Words by Jake Smith
Photographed and Filmed by Ethan Jolly
IN CONVERSATION WITH ASHTON (A&H VESSELS)
Words by Jake Smith
Ashton is a San Clemente based shaper who is always on the move. Seeking out new people, places and waves, while testing how far one can push two fins. He got hooked on building boards in his parents garage and gave up a career in physical therapy to chase his passion. Ashton’s interests and curiosities drive his approach to shaping and life, rather than worrying about trends or the “proven” way to approach things.
We’re excited to introduce Ashton as part of the Rhythm team, and recently caught up for a quick chat. Meet Ashton below, and stay tuned for some exciting projects in the works.
Hey Ashton, how’s it going? Back in Hawaii for now?
Good man, yeah back here after a few weeks in San Clemente. Got a bunch of shaping and work done there so it’s nice to be in Hawaii for a little downtime with the family. Then back to California before too long for more projects.
Sounds nice, what’s a typical day look like for you over there?
My family travels together a fair bit so hanging with them is a priority no matter where we are. My 5 year old son has gotten into sponging so I’ve been grabbing fins and doing that with him. My younger girls love the water as well, especially taking a shorebreak on the head and popping up with a smile over and over again. My wife is a champ corralling the three of them all day. Yeah that’s pretty typical for us…
Haha so good, so you grew up in Florida right, then moved to San Clemente?
Yeah so I actually was born in Florida, in Sarasota over on the Gulf Coast, and then moved over to San Clemente when I was 6, then back to Florida when I was 10. I was there till I went to school at Point Loma, University in San Diego and that’s when my parents moved back out to San Clemente as well.
So where’d you start surfing in that mix?
When I was around 8 in San Clemente I would have caught my first wave but I only went a few times. I was mostly skating growing up, especially when I moved back to Florida and was an hour inland. I’d surf when I could get to the beach and lived on a lake so I surfed behind the boat too. I’d say I wasn’t fully into surfing until I was 19 and went to school at Point Loma.
Where were you surfing when got back out to California?
A few beach breaks in San Clemente at first but started to surf lowers a ton. Lowers, uppers, church, trestles mostly. Yeah it was pretty crazy, Florida you’re doing one maybe two turns on a wave and then when you get to California with some longer waves its so much easier and better for your surfing.
Yeah it’s nice and you can just get in the water way more consistently, and then when did shaping come along?
Let’s see, me and my buddy we both wanted try shaping a board, so I made this shaping bay in my parents garage out of all these old tarps. Then I watched this John Carper DVD that I took from somebody in Florida. It was “John Carper Shaping 101”, some 90’s video and I just watched that for hours and hours. Shaping that first board probably took me 12 hours.
That was right before I got married and I was planning on going to physical therapy school and finishing my business degree. It was pretty funny, Mike Andrews who worked at CI and was going to help get the board glassed, he was like “oh don’t tell your parents, your going to turn into a shaper now.” I kept saying “no way that’ll never happen” and yeah turns out he was right haha.
That’s great did he help you with some of those initial shapes or just the trusty DVD?
Not the actual shaping but I had no idea where to even start, so he helped a ton with all that. He worked in the industry and was cool about helping me get started. But yeah mainly just John Carper helping me through the TV.
Now your boards all seem to be asyms, channel bottoms, twin fins, or some combination of the three. Has it always been that way?
My first board was a 5’0 stub nose quad. At first I was trying to make shortboards and thrusters, boards that worked at my local beach break. I hadn’t really been introduced to twin fins or asymmetry yet, but also just wanted to make symmetrical boards at first so I had that solid base before going off and trying to put all those other pieces together. It was always my goal to be proficient and a good craftsman, build everything properly rather than getting too far ahead of myself.
Were there any shapers you looked to for inspiration?
For sure, my buddies shaper was Rick Hamon who was a San Diego guy and would come up with cool twin fins and fish shapes and that’s how I got exposed to twin fins. I’d draw a bunch of inspiration from that San Diego fish feeling. Later I met Donald Brink and got my first custom from him. And he’s just super creative, really talented and makes asymmetrical boards, and I got to watch him build a few boards and got more customs from him. I had a ton of fun on those and have just kept in contact with him through the years. He sticks to his own ideas and interest rather than looking at trends and I’ve tried to take that into my own shaping and focus on what I’m most interested in.
Yeah that must have been nice having a mentor like that around.
Yeah and we’ve gotten to work on a bunch of projects together since then, so he’s definitely been the most prominent one. Rick Hamon has helped a bunch and I get psyched on all the South San Diego guys. I like anyone who is kind of finding their own path and sticking to it rather than jumping all around.
How about the overall aesthetic for your brand and boards. Do you have any background in art or design or where does that come from?
I don’t know exactly, when I started AH vessels my cousin who does film making and photography really helped start it with me, especially the vision for everything, and I’ve kept that going. I’ve always been psyched on surf films, like all the Chris Malloy and Thomas Campbell films, I think from watching those and seeing surfing in that 90’s / early 2000’s lens has inspired a lot of the content I put out.
That’s a good segway into your new video series and upcoming travel. What’s in the works?
Our first one was based on Oahu, then we’ll have California, New Zealand + Australia, probably Senegal in West Africa, but yeah I think the plan for these has always been to keep them light and fun but also put a lot of thought and direction into them. I think it’s cool seeing the surf films that have probably lost money for whoever is making them, but have stood the test of time. Nowadays it’s really hard to do that with everything moving toward short form reel type stuff. So yeah along the same lines as the boards I want to do stuff that intrigues me or interests me rather than worrying about where trends are going or the “proven” ways to approach things.
Would you say there’s a general theme behind all of these upcoming films?
I think stories are really important so just telling multiple layers of stories behind a board or a trip or a person. It’s easy to see the surfing but hard to see the story behind the boards and the interactions that go into making the boards. Showing how much really goes into a surfboard, and how much history there is behind some boards, telling those stories verse just the general surf porn type videos.
I’m excited for the Hawaii video, how is it seeing guys surfing your boards at spots like Waimea and at such high levels?
Yeah its so rewarding, ahh it’s scary at first because if something goes wrong they are putting their life in your hands, so you put so much effort into each board thinking about every possible detail, but when it’s all said and done it feels pretty good. I don’t think there’s any better feeling than watching someone like Jimmy ride a 25 foot wave on a 9’6 twin fin that started as an experiment, that’s pretty cool.
It seems like you’re pushing where twin fins can go, has that happened naturally or always been a goal?
Yeah I guess that’s always been a goal, I’ve always thought twin fins are really cool but only experienced twin fins that didn’t work as good backhand or in critical waves, so after meeting guys who wanted to surf them in big waves and push their limits it naturally took that on. It’s hard to find someone who wants to travel a bunch and surf Waimea Bay or Mavericks but also wants to experiment and be a part of the whole process. It takes a lot of time, patience and trust, so that’s been key finding the right guys.
And the clip above is some outtakes from the Hawaii video?
Yeah mostly footage of me shaping on Oahu and surfing around there. It was really late season but still so fun. It’s always cool being over there, so much of the industry is there for the winter. And then a little bit of a recent Costa Rica trip mixed in as well.
Well I think we’ve got plenty to work with, this is going to be a lot to go through…but I think we’ve got it, thanks Ashton.
Haha yeah way too much, I didn’t make it easy on you either. Probably harder than just writing it huh…
Explore Ashton’s boards, blog and future plans at https://www.ahvessels.com/.
Follow Ashton on Instagram: @ah.vessels