“It’s a lot more intimate working outside where people can watch,” said Mike, who makes a business out of taking old, unusable surfboards and turning them into works of art. “People are more likely to come up to you and ask about what you’re working on and why.”
While his most common workspace is on the north side, anyone cruising along La Jolla Cove will likely catch a glimpse of Mike hard at work, taking acrylic paints to board and creating scenes of sailboats in the sunset, sharks coasting near the shores and sea turtles gliding above coral reefs. Mike often takes requests on the spot from passerby-turned-customers, as well as lets his younger audiences help with painting the coral reefs.
“I’ll let the kids grab the brush and dab a little on the reefs and they get super excited,” said Mike, who was also recruited last year to paint the mural on the side of Ohana Café on Pearl Street. “My nephews and nieces have done parts of my paintings as well.”
Mike, who typically charges between $500 and $700 for his boards depending on size, has also been brought a handful of snapped boards. For one, he turned the board’s break into a massive shark bite.
“The great whites have been out here since I was a kid,” said Mike. “They’re residents. That’s why I paint them as well.”
Mike, age 59, also paints more abstract and unconventional scenes on boards, such as Eddie Van Halen with his Frankenstrat above an exploding a volcano. Mike’s artistic inspirations stem not only from growing up in Pacific Beach during the ’60s and ’70s – swimming with the bat rays in Mission Bay at Crown Point – but also derives from Mike and his wife Julie Becker living in the Hawaii countryside for 20 years, “embraced by the islands, the people and the ‘Aloha’ culture.”
“He has always looked for different things to paint on, like shells and old picture frames,” said Julie. “When Mike started doing surfboards, that’s when things went crazy. Everyone wanted one. But I can’t say I’m surprised because he’s been an amazing artist from the beginning.”
Mike, who has been “doodling in the books” since Crown Point Jr. Elementary, added, “I used to give everything I made away as gifts to people. It was Julie who inspired me to turn this into a business.”
When Mike and Julie moved back to Pacific Beach four years ago to be closer to family, Mike was quick to turn his home on Pacific Beach Drive into both an art studio and a place friends, family and perfect strangers could come to purchase painted boards, shells, motorcycle helmets, and picture frames. Mike puts his painted surfboards out on the front lawn with a window sign that reads, ‘Surf art for sale.’” Anyone is also welcome to walk through the house and into the back yard where mike sands and primes the boards before painting.
“We live right next to a stop sign and so people have to stop their cars anyway,” said Julie, an artist herself who creates leather purses made from cowboy boots and denim pockets, all hand-sewn with dental floss. “I’ve seen people just sitting in their cars looking over here. We’ve even gotten visits from park rangers who just want to watch Mike work.”
Mike added, “If I can create a little window that people can look in for a few seconds a day, if not longer, and the painting eases whoever is looking at it, then I’m doing my job. If you look at my work and it makes your heart smile, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do here.”