Made by Hand : Studio Visit with Kat Hicks + Zoe Ahlgren

Made by Hand | Taupe & Birch

Meet Kat Hicks and Zoe Ahlgren. Kat and Zoe are currently building a business constructing surfboards on a ranch in  Pacifica, California. I met Kat in college back in Baltimore and we recently crossed paths in the bay area. While their business is just starting off, I thought it would be interesting to document the lifestyle and process of a young business in California.

Zoe was born and bred Pacifica, a city just south of San Francisco. His family has owned and operated Shamrock Ranch since the gold rush. Being raised on a ranch, Zoe was raised with a steadfast work ethic that shows in the quality and quantity of his work. He is a conscientious craftsman who sees every piece as an opportunity to push himself and his craft.

Kat hails from the right coast, originally from Virginia Beach, VA. She has been drawing all her life and has a particular love for illustration and line work. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD she caught a ride west to San Diego with no plans other than to drop off a painting. While traveling up the coast she was introduced to Kevin Ancell, an amazing artist and painter who is affiliated with the RVCA ANP (artist network program). Relating to her artwork, he invited her to come be his assistant in Newport Beach, CA. She jumped at the chance and after finishing a road trip up the coast she found her way back to Newport where she spent the next 3 months learning from Ancell, helping him prepare for an upcoming show in Santa Monica, and mulling around the RVCA HQ. Kevin knew Zoe from Pacifica, where he was living before Newport, and asked him to come down to make him some large scale canvases. Kevin had taught Zoe a lot about shaping surfboards and Zoe ended up shaping two boards for Kev’s show.

Once Kat and Zoe met they were pretty much inseparable. Kev, realizing he had already lost his assistant, sent her back to Pacifica to continue some of the work from his studio. A year later Kat and Zoe are still together and currently live on the ranch together where they’re developing a unique style of both foam and hollow wooden surfboards.

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What made you interested in making surf boards? Kevin taught Zoe how to shape boards. Zoe was determined to design a hollow wooden board that was comparable to a foam one. Kat is still learning how to shape.. and surf..but she’s been interested in designing them since a young age. She liked the idea of someone not only owning her artwork, but riding it. Kevin showed her how to work with abalone shell and Zoe has taught her a lot about wood inlay. Between the two of them they’re making some insanely unique boards.
 What’s your average schedule like?
Zoe works on the ranch most of the day which can range from general maintenance things like, fixing broken pipes and roofs, to more interesting tasks like chasing down liberated horses. Kat works for Barbara Butler treehouses, building, you guessed it, treehouses. Lately their off hours have been devoted to refurbishing the old dairy processing building into a house for themselves.

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Tell me about the property you live on. 
Zoe’s grandfather bought the property, a much more expansive version, during the gold rush at the turn of the century. He started off as a furrier and ran a pawn shop in the city. They had a variety of animals and livestock come through the ranch over the years and have dabbled in farming as well. For a long time they had cows where they processed and bottled local milk. Presently, the ranch is owned by Zoe’s mom, Dana, but managed by him and his sister, Serena. His twin sister, Ari, and brother, John, live on the ranch as well. They operate a dog kennel and daycare and have over 100 horses on the property.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about making surf boards? 
Zoe’s favorite is sanding, the part of the shaping process where you make the board look less like a chunk of foam or pieces of wood, and more like a surfboard. You get to make it beautiful. While Kat loves sanding too, she really finds an almost masochistic enjoyment in tiny, meticulous, wood and shell inlay. They both hate glassing, it’s the worst. It’s really hard and is always presenting new challenges that are either incredibly difficult or impossible to fix. Plus fiberglass is itchy and resin is toxic. Seriously..it’s the worst.
How long does it take to make a board? It varies greatly, depending on wood vs foam..art / no art.. is it a shape we’ve worked with before (are we replicating a board) or is this a whole new shape..? Generally for foam about 4-5 days of solid work. A wood board takes a good bit longer just because theres a lot of waiting around for glue to dry. It can be as short as just over a week to a whole month though depending on the board shape and amount of detail.

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What’s next from here? We don’t have any definite plans. We’d like to launch a website and maybe make some sort of order form but both of us are a little gun shy when it comes to commissions. First and for most we’d love to just sell what we’ve already made out there. So after the gallery show ends this week we’ll look for restaurants and other galleries that might want some boards.
What are your sources of inspiration? Danny Hess is an obvious one, though after learning a lot of his boards now are foam with wood veneer..we can’t lie..he’s a little tainted!  Reynolds Yater is also an awesome shaper who you can’t help but respect and look up to. Alex Pardee is a huge one for Kat, as well as James Jean, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton and Ben Horton.
The Keatings..Dick and Penny Keating are two amazing people who have lived in Pacifica since it was called San Pedro Valley. They own that dock we took you out on. Dick is an amazing shaper and surfer, we call him all the time for help and he’s always super generous with his time and knowledge. They’re definitely the first ones we run to when we finish a board, its gotta past the Keating test. DK is also Kev’s surrogate father..that’s how Kat was introduced to the Keatings, Kev brought her home to meet “the family”. And of course, Kev.

Made by Hand | Taupe & BirchMade by Hand | Taupe & BirchContent and photography by Heather Day

 

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