“You want a board graphic that you can connect with, and be proud to ride” Mike Ennen
Professional wakeboarder and graphic artist MIKE ENNEN holds a unique insight into the world of both art and wakeboarding. He’s worked with Slingshot and Liquid Force and CTRL. Good chance, you’ve ridden his work without even knowing it.
Do you think that it is better or worse–in relation to board graphics–for an artist to be as connected with the sport and the industry as you are? I believe it’s better; I have been wakeboarding since the sport was invented. My first board was the Skurfer Launch and I progressed as the sport progressed. What I’m saying is I got to watch all of the good and the bad graphics come and go from the sport and I took note of all those graphics. Having an interest in action sports and art I followed the sport on two different levels. It pissed me off at an early age that my skateboard and snowboard graphics were way cooler than the wakeboard graphics. So I started following artist-riders like Jamie Lynn (snowboarder) who impacted the sport on a riding level but also gave the sport so much more: an image, a visual sport identity.
As a rider do you think it is important to ride a graphic you are proud of? 100 per cent! It may sound cheesy but your board is an extension of yourself. Do you want to ride in a speedo, and a lifejacket that looks like a tube-top? F**k no! You want to look cool and comfortable; you want to portray your own style. You want a board graphic that you can connect with, and be proud to ride. Wakeboarding is all about confidence, and if you are feeling good and unbeatable you are going to ride better.
How do you see the relationship between a rider’s creativity and that of an artist’s creativity? It all comes from the same place: the ‘right brain’, the creative side. It’s just finding something that you care about and are willing to put your energy into; developing something that you’re proud of. Creativity is perseverance and daring to try something new. Wakeboarding and art are very similar in this aspect; it’s all about progressing yourself.
Your artwork has appeared on a lot of boards over the years, be it Liquid Force, Slingshot or CTRL. Yes my art has made it onto the top of a lot of boards, starting with Liquid Force then on to Slingshot. Slingshot allowed me to make whatever art I wanted to and that was good. I got to really push my art and grow as an artist.
What is the all-time favourite board that you have designed? There are two boards that I’m most proud of. The first is truly the first: Liquid Force Press, with the clouds, mountains, rivers and waves; and it’s one of my two favourites because of the sentimental value. It was at the peak of my riding career with Liquid Force; at Lake Powell, for our fourth team shoot there, we always got together on one house boat for Jimmy Redmond and Tony Finn to present all the new boards. It came as some surprise to be handed my first pro model with LF, with my first graphics on a wakeboard. So much time and dedication accumulated at that moment, with all my friends and peers to witness. The second favourite would have to be the ravens on the Slingshot Kine; it’s just one of the favourite art pieces I have created.
How important would you say board graphics are to the overall impression and promotion of the sport? Very important! If you took a piece of shit OEM manufactured wakeboard and showed it to a room of the top skateboarders and snowboarders they would look at it and think of it the same way they look at a razor scooter. But if you handed them a well-manufactured piece of art they might just want to jump on it and see what they can do.
What is your process to creating a production board graphic?
Oh f**k… very long and well thought out! It’s a never-ending process. I’m always thinking of new imagery and trying to absorb my surroundings. But the actual process of making the art is about 5 hours of sketching, 30+ hours of carving, and 10 hours of printing the linocut on to paper with my 150-year-old cast iron letter block press.
Is this a similar process to creating any other work of art, is it hard to reconcile between an artist’s soul and a ‘bottom line?’ I try to keep my commercial art on the same line with my personal art, but where my personal art can get a little weird I try to keep my graphics to the point. So yes, and no. Ha. I want any art that I put out there to be ‘my’ art though.
What about art outside of the sport, what do you do with art in your general life? I do quite a bit of art shows in the off-season. A couple of years ago I did an art tour around the US with Scion cars which was fun and got my art out there. I work with a surfboard shaper, Kelly Foote; and I also work with Jeremy Jones, the snowboarder, on his snowboards and his outerwear with O’Neill. Last year I did the poster for the Legendary Banked Slalom, the oldest and most prestigious snowboard event ever. I work with Mt. Baker to do their clothing line ‘sold on hill.’ I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of stuff but it keeps me busy and I really enjoy it.
Where do you get inspiration from, and who–or what–has been your biggest inspiration? I’m inspired by everything that’s around me. I spend most of my time in the mountains, lakes, and islands that surround where I live. I also find influence from other artists and their techniques, I’m always trying to progress and push myself.
Who are your favourite artists going around at the moment? All-time favourite: Jamie Lynn; new favourite: Mike Parillo; ongoing favourites: Banksy and Shepard Fairey; old favourite: Monet.