In Their Element – Erik Abel

July was a busy month for us. The beginning of the month took our team over to Redmond, OR for a weekend showcasing Tails, Stingray, and Immersion at the Overland Expo PNW. During the middle of the month we set out in a caravan including Par Four, Stingray towing our event trailer, Immersion, and Tails to McCall, ID for Open Roads Van Fest. Finally, at the end of the month, our in-house videographer and photographer hopped back into Tails and traveled to Ashland, OR where they spent several days with Erik Abel.


Abel is a talented and charismatic artist well-known for his unique use of color and geometry while sourcing his influences from the natural world. You may have seen his work “The Fluid That Binds Us” at the Surfing Heritage Museum in San Clemente, CA. Perhaps you’ve noticed his touch of style from work with clients like Breakside Brewing Company, Patagonia, or Rip Curl. If you’ve been to our office, you’ve absolutely walked past his floor to ceiling murals that grace our entryway. And then there’s his Instagram and online store. All that is to say we were fortunate to shadow Abel for several days at his home in Southern Oregon and spend quality time with him near one of his favorite elements: water. From Abel, “To me, the ocean and making art were one in the same. An inherent expression of spirit, fun, nature, and freedom.”

Erik Abel Arts In Their Element
Erik Abel Artwork drawing notepad
Erik Abel wood artwork

Abel’s spirit truly does go with the flow. Our team was almost transfixed by the way he moves through the world. Like water, Abel doesn’t have an agenda other than to just be and move. He is who he is. His art reflects all that he has seen and experienced and the way those memories sit inside his heart and mind. As quickly as Tails pulled into his driveway, Abel strolled without rush or hesitation to his Ford Transit van for us to follow him, kicking off our adventure. Not unfamiliar with life on the road, he spent a year in New Zealand traveling the beautiful green country by van before hashtags and selfies were even an idea.

paint brushes art studio

“…I decided to pack up a few boards, sketchbooks, and a backpack and buy a one-way ticket to New Zealand… For the first 8 months, I lived out of a camper van, cruising around and surfing the rugged coastline of New Zealand, a place I’d felt pulled to for over a decade… One night, camping alone on the beach in my van, I was looking up at the stars, thinking that I was truly lost… and it felt great. Nobody in the world besides me knew where I was, and that doesn’t happen nearly enough. Sometimes you need to be lost to ultimately find where you’re supposed to be.”

erik abel painting

We followed his van down a remote gravel road with twists and turns leading to a riverbank. He walked along the water’s edge, turning over rocks, closely comparing their smoothness, coloring, unique shape, and overall weight. A reminder that we’re all unique and stand out with our own special features we alone possess. Abel methodically moved to his van where he pulled out a chair, sat, and began sketching in a notebook – a prized item rarely not at his side. We let him work, uninterrupted, noticing our own stillness, being present in a moment, while feeling movement all around us from the rushing river, fluttering birds, and wind blowing over t-shirts and shorts. After moments of stillness the action started again. We began to collectively set up our camp for the evening. Drinks were opened and a portable grill was fired up. Dusk wrapped its darkness around the trees before eventually settling over us. With the sound of rushing water and twinkling stars above, we listened as Abel shared more of his mind. Long story short, “A few months of fun blew by in Western Australia and then I got deported. Literally escorted onto the airplane by immigration officials. You live and learn.”

erik abel drawing on rocks with van
Erik abel outside van beer koozie

The next morning our ensemble traveled toward the coast. A favorite spot and hidden gem we won’t be able to share, Abel was on a mission. Sharing with us some vulnerability, he’s entering a new creative period of expression using three-dimensional pieces from found, natural materials. He’s also using new colors or color combinations in a different way. We were hunting for driftwood. Back in his studio, bundles of weathered and softened wood in tow, we took in the range of his work, but also the personal, paternal elements not as easily shown. As our time with Abel wrapped up we were reflected on his fluidity shaping into the role of father, husband, artist, traveler, and forever wanderer. Witnessing Abel in his element makes it obvious why his artwork is so reflective of the natural world.

erik abel on beach

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” -Bruce Lee