When Kirstine Gottsch was experiencing her worst times, she unplugged her corporate life and began painting; and it was her art that reconnected her with her passion for surfing.



I have been drawing and painting since I was a child, carrying a small box filled with paper and pens everywhere I went. At Arizona State University I earned a degree in Fine Art.

To pay for college I worked in a surf shop just off campus, selling t-shirts and bikinis and skateboards. This is were I was exposed to the popular surf brands – such as Vans, Ray Bans, Gordon & Smith, Billabong, Quiksilver, Roxy, Stussy, Body Glove and T&C – and I fell in love with the casual style as well as the surf genre.

My art is reflective of my most cherished memories by the sea. My family always went on holiday to the Oregon coast where we had a vacation home and a boat. After I returned home from college I met some friends who taught me how to surf. I was over-the-moon. Soon after I bought a Volkswagen van and spent every weekend by the ocean. I surfed many spots up and down the Oregon coast, it was awesome!



Surfing never came easily to me, but it was always great fun. I’ve been caught in the rip, smashed in the nose by a runaway board and had stitches in my head from a fin that punctured my hooded wetsuit. Still, I love the sport and have many joyful memories of riding waves. What I love the most about surfing is the connection to nature. Nothing can compare.



My intention when I paint is to describe the ‘atmosphere’ of the day – such as warm sunlight, blowing sand, white-capped waves and clear, sparkling breaks. I paint on canvas or wood panels using acrylic paints, which I love because they dry quickly and allow me to apply many layers of colour to create depth and texture.



I went from working in surf shops to being a marketing director for multi-million dollar corporations in the hospitality industry – with little time to paint.

In 2011 my mother died and 8 months later I was diagnosed with stage 2 uterine cancer. Complications arose from treatment so I chose to leave my career to focus on my health. Its quite humbling to move back home after being so independent. So, for the next two years I went to the pool every day, did Pilates, saw multiple healers and therapists – and painted. In fact, I think painting saved my life. I was feeling lost and nothing made sense anymore. I no longer had a mother. I had no career. I’d lost my identity and part of my internal organs. It was a difficult time, but painting gave me a project that kept the darkness at bay. It’s a silver lining story really: Cancer made me stop and look at my life. It caused me to unplug from the greedy corporate freeway and remember that I had intended to be an artist not a marketing director. 

I found my paints and brushes waiting for me in the attic at my parents house and carved out a little space in the garage next the my dad’s pick-up and the lawn mower. It was October when I began creating a body of work called ‘Pool People’, inspired by folk at the local pool. By December I had rented an amazing art studio and started to open up and paint from the heart. To my surprise I found myself painting memories of surfing and the water in places I have visited like Hawaii, Fiji and, of course, the coast of Oregon. 

Then the surfer girls surfaced. I created a series called ‘Girls who Surf’, which includes paintings and drawings of wahines. I adore painting these images of women and water and surfboards. They truly represent my personal experience and love for surfing.



My tip for anyone who is thinking about pursuing their passion is to not lose sight of your what they love. A dear friend who lives in Hawaii gave me some sage advice when I was 19 and trying to decide which college to attend. She told me to visualize myself as an old woman in my rocking chair, reminiscing over my life and to ask myself if I had any regrets. If there are regrets, then you know you must honour yourself and take a chance.


This article appeared in a previous issue of SurfGirl.