Jenni Avins

Wanderlust: Alex Kopps, Foam Magazine

Alex Kopps insists he’s not a nomad, but then again, he’s also in denial about being identified as a surfer. A nomad is a person who keeps on moving, usually in the search of some seasonal supply. Whether Kopps’s path is tracing a source of waves, artistic inspiration, or both, he doesn’t seem to stay in one place long—all the while producing work that could be the fantastic result of a creative collaboration between Wes Anderson and Jeff Spicoli.

Though Kopps has a home and studio in West Oakland, he doesn’t have a phone and sends elusive emails from undisclosed locations with messages like, “i live out of a bike now… eating lavender blossoms and recycled paper.”

Depending on who you ask, Alex Kopps could be a filmmaker, a painter, a surfboard designer, a graffiti artist, a writer of fictional histories (see gothicdolphins.blogspot.com), a teacher, an animator, a researcher, and so on. And he could be creating these paintings, surfboards, stories or cartoons anywhere from Oakland to Australia. Oh, and he might be working under a pseudonym. Suffice to say, he’s a tough person to pin on a map, figuratively and physically.

I first encountered Alex Kopps via vacadelmar.com, another surfing mammal who posted a link to the trailer for Kopps’ film, Displacement. The trailer is a mesmerizing vignette that brings portholes and Polaroids to mind, like a symphony shot through a salty lens.

The title refers to the film’s subject: a special breed of surfboards born in the 1960s when kneeboarder George Greenough combined qualities of long and shortboards to create a round-bottomed surfboard to sit lower in a wave instead on top of it. Displacement boards have a discerning design element and sub-cultural stigma that makes them perfect subject matter for a talented visual artist and self-described “closeted” surfer like Kopps. The film has taken him and partner Steve Krajewski to remote locations in Australia and secret spots in mainland Mexico.

Kopps roams creative mediums the way he roves the globe, taking the best of each mode or place to compliment the next. To raise funds for Displacement he auctioned his paintings, compositions of elements that are at once organic and precise, such as spirograph-like shapes that look like they could appear under a microscope. Friends like artist Barry McGee and mad surf scientist George Greenough himself also contributed pieces, motivating Kopps to focus on finishing the film for “everyone who was in the auction and the people who ride the boards.”

Today, Alex cites his Bay Area base as evidence he’s made surfing secondary to other pursuits. As he says, “nobody moves to San Francisco to be a surfer.” Mind you, this was over a phone call made from a store in Ventura, as he watched waves through a window.

It seems that what Kopps strives to separate himself from is a dated stereotype of surf culture, of what he calls the “endless sunsets and slow motion” of retro movies and monotonous “campfire vibe” that comes from too much time staring at the horizon. But if Alex Kopps has anything to say about it, this generation of modern medium-hopping continent-crossing surf culture will be nothing to be ashamed of.