When it comes to veteran punk rockers with non-musical gigs they’re passionate about, Erik “Smelly” Sandin has a resume longer than most.
From motocross to boxing, the NOFX drummer has often found secondary careers to keep him busy when he isn’t on tour. But when COVID-19 forced the band into a lengthy break for the first time in nearly 40 years, Sandin turned another one of his hobbies into another new business.
Sandin had been shaping surfboards out of his Long Beach, California garage for family and friends for years, but he decided to make it into a full-time job (when not touring) during the pandemic. Appropriately named Pickle Stix, Sandin’s custom-shaped surfboards are made to order and designed for each individual customer.
SPIN spoke with the NOFX drummer and entrepreneur about his passion-turned-business and why shaping surfboards is more of an art form than it is a job for him.
SPIN: What inspired you to begin shaping surfboards?
Erik Sandin: Well, I’ve been surfing for a good part of my life, and there’s an artistry behind the boards. Surfboards are pretty much handmade. They’re made for the person there. It’s a very personal thing. It’s kind of like how I view music. I will listen to music, but what moves me is the art behind it and the writing of it. I would deconstruct how the music was written in my head. So then when it came to surfing, I saw people shaping boards and I was like “Oh shit…” I just wanted to get my hands on it and create an art that was actually applicable physically to the lifestyle and sport that I really love. Every board has personality. Every wave has a personality. To actually make something with your hands is a really fucking cool feeling.
For those who aren’t familiar with the process, what goes into shaping a surfboard?
To watch a rough piece of foam with hard edges transform into something soft and smooth that flows, it’s kind of magical. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fucked up many fucking boards — and that cool feeling is not there. It’s an angry feeling. But just watching something very rough turn into something very smooth and very sleek and sexy, it really satisfies something inside of me that I didn’t even know was in there. I just shut the world out, put on some music that gets me lost — I don’t listen to punk rock or anything, but like Thievery Corporation or something that just moves me out — get in the zone, turn off the brain and just start, It’s super therapeutic, super cathartic and super relaxing.
You’ve had no shortage of businesses over the years, so how do you decide what your next project is going to be?
It’s all stuff that I’m passionate about. Like with boxing and jiu-jitsu, I’ve done that forever. I’ve always had a passion for it. I don’t see the violence, I see the art. With motorcycle riding and racing. I’ve done that for a good part of my life. It’s just an adrenaline passion of mine. Surfing isn’t just a sport like bowling or golf or whatever. There are all of these elements that have to come together and all of these magical things to make that one moment. There are good days and bad days. It’s more of a way of life, which sounds cheesy, but it’s in the soul. If you discover it and it resonates with you, it’s in the soul. Everything I’ve ever done business-wise — including music — hasn’t been for riches. It all started with passion, just so I could go deeper with it. I’ve had the gym for 10 years, and the motorcycle team, and I might make a couple of bucks here and there, but that’s not what it’s about.
Considering that NOFX has never really gone on hiatus, how do you balance all your other endeavors with the band?
I mean, we had a good three-year break recently. But I’ve been shaping since 2008, and the way NOFX would travel pre-pandemic is that we’d go out for a month and then come home for two or three months. So I had a lot of time at home, but I couldn’t really shape for the public. I would do it for myself and for my friends, and a couple of shops would carry my boards when I could do it. But then the pandemic happened and overnight it was like “Oh, fuck, I guess I’m retired. I’m not emotionally retired. I’m not financially ready to retire. I’m not ready for this.” It was unfortunate at the time, so I started trying to occupy my time by doing something and I decided to give the surfboard shaping a crack full time. Now it’s a full-time deal. I’ve worked on it every day. I’ve been selling around the world, and every single board is 100% custom made for the customer. I don’t pop any shit out that’s the same for anybody.
Is there anything you’ve learned through shaping that applies to your music or vice versa?
The only thing I can think of is patience. When you’re learning something new, it’s about patience and small steps. Say I’m trying to learn a drum part, if I take my time, slow it down and break it down methodically one piece at a time, that will build into the beat that I’m trying to learn. With making a surfboard, you got a piece of foam, a planer and an outline. You can’t just start skipping steps. I’m very far from mastering any of the steps, but it’s always a process and you’ve got to be efficient with each process. Then at the end, it all comes together like a drumbeat.
Would you have any advice to someone who wants to pursue surfboard shaping for a living?
You have to pursue it — and the same with music — for passion and fun. I got lucky with music that I’m able to make a living off of it, but for the first 10 or 15 years, we just did it for the passion, for the fun, and for the love of playing music. Then it turned into something. But even if it hadn’t turned into something financially, we would still be having fun, so it’s a win-win. That’s the same thing with surfboards. I don’t expect to get rich or famous, I just do it for the love of the art. I love getting in there and just making something for somebody. And when you hand somebody a surfboard, you’ll see on their face right away if it’s what they were after. You feel the energy when you see them smile. Surfboards are so personal that you know the second you see it and touch it if it’s for you or not. Giving that board to somebody and seeing that smile on their face is fucking amazing. Now when they don’t smile, it’s like “Oh, shit…”
Is there anything else you’d want to share about your surfboard shaping?
It’s a deeply personal thing to me, and I try my best every single time. I’ve been telling people that if they don’t like their board, I will make the next work for free. I know if they’re trusting in me for that personal item, I want to give them something that they want. I just love doing it.