Monday, December 15, 2008
In search of irie
In a dimly lit room filled with dust and handmade tools, Matt Nickell carves the perfect wave.
Cascades of white foam barrel away from his fingers and break to the ground.
Surrounded by the color of the sea, Nickell moves his arms back and forth, shaving away millimeters at a time.
It is what Nickell hopes to achieve in his art and in his life, and it’s the name of the surfboards he’s been making since 1992.
Irie is a Jamaican word that means to be in tune with nature and the planet, and the way he feels on the water, said Nickell, 38, who admits Jamaica is one of the few places he hasn’t surfed.
A Naples resident since 1977, Nickell, 38, grew up in the shallow surf of the Gulf Coast, but has chased waves just about everywhere. He rattles off a few of the places in no particular order — Nicaragua, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands.
“The waves are fickle in Jamaica,” he said. “If I’m going somewhere to surf, I want to know there are going to be waves.”
He continues to shape the board, referring every-so-often to one of the hundreds of handmade templates he’s created. Rock and roll music pours from a radio in the corner, surrounded by clutter: Music that is less for listening than for filling empty space, as he sands from the tail to the nose and back again.
His boards are used by some of Naples’ best surfers and sold in Olde Naples Surf Shop on Third Street South. He does it less for the popularity, and more for the love of creation.
Just like a wave that is sucked out to sea, only to become the next wave, Nickell’s passion and inspiration is recycled every time he is on the water.
He watches the way other surfers will come off of a wave, giving him ideas for the tail of his next board. Maybe instead of a thumb tail, he’ll create an octagon, giving the rider more maneuverability.
“The water is like a canvas,” Nickell said.
And a place to attain irie.