Complimentary Lines: The Beachfront Sculptures of Andy Neumann

by Craig Angell

The Surfers Journal
Volume 12, Number Four, Fall 2003

In successful architecture, the design of a house – its style – and essence is rooted in its setting. It comes naturally from that site, in rhythm, unforced, with power and grace.

The same can be said for surfing. From great settings come great stylists. Their surfing evolves from the waves they ride: harmonious, indigenous. They surf those spots with purpose and poise. They are confident, creative, and at ease. Lopez at Pipeline, Miki at Malibu, Hakman at Sunset – all perfectly matched. From the character and influence of those amazing waves comes their perfect partner.

Surfing and architecture: There are parallels in all the arts.

Santa Barbara architect Andy Neumann is a fine surfer. Over the past five decades, he has traveled with and competed against some of the best in the world. He remains close friends with most of them and seems to find those old pals in the water wherever he goes to ride waves. But there are many people in Andy's life who don't even know that he surfs. They've never seen his flowing cutbacks or powerful bottom turns. They know Andy for his art, for the houses he designs, and for the acclaim they have earned.

Andy creates homes in Santa Barbara and around the world. While applauded for his designs of commercial and community buildings, he is best known for his remarkable beach homes. And there are few things finer than a house on the sand. A beach house is a beautiful thing. From those amazing coastal sites, powerful styles want to emerge.

Andy Neumann's surfing style developed on the long, wrapping point break waves of Rincon and at Hammond's Reef. Andy's architectural roods were planted in the rural purity of the rolling coastal hills, valleys, and the headlands of the Central Coast and developed during the days he spent as a kid in the beach houses of his pals. They were country places, organic, as if grown from the soil: native, settled, and perfect. They were built high on wooded bluffs overlooking the waves or tucked away on the coastal orchard lands that graced the Gaviota shoreline. Fishermen lived in those cottages and carpenters, too, working guys and their families. Even a lucky surfer could find a house on the sand in those days. Andy loved those places. You can feel it in his work.

He learned to surf early on with speed and power. He watched Rennie Yater and Bob Cooper ride Rincon and admired their timing, taste, and wave knowledge.

During those early days in Santa Barbara, the crowds were thin and the waves were good. From Overhead to El Cap and points north, Andy and the boys found plenty of top-quality surf to ride and his surfing got better and better. He shared those fine times with Bradbury, Bittleston, Stu Frederics, Bigler, and Eric Murphy.

At that time, '64 or so, the Santa Barbara County Surf Club had access to the best private spots, and Andy made the most of it. He honed his skills on those all-but-deserted point breaks north of town. But Rincon was always home.

Andy has designed and built over 50 beach houses in California and Hawaii.

Each, in essence, if not in scale or design, is true to the charm and spirit of those coastal cottages of his boyhood days in Santa Barbara.

Each of Andy's homes grows from its site with character and comfort. The site shapes the style. Fine architecture grows from the inside out. Pure and solid interior spaces, strong and well supported, evolve through an artistic eye and an understanding of balance, proportion, and utility.

The beach house should be beautiful from the outside, complementing its location and neighbors, but it is the interior that contains the magic. That is where size and shape and light join hands with art and the client's dreams to produce a home that takes us beyond the norm and causes us to feel we are in a special and rewarding place.

Andy speaks of good design as being respectful and considerate. He would not recklessly suggest building a shingle roof in a fire area or block a neighbor's view. Those values carry over to his surfing today and come from those early days when the crowds were nil and the rules were clear and harshly enforced. You didn't drop in and you didn't take more than your share. You learned right away to respect your neighbors.

Andy made a name for himself in competitive surfing early on. He was a team rider for some of the heaviest labels and earned a solid record competing in the all the major events of the day. He was becoming a "name" by the time he left for college at Cal Berkeley on a scholarship from the United States Surfing Association. He was there for six years of undergrad and graduate work before completing his architectural training. On one of his rare trips home during those starving student years of rain and study, he fought to the finals in the famous "War at Malibu" contest along with some other well-known combatants: Dora, Weber, Fain, and Linden. He returned to the Malibu contest the next year and again made the finals, finishing second behind his friend, Steve Bigler, and ahead of some of the biggest names in surfing. Clean point break rights were nothing new to him.

Fine design, like fine surfing, is original and comes without bias or preconception. It addresses choices and challenges in individual, natural, and spontaneous ways. It is always fresh, rather than a shallow stylistic replication of the past.

Beach houses are often built on challenging sites. Very narrow beach lots are common. They are built on bluffs or on pilings overhanging the water. Each presents problems and choices. Andy's tasteful solutions to these situations and so many others throughout the building process have made clients like Kevin Costner, Yvon Chouinard, and Robert Zemeckis invite him to design multiple projects for them.

Over the years, Andy has surfed big waves and small. He has ridden waves the world over on all kinds of boards, addressing the challenges as they've come, naturally, without bias.

Today, Andy can be found with his team of architects and interns in his offices in Carpinteria, close to the waves and Rincon. His firm is involved in many projects, including, naturally, his amazing beach houses.

Andy lives in a white cottage on the beach in Summerland with a large garage full of surfboards, and his childhood sweetheart and wife of 35 years, the lovely Yvonne. He is involved in community-action issues, mentoring promising young architects, overseeing the design and construction of his current projects, and sharing time with Yvonne. What about the surf? No worries. If there's surf, he's all over it. He always seems to find the time, just the perfect time by the way, to squeeze in a session.

Andy, like fine architecture and surfing, is balanced and well placed. His style is natural, aware, and creative. His are is mature and substantial. He is a surfer making a lasting and meaningful contribution.