I had been coming to Aqua Surf Shop for years to load up on bars of wax and to talk boards and wetsuits with the co-owner Aleks Petrovitch, but this was the first time I had ever broached the topic of his artistic projects. “ There’s only so much room for creativity in retail,” he told me one day as he was sticking price tags on tubes of sunscreen. “So you have to make room for your own. ” Aleks interprets that to mean creating children’s books. And surf horror movies.
To give you a sense of things, here’s the plot for one of Aleks’ movies, Night of the Doggie Diner: Aleks is walking his Australian shepherd Merle by his Outer Sunset home, and Merle laps up a green, glowing liquid on the street. That night, while Merle is out for his nightly pee, he gets kidnapped by a guy in a mysterious van who turns out to be a cook from the now-defunct Doggie Head Diner. Radioactive Merle gets ground up and served to four hungry customers as burgers, who turn into zombies. In a twist of tragic irony, the zombies go next door to Aqua and kill all of the employees.
Aleks began making his own movies when he started hosting premieres for popular surf flicks as fundraisers for local organizations. He thought it’d be funny to start with a 5–10 minute homemade movie. So Aleks and two friends, Brian Musial and Silvin Morgan, created B-Productions. “We don’t really see ourselves as filmmakers,” Aleks confessed. “Except Silvin, who is actually a professional filmmaker. We just want to have fun. Truth is, the movies aren’t really for a general audience. They’re more made for us, and for our neighborhood.”
That’s evident in some of the humor, which only surfers would understand, like a joke that the waves at Mavericks are so big that even Doc Renneker is planning to tow-in. Otherwise the biggest laughs are for how goofy the movies are. In one movie, Brian asks Aleks if he can borrow money, and Aleks responds with, “What am I, Wells Far-Bro?” Later, after they have both turned into zombies, Brian stabs Aleks in the back over and over again with his surfboard. I guess he shoulda lent him the money. The DIY makeup (Aleks uses pea soup and dirt to make his zombie face) and pretty crappy acting (“Merle is the best actor out there, and that’s why I use him in every video”) all add to the charm.
I decided to swing by Aleks’ home office, where he does his drawing and film editing, and Merle was at the door with tail wagging to greet me. The place is pretty much a living embodiment of his expansive imagination. His desk, with three computer monitors for video editing, is covered in pens, colored pencils, and sketchbooks. There are surfboards and tiki mugs and a shelf full of children’s books. What stands out to me the most are the masks of Big Foot and Merle hanging on the walls, which he made himself for use in his movies.
“Drawing is the foundation for me,” Aleks tells me. He reached to his bookshelf and showed me the first book he ever made, The Unknown Forest. It’s about dwarves and gnomes fighting against goblins, and it’s about 30 pages long. Aleks made it when he was seven years old. His first job as an illustrator was for the Golden Gate National Parks Association. He illustrated the popular redwood stacking blocks, the organization’s best-selling product of all time. Go to a toy store anywhere, and you’ll probably see them.
Like many other artists, Aleks had to pick up other work to support his creative pursuits, so he worked part time at Aquaholics Surf Shop, which is what the shop used to be called. He sort of stumbled into owning the place after his boss decided to bail. It took him a few years to gather up the funds, but eventually, about 10 years ago, he and his business partner Devin Dargell took over.
“I wanted to create a shop that inspired me to go surfing. I also wanted employees there who can help you find the right craft for riding waves, with all the nuances, and who would listen to you.” I can attest to this type of ethos in action. An Aqua employee once talked me out of buying a new wetsuit, an almost unheard-of sales technique, and instead taught me how to stitch up the gaping tear that I had on both shoulders of my old suit, using neoprene glue and dental floss.
Aqua’s aesthetic mirrors the dense, artistic world of his office. I still discover new tikis and drawings with each visit.
In recent years, Aleks has gotten a bit more serious about his creative endeavors. On the illustration front, he has created his own digital publishing company, Gnomie, to bring dynamic children’s books to the iPhone, iPad, and Android. His first digital book, Gnomie’s Farmland Adventure, is a fun, educational narrative with animal names in four different languages and quirky songs like “Everyone has a butt.” He’s even tweaking it so that parents can record the story in their own voices for their kids.
In film, B-Productions has stepped up its game with The Lost Coast, which is about two freeloading hippies named Riverock and Skydar. The pair, whom Aleks describes as being “so good at being happy that they’re inept at being evolved humans,” bumbles their way through a hike on the Lost Coast while looking for a mysterious surf spot. While the movie is about their adventure, the real star is Big Foot. The film team made the Sasquatch costume themselves, modeling the mask (which Aleks let me try on) after an original mold for Harry from Harry and the Hendersons .
Recently, Aleks has made a few music videos for his friend Andrew Kidman, including one created entirely with his iPhone, in which Merle quits his job as a salesman, goes on an overnight drunken binge, and then surfs. (He wasn’t kidding when he said that Merle is in every movie he makes.) But as it often goes with artistic side projects, real life has gotten in the way and the movies have largely been put on the back burner to make way for serious life.
Which gets to the heart of who Aleks is. He runs a local surf shop, and doesn’t hold back from admitting that the recession has made it hard to run the business. He works long hours at his desk illustrating for Peek, with his parrot Lilo perched on his shoulder. Through all the work, he knows that he needs to make time to be creative, just for the sake of it. “That’s one of the biggest challenges in life. You want to be responsible, but you need to hold onto the playfulness of being alive.”
Spending a day with Aleks reminded me of how important it is to never let go of the kid inside of you. There’s always room for a little more imagination.
A great place to meet Aleks and his awesome dog Merle is at Aqua Surf Shop on Sloat Blvd. You can watch a bunch of his movies at the store’s website under the Media Gallery section , or at their YouTube channel . As for his illustrations, check out the Gnomie website for a sampling, and download his interactive digital book, Gnomie’s Farmland Adventure, for your kids.