Locals Spotlight: Curious Gabe and his son Elijah
Posted on 01 February 2021
Laguna Beach has always attracted a unique cast of characters. In our "Locals Spotlight" series we will introduce you to some of the friends we've made here in our little slice of paradise. First up are Gabe and Elijah Sullivan. You've probably seen Gabe's work on the pages of Surfer Magazine. In his popular man-on-the-street column "Curious Gabe", Sullivan traveled around in his VW bus interviewing and photographing surfers about issues that spanned the surfing spectrum. These days Gabe still spends time with pen and camera in hand, but he has an adventure buddy in his son Elijah. We caught up with Gabe to learn more about the life they live here in Laguna Beach.
What drew you to Laguna Beach and what keeps you here?
I resonated with the artsy and eclectic vibe I found in Laguna Beach. I moved here in the early 90s, shortly after I started working at Surfer Magazine. Back then, it reminded me of where I grew up in Northern California in a small town called Mill Valley, nestled at the base of Mount Tamalpais in the Redwoods of Marin County. What keeps me here in Laguna are the beautiful beaches and wilderness areas located just a short walk or bike ride from our front door in either direction.
You spent over two decades writing and shooting photos for Surfer Magazine, most notably via your popular “Curious Gabe” column that ran for 18 years. Can you tell us a story of something fun or interesting that transpired during your time at Surfer?
There were countless fun and interesting experiences during my time with Surfer, but a definite highlight was visiting the Magazine’s founder, John Severson, at his home studio in Maui at one point. Severson was and still is a hero of mine, so it was a treat to get to interview and photograph him for my column, not to mention be welcomed into his home and meet his family.
Your photography captures the essence of classic California, often in the form of surf scenes. What draws you to that time period in California?
The California surf scene during the late 50s and early 60s has a timeless and elegant aesthetic to it that never gets old for me. Having not lived through that era, my points of reference are the images I’ve poured over in early issues of Surfer Magazine and films such as The Endless Summer. I tip my hat to the great lensmen and visual story-tellers from that era such as Ron Stoner and Bruce Brown.
Have you faced adversity in your creative career? What have you learned from that?
Yes, absolutely. In one of my favorite books, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, the author repeatedly refers to something he calls ‘The Resistance’ which is something he claims all creative people must first learn to conquer in order to master their craft. Overcoming The Resistance is about getting out of your own way, putting in the work and turning pro. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, is how not to be my own worst enemy when it comes to my process and career as a creative.
How do you stay inspired?
Wilderness adventures. Aligning with like minded humans. Music. Allowing myself time and space to appreciate beauty. Reading books.
What role does surfing play in your life?
I’ll occasionally get out in the water to surf by myself or with friends, but for the most part I surf exclusively with my son Elijah these days. So I suppose surfing for me has become a context for fatherhood. I get just as stoked seeing my son scoring a good ride as I do catching a juicy set wave of my own. It’s been a big blessing to be able to pass along the joys of surfing to my boy.
You and Elijah dive into a lot of projects together, like building forts and making hand planes, how has making things together impacted your relationship?
Making things together strengthens our bond. It doesn’t matter what the project is, just as long as we’re both using our hands and working together toward a common goal. That’s not to say the process isn’t without moments of friction. But we always work through the inevitable conflict and come out stronger together on the other side. I also try not to miss out on opportunities for rites of passage, no matter how small, when we’re working on projects together. For example, teaching him how to use tools and then being intentional about affirming his abilities as he gets the hang of hammering, drilling, sawing, sanding, etc..
In what ways does Elijah surprise and inspire you?
His ability to learn new things and become proficient at stuff fairly quickly is surprising. His ongoing enthusiasm in general, regardless of what we’re doing, is continually inspiring.
What wisdom do you hope to pass on to Elijah?
I hope to pass on the Golden Rule to him. Something along the lines of: love yourself well and remember to love others as much as you love yourself.
What are some things that you are grateful for?
Family, friends, hugs, waves, surfboards, cameras, avocados, coconuts, machetes, chain saws, rainbows, glitter. There is so much. I could go on forever with this list…
Do you have any plans or projects, personally or with Elijah, that you are looking forward to in the future?
I’m looking forward to exhibiting my photography at the Sawdust Festival here in Laguna Beach this summer. I’ve been doing the Sawdust for the past couple years and it’s been fun to give Elijah some space in my booth to exhibit his photography prints as well.
Do you and Elijah have any favorite spots or things to do in Laguna?
Surfing, skateboarding and mountain biking are some of our favorite things to do here in Laguna. We also enjoy free diving, exploring tide pools and hunting for bits of sea glass from time to time.