Waterspot: Whatever happened to Dessa Kirk?

Waterspot: Whatever happened to Dessa Kirk?
Wearing this sweatshirt this morning, reminded me of the mystery woman whose name is on it. Photo by Chris Ahrens

I’ve always been attracted to people who not only march to different drummers but also build their own drums, strike the tune as they go and sometimes punch right through the skins in their fervor. One such individual is my friend, the timeless Richard Kenvin.

RK, as he is known, is a surfer, an artist, a writer and an inventor. He defies gravity in his surfing, and, having passed the mid-century mark, also in his age. He has remained one of La Jolla’s best surfers for nearly 40 years.

It’s been at least a decade now since I found myself wandering the aisles of Scott Bass’ (Scott’s another one of those unique characters) Sacred Craft Show (now called The Board Room.) It was there that I hooked up with RK to discuss days past as we scoured the aisles in search of things we hadn’t seen before. Along the way he introduced me to his friend, Dessa, who fit perfectly in her booth, her elegant, flowing frame accenting the fine surfboards she had both shaped and painted. This was in a time when few women were making their own surfboards.

Dessa and I spoke briefly, she gave me a hoodie with her logo on it and I walked away, intrigued by this woman who was striking out on her own in a decidedly male world.

When I asked around, not many of my friends had heard of Dessa. Those who did offered stories to added to her mystery. Someone said she had been born in a gold mine in Alaska. Someone else said that she grew up on a ranch in Mexico where she broke horses and led trail drives. Still others claimed that she was a longtime local surfer who had been quietly mentored by Skip Frye.

I never did verify any of those stories, but when I looked up Dessa online today, I discovered that she was a fine artist of some note who had spent summers with her grandfather where he taught her to work with metal, and used an abandoned goldmine for their studio. The truth of her youth, no doubt, gave rise to what is probably the myth of her birth. From her youth, Dessa worked with her hands, mostly in metal. This eventually led to a scholarship in Chicago’s School of the art Institute. By the time I met her she was an accomplished metal sculptor who was working with softer materials, including foam.  The surfboards she builds are beautiful, with mythic women flowing like waves painted by Dessa onto the foam.

From time to time I would meet up with Dessa, and we would discuss the idea of me doing an interview on her. While she was agreeable to the idea, it never happened, and I never got to ride one of her beautiful surfboards, or even surf with her. The chance encounters quit a few years back, about the same time as tales that surrounded her. I had lost touch with a friend and a story I desperately wanted to tell. As it turns out, she has moved back to Chicago where her artwork is making waves of a different sort than those she rode in San Diego.

To learn more about Dessa Kirk, you can visit her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dessakirk.

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