got going on? What can we expect from your surfing art or otherwise?
I?m always trying to film with somebody in hopes of gathering enough material to put something cool together. I?m selfish, I spend lots of time surfing and painting. This is the only thing I am certain of. Documenting is a whole new deal. As far as projects, I am not certain of what is coming next, so I am more comfortable telling you to expect the least to nothing. Why put pressure on myself. We will just have to wait and see. Hope.
Hit up Lee on instagram for more rad surf clips and his eaqually rad art! Click Here
Words: Lewis Mclean
Images: Courtacy of Brixton
Video: Filmed & Edited by Alessio Saraifoger Original Music by Nato Bardee