In the southern region of St. Johns County, there lies a cherished place where longboarders gather and rejoice. While this surf break is long revered for its clean, rolling lines, St. Augustine surfer and artist Addie Gibson has a love for the area that goes well beyond scoring the perfect noseride. This plot of coquina and sand served as the stomping grounds for Gibson’s upbringing, and is where her parents introduced a young Gibson to a surf culture much broader than the activity taking place in the breakers just offshore.
This is also where Gibson connects with the spirit of her father, an avid surfer, who died by suicide.
“We had the epitome of a father-daughter relationship; he was one of my best buds,” Gibson shares of her father. “After he passed, I really struggled to understand mental health.”
One of the foundations for Gibson and her father’s close relationship was their shared love for the ocean and surfing. Since the loss of her father, she has found both surfing and creativity to be two reliable coping mechanisms.
“When I create I feel understood, and to feel understood in this chaotic world is so important,” Gibson said. “When I get down, I like to remind myself that I am so blessed to have the ability to create and surf. Surfing and art give me a purpose, plain and simple.”
If you don’t spot Gibson’s smiling face in the lineup, you’ll likely find her parked at her late-father’s favorite surf spot. With the doors of her slate blue compact van flung open toward the water’s edge, Gibson will take in the ocean breeze with her black lab, “Boo Bear” by her side. It’s here that Gibson will sketch and paint, creating her colorful, highly approachable, and uplifting works of art.
“There is so much going on in the world right now, sometimes I get so distracted with feeling I’m not doing enough to fix it,” Gibson admits. “Recognizing that art is something that has helped people feel like they have a purpose or that they feel understood has really made me see how truly powerful art can be. If I can help at least one person to not feel alone with their struggles, then I am doing a good job.”
Gibson’s artistic style is similar to that of her surfing, she does both with ease.
Through the use of clean lines, a cheery late-60s/early 70s psychedelic-surf-era color palette, and bold imagery, Gibson tackles the often taboo subject of mental illness with an alluring openness. Her works often incorporate simple, relatable messages of hope.
“I have been interested lately in making my art more minimal,” Gibson shared. “I am learning that each line and each stroke is important to a painting, which I never really thought about before. Each detail I add is a self-expression, so I’ve been trying to acknowledge that more. Art has become even more therapeutic for me because of it.”
For Gibson, the influences of surfing, creativity, and community on her life are inseparable. From an early age, Gibson experienced the importance of creating a local community through shared interests. She grew up in Gainesville, where her parents were a part of a small crew of surfers that would make the trek from the swamp to St. Augustine in search of swell.
Not surprisingly, Gibson has formed her own community of talented surfers, artists, musicians, and creatives. Her tribe offers encouragement and support both in the water and on land. Gibson’s ongoing project, the “East Coast Surfer Profile Series,” pulls inspiration from photographs of her favorite surfers to create unique representational portraits of key community members.
“The amount of creativity in this area blows my mind,” Gibson laughs. “I have an awesome surf community that I am continuously inspired by in more ways than just their surfing.”
In many ways, Gibson’s lifestyle embodies the values that her father instilled in her long ago. Connecting with the ocean and connecting with others through the sport is simply a way of life for this creative.
“It’s cool to see my life mirror my parents’ when they were my age and younger. I still surf the same spots, and I still see my dad’s friends just about every weekend hanging out and surfing all day,” Gibson said. “I like to think that we help keep my dad’s spirit alive in and out of the ocean there.”
This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine’s September 2020 issue.