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Surf Shacks 046 – Gabe Sullivan

Most surfers know Mr. Sullivan, with his iconic green VW van, as “Curious Gabe” from his column in Surfer Magazine that ran in every single issue for 18 years straight. The column featured Gabe asking a new question of his fellow surfers on the street (or in the water) every issue. These were not the pros that graced the pages of the rest of the magazine, they were the everyday surfers you’d see at various lineups all over the world giving short responses to timely and often irreverent surf questions. Gabe became a symbol of the common surfer in the pre-internet era. He now spends his time doing freelance photography, videography, and writing while living with his beautiful family in picturesque Laguna Beach.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Gabriel Red Crane Creek Child of the Moon Sullivan. My goal is to live a life I don’t need a vacation from.

Where are you from?

I was born in San Francisco and now I live in Laguna Beach with my family.

What do you and your wife do for a living?

I make my living by telling stories via photography, videography and writing. My wife Sierra does modeling work and sells vintage clothing on eBay.

I grew up a big fan of your Curious Gabe column in Surfer Magazine. How did you first get involved with Surfer and what led to having your own column?

I first got involved at Surfer as an intern, scanning 35mm slide photos and proofreading articles. I eventually pitched the idea for the column to then-editor Steve Hawk. He said to go for it and I just kept doing it every month.

How long did it run for?

About 18 years.

What were some of the highlights or particularly memorable moments in that series?

Meeting my wife when I interviewed and photographed her on the beach at Pipeline in 2000. Also, it was always fun to see people get really excited who would otherwise probably never get an opportunity to be photographed or interviewed for Surfer Magazine.

Now for some Curious Gabe-style questions for you:

Going left or right?

I’m a regular-foot and prefer rights. But I’m just as happy going straight while riding tandem with my son on his boogie board.

Summer south swell or winter north swell?

Summer south because the water is usually warmer.

Surf trip: fly or drive?

Drive. Anything to avoid the humiliating experience of being forced to decide between stepping inside what feels like a giant microwave oven or being groped by the TSA. Plus, the excessive fees most airlines charge to fly with surfboards are a real buzzkill.

What lengths have you gone to score uncrowded surf?

Drove from Laguna Beach to Santa Barbara for a night surf at Rincon. We left at 11PM, arrived at 1:30AM, and surfed till about 3:30AM.

What makes a surfer “cool”?

Weird is the new cool. For example, Derek Hynd is a total weirdo, and therefore totally cool in my book.

What are your favorite parts about Laguna and the area in which you live?

My favorite is Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market with my family stocking up on avocados, heirloom tomatoes, eggs etc. and running into friends from here in town.

A house is always a work in progress. What are your favorite parts of your home?

Our view never gets old. And living within easy walking distance to the beach and hiking/mountain biking trails is unbeatable.

Tell us about the green van. I felt like that was also such an iconic part of the Curious Gabe column in Surfer. How did you acquire it? Do you still drive it a lot?

I bought the bus in high school. I’d always wanted a VW bus, and my dad worked at Santa Clara University at the time and heard about someone at his work who was selling it. It was in near mint condition when I got it. I still drive it on weekends around town. I used to take it down to Baja on surf trips, but the furthest I’ve gone lately is San Onofre.

If your house was burning down and you could only get out with five items, what would you take?

My family of course. Hard drives with all my family photos and videos. Archive of film negatives and slides. My notebooks full of dreams, goals and memories. All the artwork I could grab, including my son’s vast collection of kindergarten paintings.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, sage advice?

Do the best you can with what you have.

Check out more of Gabe’s work here:

Gabe Sullivan

/ Photography by Read McKendree, interview by Matt Titone

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