There are certain months in the year when you know exactly where to find Samson. La Temporada, or as the locals know it, the season of surf, is the most bountiful time of the year for Ecuador. Home to our founder Marcelo, and one of Samson's favorite surf destinations, Ecuador. From the fresh camarón (shrimp), to the beautiful Galápagos islands, Ecuador is a paradise of natural wonders. When Samson and Marcelo invited me to come for a month-long barrel seeking mission, I knew there was nowhere else I should be. With my board packed in as many towels as I could and a backpack full of boardshorts, I hopped on the next flight straight to the Equator.
Fresh off the airport I was greeted by devine mango slices and bright yellow Guayacán trees, signaling the offshores had arrived and so had I. With a b-line to the coast and perfect A-frames welcoming us, Samson found toob after toob while Marcelo glided through peelers with his hand shaped fish. In the lineup we were greeted by one of the best smiles around and a backside hack to remember. Raphaël Ampuero, also known as Rapha, is a staple in the Ecuadorian surf community. A beam of positivity and a laugh that makes you know life is worth living. It was easy to see the Sasquatch within Rapha, from the way he smirked after each wave or hollered you into the next. Rapha is a sharer of waves and stoke. Rapha’s skillset does not stop at the water, but is also matched by his ability to paint waves as well as he rides them. In all the ways Rapha is a true Barrel Seeker.
With Samson's fur still wet and our boardshorts salty, Rapha invited us to his studio in Playas, a town on the south coast of Ecuador. Shared with his brother Joachim, where talent clearly runs in the family, the studio feels like one of Samson's hideaway treehouses. Built by his family, old recycled driftwood finds itself as the pillars and murals fill the walls. His parents' pastelería lies at the bottom floor and the studio overflows from the top floor. It's all a true space of creation. While Samson gawked at the balsa boards, Marcelo and myself sat for a chat in the creative world of Rapha.
Patrick: Thanks for having us here Rapha, this space is stunning. Is this where you grew up?
Rapha: Bienvenidos my friends! Happy to have you. Yes I grew up in Ecuador and was born in France. Now I spend half the year here for La Temporada, and the other half in Europe. Between Belgium, France, and Germany.
Patrick: Wow, that's quite the balance of opposites. Where does art come into play for you?
Rapha: My Abus were both into art and painting, especially my abuela. When I was a kid spending time in the Galápagos, I really got into painting waves and surfing at the same time. Painting and drawing when I could and then learning surfing on a Balsa Board.
Samson: BARREL BARREL!
Patrick: (Laughing) Samson is drooling over your balsa boards. Can you tell us more about those?
Rapha: Yeah! They are made from Balsa wood which grows from trees at the base of the mountains here in Ecuador. 90% of the world's Balsa Wood comes from Ecuador! It's a really strong wood and still pretty light. You can really push them as hard as you want. Perfect for a Sasquatch haha.
Patrick: Sounds right up Samson's alley. Where did surfing and art find their allegiance for you?
Rapha: Yeah I think in the Galápagos. I started experimenting with paintings of the ocean and waves and have evolved ever since I was 16. Now I'm more focused on the relationship of light and waves and synthesizing the waves' environment. An attempt to create my own world.
Samson: Barrel Barrel!
Patrick: haha I agree Samson, The world is your canvas. That reminds me, What's your dream wave if you could create your own break?
Rapha: I think I would like a peak, I like having both options. One where you could be able to cross from the left to the right or right to the left with a nice tube.
Patrick: And warm of course?
Rapha: Yes, very warm haha.
Patrick: What are some projects you have been working on lately?
Rapha: I just finished one of my favorite murals I’ve ever done, It’s at the Alma Hotel in Olon. It has some of my favorite waves I have done. I also just finished a book that will be out in the next year about a surfing witch that was really fun. I enjoy exploring different mediums and styles and creating each piece with a story. Recently, I designed packaging for my brother's chocolate bar company, Ampuero Chocolates. He's a bodyboarder and I wanted his story to reflect in the art.
Patrick: It’s all in the story.
Samson: Barrel! (Truth!)
Marcelo: It seems like you're working with a lot of different mediums in the studio and there seems to be a theme of recycling in your pieces. How do you go about that?
Rapha: Yes, I like to find things that maybe are forgotten or discarded and give them new life. Things that may be wasted or thrown aside can become something beautiful again.
Patrick: A true barrel seeker sees the gems among the closeouts.
Rapha: Exacto, now let’s go seeking!
Marcelo: Rapha, before go look for those beers... Are you working on anything new that you can tell us about?
Rapha: Yes! I'm actually just finishing some new paintings and illustrations for a solo exhibition in Copenhagen in a gallery called Nielsen Contemporary.
You can find more of Raphaël's work on his IG profile, @raphaelampueroart
You can also check out his recent solo showw in Denmark on the page of Nielsen Contemporary