Hand-crafted Creativity at Work


Hangar 1 Vodka is all about hand-crafted, California creativity. To celebrate that ingenuity, Flavorpill is presenting Call to California, a craft event series exploring the unique, the artisanal, and the creative. If you’re in SF or NYC, you can enter for a chance to win a spot at one of these exclusive events. For everyone else, we talked with the tastemakers and entrepreneurs themselves; from surfboards to rock-climbing, photography to terrariums, learn what keeps these creatives fired up.

James Mitchell, Founder: Sunset Shapers

Flavorwire: How’d you get into surfboard shaping?James Mitchell: I started shaping when I was 20 years old. I had done ding repair for a while and had gotten some boards that were so damaged that I was basically reshaping them. After doing a few of those I figured I might as well try and do the real thing. I was also very curious about different shapes and designs and how they would feel in the water and making them myself seemed to be the best way to try them out.

FW: Who influenced you the most, as you were starting out? JM: My biggest influences were Doug Haut in Santa Cruz, and Dave Aranovicci and Doug Fletcher (Fletch) — owners of the Santa Cruz Board Builders Guild (SCBBG). Dave and Fletch hired me as a production laminator and taught me everything about the board building process. They showed me how to glass a surfboard to the highest standards of performance, strength, and beauty. Working at SCBBG also exposed me to some of the best shapers in the region — namely Doug Haut, who I was able to spend a lot of time in the shaping room with, but also guys like Marc Andreini, Jeff Rashe, Buck Noe, and Nic Palandrini. They are all people I admire for their vision and artistry.

FW: How do you craft the perfect surfboard? JM: I don’t think there is a formula. It is a creative process, and perfection is a subjective quality. What one person feels is a perfect board another may cast off as too heavy, or slow, or whatever. I try and craft a “perfect” board for each customer and where they are in their surfing. Are they working on perfecting a new maneuver, trying to catch more waves, transitioning to a shorter board, etc.? I use that info to build what I feel will best suit them in their surfing lives.

FW: Take us through an average work day — what are you building/doing/learning/creating? JM: My work day always starts with a dog walk and surf check; I will go for a quick surf (conditions permitting), then start my production. Depending on the schedule I will either be shaping or glassing that day. Shaping is a reductive process where I am carving a specific, pre-determined form from a larger block or blank. The art of shaping is in taking the physical principles of hydrodynamics and integrating them into a shape or design that is both functional and beautiful — something that will perform well in the water but that is also pleasing to look at when it’s hanging on your wall.

Glassing is like the other side of the same coin. In the glassing process you are adding material; this is when we take the surfboard from a fragile piece of foam and turn it into a strong, waterproof, and functional piece of equipment… The purpose of glassing is to create a structural “shell” on the board that can handle the stresses that will be applied to it, but also to make the board more alluring. In this step we decide on the color or colors for the board, what type of fins it will have, and what the finished quality of the board will be (matted finish or high gloss).

FW: Finally: You’re off the clock and ready to unwind. What’s your favorite vodka cocktail? JM: I would have to say that my favorite vodka cocktail is a Bloody Mary, but when the day is over and I am ready to relax I do enjoy a Moscow Mule.

Michelle Inciarrano and Katy Maslow, Founders: Twig Terrariums

Flavorwire: How’d you get into terrarium-crafting?Michelle Inciarrano: After reuniting in our late 20s, we started doing craft night at my place. We made all sorts of fun stuff, but one day I pulled a cruet jar out of my kitchen cabinet and announced that its destiny was to become a terrarium. I was in honors Chemistry and Biology, so I worked closely with my professors on this newfound obsession. It was all trial and error with the science side of things, and from the beginning we have honed our “little world” focus by recreating scenes in miniature.

Katy Maslow: Our first terrariums had little hobos roasting weenies round a campfire, and Central Park scenes, and lovers in the woods. We knew we were onto something when we had 50-plus terrariums in each of our small Brooklyn apartments… so we tried our hand at selling them at the Brooklyn Flea. And that first weekend is when we were picked up by the New York Times.

FW: How do you craft the perfect terrarium? MI: Ah, there is no perfect terrarium, but there is a science to figuring out what will be the healthiest and happiest. It comes down to two things: light and moisture. We typically consider the space first, then determine what plants would do best and in what type of container. You have to stay true to the plant’s needs, and the plants you choose to cohabitate in this terrarium must also play nice together.

FW: What’s one unexpected perk from your line of work? MI: Ha, that every time we go to a nursery to buy plants for the studio, we end up taking home so many amazing plants! We both have jungles in our homes!

FW: Take us through an average work day. KM: I always want to be making. I’m not truly happy unless I’m sitting at our big picnic tables in the studio, chatting with customers, hands constantly tinkering inside a terrarium. We have some amazing customers, and I love spending my Saturdays in our shop, teaching workshops, working on custom creations, and yapping with whoever wanders in. Some folks travel really far to visit Twig, so I try to make their time in our space a really memorable one.

FW: If you didn’t have Twig, what do you think you’d do instead? MI: We joke about this all the time! We have fictional side businesses just to distract us if Twig business gets a little stressful. Modern pet furniture? Yep. Halving coconuts in Jamaica for tourists? Yep.

KM: Well, my degree is in Poetry, so I think halving coconuts in Jamaica is perfect for me.

FW: Finally: You’re off the clock and ready to unwind. What’s your favorite vodka cocktail? MI: Vodka, Triple Sec, and lime juice.

KM: I’ll have what she’s having!

Max Stewart, Owner, Director & Guide: SAANO Adventures

Flavorwire: Who influenced you the most, as you were starting out leading adventure tours?Max Stewart: Whether he knew it or not, my friend Garan Mangan-Dimuzio was like a mentor to me during my first few years working as a guide… Not only was he a talented climber, hiker, paddler and instructor, he had an incredible ability to connect with clients and make them feel comfortable no matter how big of a challenge they faced. I like to think that I picked up a few good trade secrets from him. The second was the owner of the guide service that I used to work for in NYC, Kirk Reynolds. During the last three years I worked with him, we worked side-by-side, creating new adventures, guiding and exploring the world. I learned a lot about the business, what works and what doesn’t.

FW: What’s your favorite place to climb and hike? MS: Currently, I’m really enjoying the beach climbing that’s so accessible here in San Francisco. Stinson and Mickey Beach have spectacular climbing and bouldering problems. You’ve got to time your climbing with the tides, and be careful not to stay too long working on a route or you may get locked in by the ocean. There are some truly wonderful hiking trails in the South Bay, like Big Basin Redwood State Park, with some incredible trails that are rarely used by other hikers. My favorite trails are the ones that are seldom traveled.

FW: Take us through an average work day. MS: We run a lot of climbing trips; it’s a big sport here in The Bay Area… The day of the trip, we’re up long before the sun, picking up the van, running to the gear locker to grab all the group gear and then be at the pick up location to check-in and load the clients. Typically our trips depart from downtown just before 7AM so that we can get to the crag early enough for prime choice of climbing routes. We try to keep the talking short and sweet, cause we’re here to climb not lecture, but we spend just enough time to ensure everyone understands the key points. Then we climb until we’ve got nothing left in us… On the drive home, there’s usually a lot of sleepers in the van; I consider the percentage of sleepers in the van as a good indicator as to how awesome the day was.

FW: If you couldn’t be a guide, what do you think you’d do instead? MS: I think I’d learn how to properly sail and hit the open seas. I’ve always wanted to sail away for a few months, maybe someday I’ll get the chance!

FW: Finally: You’re off the clock and ready to unwind. What’s your favorite vodka cocktail? MS: I typically like my vodka on the rocks, but if I must mix it, I like a splash of soda water and lime. Soda water is super refreshing, add a splash of lime, sit back and enjoy the ride!

Pieter Cooper, Climbing Instructor: Brooklyn Boulders

Flavorwire: Who influenced you the most, as you were starting out?Pieter Cooper: I didn’t know a single person when I first started climbing, and I basically was doing it on my own — but as time went by I started to meet more people and just took a little bit from each person. There are so many styles of climbing, but I’d say Pete Juhl was someone I tried to mimic.

FW: What’s your favorite place to climb? PC: Right now it’s a tie between Rocktown in Georgia and Hueco Tanks in El Paso. I may have to go with Hueco Tanks; I plan to make another trip next year.

FW: Tell us about the most fun you’ve ever had at your job. PC: EVERY DAY IS FUN! I’ve been on TV a bunch of times, which is kinda cool. I can’t think of one day in particular, but I really enjoyed working on the set of these reality shows [that come to film at Brooklyn Boulders]. I’ve met LaLa and Carmelo Anthony, Daniel Radcliff, and had drinks with Micheal Cera. Not too bad, right?

FW: Take us through an average work day. PC: As a team, I think we are all pretty much trying to create an awesome environment for new climbers and keep things exciting even for the experienced ones. Safety is a really big issue so I’m constantly keeping my eyes open for anything unusual.

FW: If you couldn’t climb, what do you think you’d do instead? PC: Biking was my first love, and I’d love to get back to that… Yeah, I’d buy an expensive bike and some spandex.

FW: Finally: You’re off the clock and ready to unwind. What’s your favorite vodka cocktail? PC: The one you’re buying!

*These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for length.