Surf Art

Mayumi painting in Pipeline, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaï. 2004, © Maurice Rebeix.

The amazing story of Mayumi Tsubokura, japanese painter of waves & surfing.

Mayumi and his mother.

From Tokyo to the first waves in the Pacific Ocean

Mayumi was born in Tokyo in 1952.

Early in his childhood, Mayumi was trained in the way of the Samurai: the Bushido. At the age of 6, he started to study various Japanese martial arts, Kendo, Judo, Iaido, and Karate. He was introduced to painting and Japanese literature in the same time.
 
This traditional and controlled upbringing was led by his father Genzo Murakami, a writer, novelist and classical kabuki theatre director. Murakami, famous for his historical novels, admired by Yukio Mishima, was a figure of the Japanese post-war literary world.

Genzo Murakami, circa 1955

In his teenage, Mayumi passed his black belt in judo and karate, his 1st dan of kendo, but it was karate that better suited the intrepid nature of Mayumi. 
He was accepted as a student and competitor in Masutatsu Oyama’s dojo. Founder of the Kyokushinkai karate, Oyama was at the time Japan’s most notorious martial artist, and his establishment was the most prestigious in the world.

During these years, Western culture conquered Japan, broadening his horizons in life. Mayumi lived in the entertainment district of Roppongi-Akasaka, in the heart of the hanamachi. His high school days took place in a psychedelic fueled, mutating Tokyo, around bars, night-clubs and ochayas. Working in a famous music hall of Tokyo, he was introduced to Frank Sinatra, James Brown, and Tina Turner. 
His desire to leave Japan grew fast during these years.

Shimoda, Japan © Tsunefumi Satoh

However, what really changed Mayumi’s destiny was to be found outside Tokyo, on the South-Eastern coast of the Tokyo Bay. At 17, on the beautiful beaches of Shimoda, he discovered surfing, borrowing the surfboard of the son of a local fisherman. 
Two years later, hooked on the sport, he traveled to Hawaii to face the world’s most renowned waves.

Experiencing Hawaiian waves

Despite his intense physical training in martial arts, and his previous surfing experiences, he almost died in the enormous Hawaiian waves. Surfing, he discovered, is the perfect antithesis of karate, and this realization changed his life completely.
He became friend with Rabbit Kekai, Eddie Aikau, Gerry Lopez, Darrick Doerner and other hawaiian surfers, later recognized as legendary “big wave riders”. A lifelong relationship with them began.

He left the islands renewed by this oceanic energy. Humbled and looking for a peaceful life outside the Tokyo frenzy, he left Hawaii a changed man, an almost complete turnaround from his fearless karate mindset.

Wedding picture. Tokyo, 1972

A Surf Art pioneer

Study of horse, 1973

Back in Japan, he chose to pursue studies in arts, and entered in a Tokyo art school.
At the age of 21 he permanently left Japan, and moved to Paris, where he studied in France’s national art school École des beaux-arts
He later became a jewellery designer for a famous brand located place Vendôme, in the heart of the Parisian luxury business district. He was quickly adopted by the french people, and met a wide range of celebrities.
He discovered Europe on business and informal trips, and became a father.
 
In the early 80’s, he visited Tahiti. 
Having traveled to Hawaii earlier in his life, he was asked a lot about his surfing experiences.

To show the local surfers — future champions Arsène Harehoe and the young Vetea David — what were the differences between Hawaiian and Tahitian waves, he started to paint them. 
 
He realized immediately that this was a turning point in his artistic path, and continued painting waves when he came back to Paris. He never stopped since.

Mayumi was painting since his childhood, but surfing gave to his works a new dimension. Not only he went back to his roots and his early japanese inspirations — his father was a collector of etchings of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Okyo — he started to explore a new artistic universe, based on his special relation with surfing.

Using the European painting techniques learned in Beaux-arts, he freely expressed all his love for his surfing passion. He started to convey on canvas what the Ocean, and the Polynesian lifestyle had given to him. He translated his profound respect for the natural elements, and for the people living in these wonderful islands.

Mayumi, friend of the surfers

In the 1990’s professional surfers admired the paintings that he showed during nearly every events of the professional WCT surfing competitions in Hossegor and Biarritz.

His kind hearted personality, his reputation of a hospitable friend, fine cook and gourmet made him really famous in the community of pro surfers. He organized memorable parties where sushis and sashimis brought together pro surfers and various personalities in the South West of France.

Rochelle Ballard, Layne Beachley, and Mayumi, Anglet, 2000

And Mayumi’s connection to the surfers was even more interesting. Using a technique he learned from the Japanese martial arts, he practiced shiatsu, and massage techniques to help professional surfers during their competitions. He learned those skills during his karate student years, using emergency relief during brutal trainings or combats. This martial artist knowledge, his deep understanding of their sportspeople regime was very appreciated by the surfers as a relief for both pain and fatigue.

Kelly Slater and Mayumi, Biarritz, 1994

During the French summers, and the Hawaiian winters, from Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton to Miki Dora, from Layne Beachley to Rell Sunn, the biggest names in the game were at some point helped by Mayumi, he was a confidant, a father figure for some of them. 
 Soon after, those very close friendships, this mutual respect, these intimate ties with the world’s surfing elite enabled him to be the instigator of a very special movie project.

With Laird Hamilton, in the Parisian surburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 1995

Mayumi and “Riding Giants”

Being so close to the surfers, in France, Tahiti, or Hawaii grew even bigger the respect he already had for the surfing community. 
 
Also, the death of his friends Eddie Aikau, and later Mark Foo deeply unsettled him. 
 Big wave riding: this form of ultimate engagement, both mental and physical impressed the former karate fighter since many years. 
 
Professional surfing development, competitions, television shows like Baywatch weren’t exactly honest to how the best surfers were truly living. 
In the early 90’s, their image seen through the media was seen as flashy, futile, or even worse.
Mayumi was very concerned about this distortion, and wanted to show the world how surfing was much more than what people thought.

Aloha Mayumi. Thanks for your healing hands & your teaching. 1995. Peahi. Laird Hamilton.

He felt that there was a need to explain why surfers were risking their lives, what was surfing in a really passionate and articulate way.

Mayumi’s relationship with these surfing personalities intrigued one of his Parisian friends, Franck Marty, an entertainment producer. In 2000, he came up to Mayumi with the idea of making a movie about the story of big wave surfing.

Darrick Doerner, Mayumi and Gerry Lopez, Anglet, 1994

Mayumi picked up his phone and called his friends Darrick Doerner and Gerry Lopez to instigate an ambitious documentary about big wave surfing. The goal was to make a movie that would leave its mark in modern surfing history. Making interviews with the true legends of the sport, for the first time, and showing the world what was big wave riding.

After more than 4 years of genesis, Riding Giants, backed by the French major television network Canal+ and distributed by Sony Pictures opened the Sundance film festival in 2004, and hit the movie theaters. Critics and spectators were unanimously positive.

Roger Ebert wrote:

“Before seeing “Riding Giants”, my ideas about surfing were formed by the Gidget movies, “The Endless Summer”, the Beach Boys, Elvis and lots of TV commercials. “Riding Giants” is about altogether another reality.
The overarching fact about these surfers is the degree of their obsession. They live to ride, and grow depressed when there are no waves. They seek the rush of those moments when they balance on top of a wave’s fury and feel themselves in precarious harmony with the ungovernable force of the ocean.”

The movie developed a cult following since, and is widely seen as a defining work about surfing. Mayumi is cited first in the special thanks closing credits.

Today

Mayumi is known as a “surf artist” for more than 30 years, grateful to share with the world this extraordinary communion between mankind and nature that is surfing.
 
He keeps painting, paying homage to the ocean, to the majesty of the reef wave, to the pacific lagoon, to the island lights. An inexhaustible inspiration, enriched by travels, new encounters, and new generations, but also by his Parisian life — he painted some of his most beautiful Polynesian inspirations during cold winters in Paris! 
 
Involved in various events with Surfrider Foundation since the early 90’s, he is engaged in raising the awareness of environmental issues.

Among his admirers, friends, and artwork collectors, the hawaiian surfers Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, Rabbit Kekai, Darrick Doerner, the professional surfers Kelly Slater, Gary Elkerton, Mark Occhilupo, Sunny Garcia, Cory and Shea Lopez, Rob Machado, Rochelle Ballard, Jamie O’Brien, Jérémy Florès… But also art collectors and celebrities, Francis Ford Coppola, Carla Bruni, Bruce Willis, Sylvie Vartan, the late Mstislav Rostropovitch…

His Art

Surfing, where the purest ecstasy rub shoulders with extreme danger, and sometimes death, pushed his artistic skills and mentality on a new level. In a way this approach can be described as a contemporary form of romanticism, a genuine form of “surf art”.

In his wave representations, he conveys a great feeling of humility towards the elements, and the fascination that these beautiful but formidable air and water masses exert on him. 
Waves to him, are much more than salt water, they are at the origin of life on earth, and are a symbol of our fragile planet. Ephemeral, they sometimes last forever in the surfer’s mind. The power, the light, the darkness, the speed, the cold, the hot, the wind: every wave is an encounter.

Unique, but recognizable, the shape of the waves in certain spots are for surfers as familiar as human faces. With his surfer eyes, Mayumi tries to paint genuine wave “portraits”. Whether it is for a tropical and crystalline reef wave, a sandy beach break, or a monster of the Atlantic Ocean, swept across by the wind, Mayumi paints from his memories, from his dreams, from surfer’s stories and legends. His quest for the ideal wave, but also the ideal beach and lagoon, is inseparable from surfing and from the surfers. He may not paint them directly one the canvas, but he tries to “paint their dreams”.

Surfing recalls the essence of life, is one of the most energetic pastime, and maybe the healthiest and most enjoyable activity known to mankind. It is a spiritual and life changing experience, and Mayumi wants to be its artistic ambassador.
More than dreamy clichés, his representations shows the world what the surfing way of life truly is: a complete connection with nature.

Exhibitions and projects :

1986–1991 : Involved in the production of Uhaïna’s Nuits de la Glisse : Tahitian Dream 1 & 2, Maui Local, La Vie en Rose, Surfing France, Hawaiian Juice

1994–2004 : Various exhibitions on the French South-west shore, alongside the ASP Championships, in the Biarritz Surf Festival…

Mayumi and Rob Machado

1999 : Exhibition, Musée de la Mer de Biarritz.

With Derek Ho

2001 : Exhibition, Assembly of French Polynesia, Papeete, Tahiti.

With Andy Irons

1999–2004 : Launched the Riding Giants movie project with Franck Marty, Darrick Doerner and Laird Hamilton

2010 : Exhibition, la Géode, for the preview of the OMNIMAX 3D movie — Kelly Slater Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Paris

With Lisa Andersen, 2015

2005–present : Exhibitions in the official Polynesian delegation office in Paris, and with Surfrider Foundation in Biarritz.

More about Mayumi:

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Original art: Saatchionline

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Tom Carroll, Mayumi, Kelly Slater, 2009