HOT ROD SURF
Mark Whitney Mehran
Where do you live?
Our beach community of Pacific Beach in our hometown of San Diego, California and www.hotrodsurf.com
When did you start your brand? How did it start?
Hot Rod Surf was started in 1996. At the time I was touring and recording original music with my band The Green Leaf and I always had a passion for branding and retail. So one day I started a surf shop and brand which combined my interests and became a type of home base of creative ideas and merchandising. A modest $500 investment and a love of making things and bringing unique quality products to our customers while selling one item at a time is how it started and continues today all these years later.
How did you decide to turn your skills into a 'real' job? Do you work on the side?
From the beginning it has always been a real job sometimes with very real stresses and expenses attached to it. In 1996 there were not many boutique brands trying to make things by hand in the USA. The creative process is so personally important to me it has always been the paramount priority. Balancing the art of making things and developing product and the reality of business numbers is always an on going process. The artistic, utilitarian, and creative side usually wins out most of the time over the strictly business side just working. All Hot Rod Surf products are items we use ourselves and each item is of a quality and price which I would personally expect as a customer. There is a lot of work involved maybe a little too much sometimes but it is worth it once the product or project is complete and put to use.
What makes you happiest about what you do?
Having an idea and concept and bringing it to life. I do a lot of different things from graphic design, printing, music, motorcycle and hot rod frame design and fabrication to custom engine work. There is something very magical about customizing and reviving vintage parts when it comes to a moment, and for the first time the key gets put into the ignition and it starts, or restarts after many years and the work literally comes to life as the engine roars and purrs. It is part mathematics and confirmation the measurements and calculations were right and all the parts functionally work together harmoniously in a performance spectrum, part total expression and creativity of making something aesthetically look how you want, and part the beginning of a new and unknown adventure. The machine will most likely out last us and still be there when we are all long gone. In many ways when any craftsman makes something of quality we are only momentary care takers in a journey we helped start. Sometimes there is a liberating destruction in the process. If there is something I do not like or is not performing up to my standard I tear it apart and do it again. Luckily for me it usually works out pretty well the first or second time so there is not too much destruction. Hot Rod Surf leather items, clothing, and accessories are made with the same process of form and function as the motorcycles, hot rods I have built over the years they are an accent to the overall picture of performance, speed, calculated risk, art, life, and freedom. Being in my own world of mechanical and poetic dreams and sharing it with others who are into similar obscureness makes me pretty content.
What is the hardest part about what you do?
Navigating everything. The worst part is when I see someone who genuinely wants one of our products and cannot afford it. Maybe they are a customer we have had for years, or youngster who just does not have enough cash on hand. You want them to experience the fun of having the item and I deeply relate to the feeling of not having enough money to get something. I always try and set the pricing right so Hot Rod Surf products are affordable in the quality goods category and sustainable while keeping the quality high. I have seen quite a few things over the years and how the overall economy has affected every aspect of our great county. Watching machine shops go out of business and the equipment being loaded on pallets to be shipped overseas was just terrible. Hot Rod Surf has always been a brand of the people so I always do what I can to keep it affordable and also support other crafts people and local quality businesses. I wish I could do more.
Where do you hope to see your brand in 5 years?
Doing what we always do. Providing quality products and following adventure and creativity wherever it flows. Maybe we will all be driving around is space ships with aliens as our best bros. I really do not know. Realistically, I take one day at a time and it usually goes places that are sometimes unexpected much like a Kerouacian trip of the back roads of American life.
What product that you make is your favorite?
Every Hot Rod Surf product is my favorite. I am pretty sure that is the point of the brand. I only have energy for trying to produce things that are my favorite or soon to be favorite but if I had to absolutely choose it would be the motorcycles and hot rods because they take you places when they work and its super fun to drive and ride custom performance machines.
What do you like to listen to while you work?
Of course I listen to the rock & roll sounds of The Green Leaf and an eclectic mix of The Stooges, Wagner, Hendrix, Zepplin, Floyd, Rhiana, Black Flag, Exploited, Stones, Beethoven, Britney, and even the occasional Flo Rider. Sometimes it is freeing to listen to something I would have totally disliked when I was younger so I listen to weird stuff now to freak my kids out. I have no musical boundaries.
Where can we buy your stuff! Do you have a favorite shop?
You can find Hot Rod Surf product at our online store www.hotrodsurf.com, and we sometimes set up pop up shops at selected events which match the things we love doing like racing, partying, and hanging out. We also have items available locally at Pangaea Outpost in Pacific Beach and Seaweed & Gravel in Encinitas. A few years back I produced some automotive tech movies which are internationally distributed by One World and Speedway Motors. Our custom specialized Hot Rod Surf pinstriping art brushes will as of this year be available through Mack Brush Co. The Green Leaf music is available on iTunes and a bunch of other music sites links through www.thegreenleafband.com . I really enjoy the experiences of all of the retailers and distributors we work with. It would be great to add more so if anyone has ideas where we would be a good addition for sure forward the info.
What about Desert & Denim are you looking forward to most?
It looks like it will be a cool event with a bunch of craftsmen and women. One of my hobbies this past year has been steam distillation of hydrosol and essential oils, as well as some effleurage. There is a definite art to painting a picture with fragrance. Nature stuff is cool, and smells and feels good also. One of my all time favorite authors Walt Whitman would crawl around the dirt with nature to feel the realness of life and any event that harkens back to some of our great American traditions I will try and go to.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start their own business?
Follow your dreams. Be true to yourself and the community you inhabit. Success is not only about monetary gain but better measured by the knowledge and relationships you are blessed with. The often harsh reality of business is a gravel pit will make more money than a gold mine. Make sure to take time to have fun and spend time with family.
I think I said enough. Hopefully I will see you at the event and maybe even the races.
HOT ROD SURF
Life Art Style
Photo Credits: Blake Mehran, Jeanine M. Mehran, MWM