The amazing story of Mayumi Tsubokura, japanese painter of waves & surfing
From Tokyo to the first waves in the Pacific Ocean
Mayumi was born in Tokyo in 1952.
Early in his childhood, Mayumi was trained in the way of the Samurai: the Bushido. At the age of 6, he started to study various Japanese martial arts, Kendo, Judo, Iaido, and Karate. He was introduced to painting and Japanese literature in the same time.
This traditional and controlled upbringing was led by his father Genzo Murakami, a writer, novelist and classical kabuki theatre director.
Murakami, famous for his historical novels, admired by Yukio Mishima, was a figure of the Japanese post-war literary world.
In his teenage, Mayumi passed his black belt in judo and karate, his 1st dan of kendo, but it was karate that better suited his intrepid nature.
He was accepted as a student and competitor in Masutatsu Oyama’s dojo. Founder of the Kyokushinkai karate, Oyama was at the time Japan’s most notorious martial artist, and his school was the most prestigious in the world.
During these years, Western culture conquered Japan, broadening Mayumi’s horizons in life. He lived in the entertainment district of Roppongi-Akasaka, in the heart of the hanamachi. His high school days took place in a psychedelic fueled, mutating Tokyo, around music halls, karate fights, and ochayas. Working in a famous night club, he was introduced to Frank Sinatra, James Brown, and Tina Turner.
His desire to leave Japan grew fast during these years.
However, what really changed Mayumi’s destiny was to be found outside Tokyo, on the South-Eastern coast of the Tokyo bay. At 17, on the beautiful beaches of Shimoda, he discovered surfing, borrowing the surfboard of the son of a local fisherman.
Two years later, hooked on the sport, he traveled to Hawaii to face the world’s most renowned waves.
Experiencing the Hawaiian waves
Despite his intense physical training in martial arts, and his previous surfing experiences, he almost died in the enormous Hawaiian waves. He realized that surfing was more challenging than karate, and this notion changed his life completely.
He became friend with Rabbit Kekai, Eddie Aikau, Gerry Lopez, Darrick Doerner, Bill Hamilton and his yound son Laird, and other hawaiian surfers, later recognized as legendary “big wave riders”. A lifelong relationship with them began.
He left the islands renewed by this oceanic energy. Humbled and looking for a peaceful life outside the Tokyo frenzy, he left Hawaii a changed man, an almost complete turnaround from his fearless karate mindset.
Sayonara Tokyo – Bonjour Paris
Back in Japan, he chose to pursue studies in arts, and entered in a Tokyo art school.
At the age of 21 he permanently left Japan, and moved to Paris, where he studied in France’s national art school École des beaux-arts.
He later became a jewellery designer for a famous brand located place Vendôme, in the heart of the Parisian luxury business district. He was quickly adopted by the French people, and met a wide range of celebrities.
He discovered Europe on business and informal trips, and became a father.
In the early 80’s, he visited Tahiti.
Having traveled to Hawaii earlier in his life, he was asked a lot about his surfing experiences.
To show the local surfers — future champions Arsène Harehoe and the young Vetea David — what were the differences between Hawaiian and Tahitian waves, he started to paint them.
Encouraged by the Polynesian artist Bobby Holcomb, he realized immediately that this was a turning point in his artistic path, he continued painting waves when he came back to Paris. He never stopped since.
Mayumi was painting since his childhood, but surfing gave to his works a new dimension. Not only he went back to his roots and his early japanese inspirations — his father was a collector of etchings of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Okyo — he started to explore a new artistic universe, based on his special relation with surfing.
Using the European painting techniques learned in Beaux-arts, he freely expressed all his love for his surfing passion. He started to convey on canvas what the Ocean, and the Polynesian lifestyle had given to him. He translated his profound respect for the natural elements, and for the people living in these wonderful islands.
Mayumi, friend of the surfers
In the 1990’s professional surfers admired the paintings that he showed during nearly every events of the professional WCT surfing competitions in Hossegor and Biarritz.
His kind hearted personality, his reputation of a hospitable friend, fine cook and gourmet made him really famous in the community of pro surfers. He organized memorable parties where sushis and sashimis brought together pro surfers and various personalities in the South West of France.
Mayumi’s connection to the surfers was even more interesting.
Using a technique he learned from his Japanese martial arts student days, he practiced shiatsu, and karate-linked massage manipulations on his professional surfer friends to help them during their competitions.
His skills were tested the hard way during his dojo-student years, using emergency relief during brutal trainings or combats : from shoulder dislocation maneuvers, to injury preventing exercises, and were no mystery to him.
This martial artist knowledge, his deep understanding of their sportspeople regime was very appreciated by the surfers as a relief for both pain and fatigue.
During the French summers, and the Hawaiian winters, from Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton to Miki Dora, from Layne Beachley to Rell Sunn, the biggest names in the game were at some point helped by Mayumi, he was a confidant, a father figure for some of them.
Soon after this mutual respect, these intimate ties with the world’s surfing elite enabled him to be the instigator of a very special movie project.
Mayumi and “Riding Giants”
In France, Tahiti, or Hawaii, those years close to the watermen and women grew even bigger the admiration he already had for the surfing community.
Big wave riding, this form of ultimate engagement, both mental and physical impressed the former karate fighter since his very first trip in Oahu.
Professional surfing development, competitions, television shows like Baywatch weren’t exactly honest to how the best surfers were truly living.
In the early 90’s, their image seen through the media was seen as flashy, futile, or even worse.
Mayumi was very concerned about this distortion, and wanted to show the world how surfing was much more than what people thought.
Also, the death of his friends Eddie Aikau, and later Mark Foo deeply unsettled him, and were pretty much unknown, even to the surfing world.
He felt that there was a need to explain why surfers were risking their lives, what was surfing in a really passionate and articulate way.
Mayumi’s relationship with these surfing personalities intrigued one of his Parisian friends, Franck Marty, an entertainment producer. In 2000, he came up to Mayumi with the idea of making a movie about the story of big wave surfing.
Mayumi picked up his phone and called his friends Darrick Doerner and Gerry Lopez to instigate an ambitious documentary about big wave surfing. The goal was to make a movie that would leave its mark in modern surfing history. Making interviews with the true legends of the sport, for the first time, and showing the world what was big wave riding.
After more than 4 years of genesis, Riding Giants, backed by the French major television network Canal+ and distributed by Sony Pictures opened the Sundance film festival in 2004, and hit the movie theaters. Critics and spectators were unanimously positive.
Roger Ebert wrote:
Before seeing “Riding Giants”, my ideas about surfing were formed by the Gidget movies, “The Endless Summer”, the Beach Boys, Elvis and lots of TV commercials. “Riding Giants” is about altogether another reality.
The overarching fact about these surfers is the degree of their obsession. They live to ride, and grow depressed when there are no waves. They seek the rush of those moments when they balance on top of a wave’s fury and feel themselves in precarious harmony with the ungovernable force of the ocean.”
The movie developed a cult following since, and is widely seen as a defining work about surfing. Mayumi is cited first in the special thanks closing credits.
Mayumi is known as a “surf artist” for more than 30 years, grateful to share with the world this extraordinary communion between mankind and nature that is surfing.
He keeps painting, paying homage to the ocean, to the majesty of the reef wave, to the pacific lagoon, to the island lights. An inexhaustible inspiration, enriched by travels, new encounters, and new generations, but also by his Parisian life — he painted some of his most beautiful Polynesian inspirations during cold winters in Paris!
Involved in various events with Surfrider Foundation since the early 90’s, he is engaged in raising the awareness of environmental issues.
Among his admirers, friends, and artwork collectors, the hawaiian surfers Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, Rabbit Kekai, Darrick Doerner, the professional surfers Kelly Slater, Gary Elkerton, Mark Occhilupo, Sunny Garcia, Cory and Shea Lopez, Rob Machado, Rochelle Ballard, Jamie O’Brien, Jérémy Florès… But also art collectors and celebrities, Francis Ford Coppola, Carla Bruni, Bruce Willis, Sylvie Vartan, the late Mstislav Rostropovitch…
Surfing, where the purest ecstasy rub shoulders with extreme danger, and sometimes death, pushed his artistic skills and mentality on a new level. In a way this approach can be described as a contemporary form of romanticism, a genuine form of “surf art”.
In his wave representations, he conveys a great feeling of humility towards the elements, and the fascination that these beautiful but formidable air and water masses exert on him.
Waves to him, are much more than salt water, they are at the origin of life on earth, and are a symbol of our fragile planet. Ephemeral, they sometimes last forever in the surfer’s mind. The power, the light, the darkness, the speed, the cold, the hot, the wind: every wave is an encounter.
Unique, but recognizable, the shape of the waves in certain spots are for surfers as familiar as human faces. With his surfer eyes, Mayumi tries to paint genuine wave “portraits”. Whether it is for a tropical and crystalline reef wave, a sandy beach break, or a monster of the Atlantic Ocean, swept across by the wind, Mayumi paints from his memories, from his dreams, from surfer’s stories and legends. His quest for the ideal wave, but also the ideal beach and lagoon, is inseparable from surfing and from the surfers. He may not paint them directly one the canvas, but he tries to “paint their dreams”.
Surfing recalls the essence of life, is one of the most energetic pastime, and maybe the healthiest and most enjoyable activity known to mankind. It is a spiritual and life changing experience, and Mayumi wants to be its artistic ambassador.
More than dreamy pictures, his representations shows the world what the surfing way of life truly is: a complete connection with nature.
1952 : Born in Tokyo
1968-1970 Works in famous clubs Tokyo clubs, The Byblos, and The Mugen. Meets Frank Sinatra, Ike & Tina Turner, Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett…
1972 : First trip to Hawaii. He comes back each summer until 1981. Meets Eddie Aikau, Rabbit Kekai, Gerry Lopez, Darrick Doerner, Bill Hamilton and his son Laird…
1973 : Enters the Beaux-arts School of Paris.
1974 : Works with the jeweler Pascal Morabito.
1975-1979 : Trips to London. Becomes press fixer / translator for japanese photographers. Through fellow japanese Tetsu Yamauchi, gets friend with Rod Stewart, and gets acquainted with Elton John, Freddie Mercury. He meets Bob Marley & the Wailers, and dozens of others…
1975-1985 : Becomes close friends with Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin from les Rita Mitsouko, Gilbert Montagné, Sylvie Vartan, Diane Tell, Michel Berger, France Gall…
1983-1985 : Paints his first waves in Tahiti, alongside Arsène Harehoe, Vetea David, and the artist Bobby Holcomb
1984 : Designs the original ‘Monoi Tiare Tahiti’ bottle
1986–1991 : Involved in the production of Uhaïna’s films Nuits de la Glisse: Tahitian Dream 1 & 2, Maui Local, La Vie en Rose, Surfing France, Hawaiian Juice
1991 : Choreographer for the karate fight of Myle Farmer’s clip.
Trip to the Reunion island.
1992 : Meets Kelly Slater through Tony Scott & Sylvie Vartan
1994 : Welcomes Kelly Slater in his Paris home for a few weeks
1994 : 3 month family trip to Hawaii.
1994–2004 : Various exhibitions on the French South-west shore, alongside the ASP Championships, in the Biarritz Surf Festival, at Hossegor Casino…
1999 : Exhibition, Musée de la Mer de Biarritz, France.
2001 : Exhibition, Assembly of French Polynesia, Papeete, Tahiti.
1999–2004 : Launched the Riding Giants movie project with Franck Marty, Darrick Doerner and Laird Hamilton
2010 : Exhibition, la Géode, for the preview of the OMNIMAX 3D movie — Kelly Slater Ultimate Wave Tahiti, Paris
2005–present : Exhibitions in the official Polynesian delegation office in Paris, and with Surfrider Foundation in Biarritz.