June 1, 2013 - While people have debated whether surfing is an art or a sport since the beginning, the lines have blurred like never before. Guys like Ozzie Wright, Dane, Dion Agius and arguably even Matt Archbold, have paved the way and built careers on their creative outlets of music, art, fashion, cars, cycles and photography. Their talents in the water are only the beginning, as they pursue these free-wheeling lives of inter-connected creativity. Their art influences their tube-riding, which influences their clothes, which influences their music…
NJ’s own, Luke Ditella (Instagram: LUKEDITELLA) is within that exalted company and has used his surfing, talented family and proximity to NYC to carve out a unique path. As you’ll see below in his own words, he’s a man who’s combined his innumerable talents with his passion for life, deep love of his fiancé and family and the openness to welcome all that life has to offer. He’s not burdened by boundaries or obstacles, be it loss, money or setbacks. Nothing stands in his way, because he loves the process of creativity and the fact that you have to believe in its welcoming nature to find your way.
Read on and imagine your own possibilities…
TSV: How’s the engagement glow going?
Luke: Ha! The engagement’s glow always been there. Long before we were actually "engaged". I hate that word.
TSV: How long have you been a pro?
Luke: I was competing in professional events starting around 16. Started making a little money around then as well but didn't sign an actual "pro" contract until I was 18.
TSV: Who was that with?
Luke: It was with Split back then. Things are always changing. For the last several years I have been fortunate enough to be with Rhythm, Matuse, Surf Prescriptions.
TSV: What boards are you riding in terms of a typical model?
Luke: Really just your standard shortboard for Doc. I was riding some funky things for 2-3 years-the shorter, wider boards. I’m really more of a heavy-footed surfer, so I went back to shortboards last fall and I’m much happier. I’ll probably never ride anything but shortboards again. I have a few single-fins and some weird boards here and there, but I’m navigating back to using my rails more and shortboards allow me to do that more than those shorter, wider boards everyone was jumping on to do air reverses and all.
TSV: ‘Power’ was the word that Tom Petriken (NJ pro profiled on TSV) used to describe you too.
Luke: He's a gem, that kid. I got away from the power for a time and started doing more airs and stuff, but the constants in surfing seem to be my stronger points, so I've been going back to that more. Seems now a days a lot of people are missing the fundamentals. Some kids can't do a proper bottom turn but can do air reverses. Makes zero sense.
TSV: When you originally turned pro, was it about contests or free-surfing?
Luke: Yeah, when I originally started, it was about the contests and I had a good bit of luck so…I was sponsored by Rusty with the expectation of the World Tour. I did some QS events and realized that it just wasn’t for me. I felt like if you didn’t want to win every single event, then you shouldn’t be there. And I just didn’t have that much cut throat drive. I was more into going on trips, soaking up the culture and vibe of the place that we were visiting. So, luckily I was able to create a professional free-surfer role and I do the ‘brand ambassador’ thing now.
TSV: Can you describe being a ‘brand ambassador’?
Luke: Yeah, for example, Rhythm wants to have a presence at SXSW in Austin and I help to connect everyone to help facilitate these kinds of things. My role is tying in opportunities outside the surf realm for the brands that I’m involved with.
TSV: So, how’d you get involved in that kind of role?
Luke: Well, I’ve always been like that. I grew up in a family where there was little television, a ton of music , and my parents were hippies and I was brought up on Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and those kinds of bands. So, I’ve always had a deep passion for music and there’s a lot of musical history in my family line. From producers to writers, etc. I've just always found more ways to relate to people outside the surf industry, more so than I could to surfers. I've always felt that most in the surf industry have so much more to prove to each other and it wasn’t me. I want to get to know people genuinely and it’s kind of hard to do that in an industry that’s filled with a large amount of…fakeness, for lack of a better term. There are absolutely some amazing human beings in this industry and I am so thankful to have found them and have them support me. On average, everyone’s got something nice to say to your face and something bad to say behind your back. So, I kind of connected with city dwellers, musicians, actors and people like that and spent a lot of time in the east village in NY where we have an apt. You know, the guy that taught me how to surf is a world renowned artist and he’s really tied to bands like The Rolling Stones and people like that. His visions on life and relationships have greatly influenced mine.
TSV: Who was that?
Luke: Todd Diciurcio. Really good surfer
Luke: So, I always had those extra bits and was always really inquisitive beyond the competing. And that’s the way that things have been going lately…
TSV: OK. Where do you want to take your career?
Luke: Well, I’m doing a lot of different things, being in NY…I don’t want to look too far ahead. I just live the life I have been, concentrate on being creative and network and work in all these different areas. You know, if I’m not in the water getting photos, I’m just glad that I can keep my sponsors and supporters happy by doing other things by being at events, concerts etc.
TSV: So, do you paint and things like that?
Luke: Here and there. I'm quite terrible. My fiancé does. She’s an artist and an incredible photographer. She’s done a lot of stuff in the music industry. I play music horribly too, but I don’t paint a lot. I don’t consider myself an artist. I consider myself creative, but there’s a very fine line between someone that’s creative and someone that’s an artist. And the line in the surf industry is very hard to define right now, because everyone’s an artist.
Luke: There’s a lot of people out there that think they’ll get sponsored by putting that stuff out there…
TSV: So, how does the creative side of things, your family, your music etc affect your approach to waves?
Luke: Ahhh, I don’t know that it does. I don’t really have a certain approach. I kind of just surf. All the things that I’ve been through--heart failure, a car accident, losing my mom last year, my dog being killed…surfing’s just become such an independent thing for me to do and it’s a spiritual release. It’s something I don’t think too much about and I’m a spontaneous person, so I can’t say that I approach anything in one way.
TSV: Did you just say you had heart failure?
Luke: Yeah, when I was 23, I had heart failure in an adverse reaction to a medication and my heart sped up to 220 beats/minute and I passed out. I then woke up in Scripps hospital five days later.
TSV: Good God!
Luke: Yeah, then I got into a car accident where a kid ran a red light and the car flipped 4 times and I went through the windshield and landed back in the car and walked away from that. I was lucky.
TSV: So, I know you lost your mom last year and I’m sorry.
Luke: You know, when people say they’re sorry, I never quite understand that. I don’t really want people to say that. It’s a part of life. If you approach these kinds of events with a positive manner and don’t question the why and how they left and just be thankful with the time you had with them, many people would discover so much about themselves…I’ve grown so much spiritually from losing my mom that I wouldn’t be where I am now if those things hadn’t happened, so I try not to look at it like that. You could kill yourself milling over what "could have been".
TSV: So, I know after your mom passed that you took off across the country for a while and I know it was a mind cleanser. I was just curious what you thought that trip did for you?
Luke: I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but I grew up reading books my father handed to me. Hunter Thompson, the original “On the Road” and stuff like that. So, when this all happened, I asked my fiancé (hate that word also), Melissa, “What do I do?” and she said, “let’s just get in the car and drive” and we did. We had no specific place that we targeted and just wandered around for 2 ½ months (was originally going to be two weeks) and now when I look back on it, it changed my entire life and my entire appreciation of people and our time here. It allowed me to let go--of negativity, animosity, you name it. You know, it’s amazing what seeing America and what’s in your backyard can do for you. To go to places where you don’t know anybody and leave that place with people you now consider your family…That trip just made us so much more open and aware to everything that goes on around us, including people I probably wouldn’t have been open to before. It was a pretty big lesson learned and I think back to it every day and realize that I’m still learning things from it and will be for years.
TSV: I always remember that former World No. 2, Brad Gerlach, abruptly left the tour and backpacked Europe and he said that it changed his perspective on everything.
Luke: It does, man. It’s something that you can talk about til you’re blue in the face to people that haven’t experienced it, but when you meet someone that has, you can talk about so many other things, because they understand where you’re coming from on even just the littlest thing. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and we loved every second of it. We plan on doing that sort of thing as often as we can.
TSV: That’s cool. So, tell me about Seaweed & Gravel.
Luke: Our concept, flagship store is in Encinitas, CA. It came about because Dave Patri, who was the original founder and owner of Split, (one of my first major sponsors) and has been a friend all these years…had an idea to collaborate on a store. The idea grew from there and snowballed into what it is now…We have vintage and custom motorcycles and sell clothes, furniture and just random things. It’s doing well and we are working on expanding, so we’re going to be turning it into a brand and all. It’s one of those things that’s changing and evolving from the original idea.
TSV: Is it where you thought it’d be at this point?
Luke: I’d say the opportunities that we’re involved with are way further than where we thought we’d be. We only opened this past July. We have some major stylists and designers in the fashion industry that are going to help us with some things. The general interest with our friends in NY, who are all influential taste makers in the music, fashion and photography scenes, want to be involved…and we’re excited about where it’s going and what we have the ability to turn it into.
TSV: It’s an interesting idea, because the surfers and bike enthusiasts seem like two very different groups.
Luke: Nowadays though it’s like that’s the ‘counter-culture’ that’s brewing. You see so many kids now that want to look the James Dean part, wear boots, leather jacket and ride a café racer. You know, it’s weird, but whatever, man, whatever makes people happy. It is growing though and it’s meshing. Like Deus is known for their custom motorcycles, but they just sponsored pro longboarder, Harrison Roach. So it's all becoming intermingled.
Luke: Yeah, so it’s all growing and meshing together in a lot of different realms right now. A lot of surf brands are using motorcycles as part of their marketing pieces now.
TSV: Were you involved with motorcycles before?
Luke: I’ve always loved bikes and that culture, just never had the extra money to act on my interests… But I’ve become way more knowledgeable in the past years. It’s always been something I’ve had a lot of interest in.
TSV: Switching gears over to your better half for a sec, what kind of photography does your fiancé, Melissa Dilger, do?
Luke: Basically, her work is really candid. She photographs everything amazingly. She’s extremely good in a situation of shooting people in their "candid" moments. So, she’s parlayed that into doing shoots with models and musicians and people like that where she follows them and let’s them do their thing. It’s really original…Her manager used to be the head of Creative for Jive Records and she did stuff for Britney Spears, N’Sync, Tool, Foo Fighters, just everybody. She and Melissa both left Jive at the same time. She also just starred in and shot an entire campaign for an amazing designer.
TSV: So, Tom Petriken told me that you picked up a 1949 Plymouth. What’s the story with that?
Luke: Since I met Melissa (7 years), I’ve always talked about getting this car, but the timing was never right because of all of the traveling and stuff. But then, we’re on our road trip, in the desert in Arizona, and a flatbed truck passed us with this car on the back and I took a photo of it. Then I got home and am driving down Rt. 35 and in the parking lot of a gas station was this Plymouth (the same year, make and model of the car on the truck). I thought it was just amazing and pulled over and looked at, but figured the guy wanted like $20K or something. I called him anyway and he said he’d take a $1K for it, so I bought it on the spot…
TSV: That’s awesome!
Luke: Yeah. So, I have it and it’s at Melissa’s parent’s house and they want to kill me because it doesn’t run and has been sitting in their driveway. But I’ll eventually find the time to get it running.(Laughs)
TSV: What’s your next step with surfing?
Luke: I’m not sure of the next step. I’m pretty excited with where I’m at, what I’m able to do and the freedoms I have because of surfing…I’ve used surfing as a springboard to all these other things that I’ve been blessed to do…I’m fortunately in a position right now too where the media loves the northeast, so I haven’t had to travel 8 months out of the year to get coverage, which allows me to do other stuff. It’s been awesome to see the swing of the industry back to our area. It used to be that if you were from the northeast, you were screwed.
TSV: Yeah, but there’s a lot of guys here in NJ that are ‘pros’.
Luke: Ahhhh, I don’t think you want me to be the one to comment on that. I see through a lot of the bullshit and I’m brutally honest and people’s reaction to honesty is always anger, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. Stickers on a board doesn't exactly make someone a professional. I'll leave it at that.
TSV: Ha! Okay!! So, are you doing acting stuff too?
Luke: I’ve had some opportunities there. I had a lot of interest around the time that my mom was sick, but I wasn’t able to make it to the proper readings that I needed to make. But fortunately people have been really sweet about me missing those types of things, so the opportunity is there when I’m ready. We’ll see where it goes, but I’m psyched to try my hand at whatever comes my way.
TSV: Well, you’ve got just heaps going on. Good on ya’ and thanks for taking the time for speaking with us!
Luke: Thank you guys for even taking an interest in me.