SOLANA BEACH — For Wade Koniakowsky, surfing is both sport and art. Surfboards are also his canvas.
Koniakowsky was a successful commercial artist back in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, until 1978 when he chased his dream of living, working and surfing on the north coast of San Diego. He started an ad agency, assuming the role of art director on campaigns for Fortune 500 brands and garnering more than 300 awards. After the “dotcom bust” in 2000, Koniakowsky began to paint in his off time, he says, “to get back to something pure, creative, organic.” By 2004 he sold his interest in the agency and went out on his own as a fine artist.
“I started painting images of surfing but once I began to market them I wanted to expand to art that was inspired by the ocean,” he remembers. “People approached me about painting surfboards. I was not interested. I didn’t think it was real art. Then I began to toy around.”
Koniakowsky said it wasn’t long before he came across an artistic look influenced by Hawaiian and Polynesian culture that was interesting to him.
“I began to do images of Polynesian collage that was inspired by people and the tropics,” he said. “That is what I was known for and still am.”
Due to demand, Koniakowsky adapted his art to California. Eventually he was commissioned to create surfboard art for clients on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
“I was approached by the Tahiti Tourism Board for a surfboard for their L.A. office,” he said. “It was a depiction of Tahitian culture in a collage style.”
Today, Koniakowsky’s surfboards are exhibited in more than a dozen high-end galleries throughout Hawaii and the mainland. He’s also contributed surfboards for display and auction at the California Surf Museum, the Surfing Heritage Foundation, the International Surfing Museum and the Texas Surf Museum.
Koniakowsky has collaborated on boards with Dick Brewer, who is considered one of the most influential shapers of big wave surfboards in history. Brewer also has several of Koniakowsky’s boards in his personal collection.
Fernando Aguerre, founder of Reef Footwear, and artist and photographer Aaron Chang also own surfboard art created by Koniakowsky.
“Wade has a very unique and beautiful vision for turning surfboards from wave riding vehicles into works of art,” Chang said. “I love his aesthetic and get happy when I’m in their presence.”
Koniakowsky admits that one of his biggest thrills is to have more than 25 pieces of his art in the private collection of Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Troy bought three of my surfboards,” Koniakowsky said. “He lives in La Jolla in the off-season and likes to look up on his wall and say, ‘Yeah, those are my roots . . . Polynesia.’”
Several of Koniakowsky’s boards are incorporated into the décor of Billabong retail stores. Later this year he will be designing a board to celebrate Hansen’s Surfboard and Surf Shop’s 50th anniversary.
Although his surfboards can be used to ride waves, he doesn’t recommend it.
“The board is designed so you could ride it if you wanted to, but it’s really meant to be a piece of fine art,” he said. “The main thing, and it’s very hard to do, is that all my boards are finished with a high-gloss automotive finish. I go to the extent of using two coats of finishing resin, then sanding and buffing it. It’s all done by hand.”
Each board incorporates mixed media of gold leaf, block print and figurative, scenic and abstract painting. Prices run between $3,000 and $8,000.
Koniakowsky’s art can be viewed at the Aaron Chang Ocean Art Gallery, a collaboration between Koniakowsky and Aaron Chang. The address is 415 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach. The hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (858) 345-1880.
On Sundays from 12:30 to 5 p.m., Koniakowsky presents an oil painting demonstration of figurative, landscape and Polynesian styles of art. For more information, visit www.koniakowsky.com and www.aaronchangoceanart.com.