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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Updated: December 13, 4:19 PM ET
The Factory goes foam

By Keith Hamm

Launching the debut quiver of a series of surfboards featuring iconic artwork, master shaper Tim Bessell has partnered with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to produce a limited run showcasing the late artist's work.

This special Artist Series #1 -- Andy Warhol offers five models, from the 5-foot, 1-inch "Last Supper" fish to the 9-foot, 6-inch "Dance Steps" longboard, with prices starting at $5,600 for these high-performance collectibles. Ten of each board will be produced and made available at Bessell Surfboards, the Gagosian Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Bessell weaves a tight yarn about how he partnered up with the foundation to produce the line: Back in the late 1960s, Warhol filmed his "San Diego Surf" movie down the street from Bessell's La Jolla, Calif., home, in San Diego County. Bessell was 10 years old at the time, surfing a lot and already hardwired to the contemporary art scene through his artist mother. During his stay, Warhol bought a pintail and an asymmetrical tail from local surfboard builder Carl Ekstrom, who later would become one of Bessell's mentors in the shaping room.

Warhol's visit left a big impression on young Bessell, who later would study art and architecture at San Diego State University. Fast-forward to a mid-'80s party in New York, where Bessell was hanging with some friends when Warhol showed up. A buddy dared Bessell to introduce himself to Warhol, so he walked right up to him with those cherished memories of the artist's visit to La Jolla and their shared connection to Ekstrom. "That opened up my relationship with Warhol," Bessell remembers.

A quarter-century later, Bessell got a tip to sell his boards through Fab.com, an online retailer that connects designers with consumers. Bessell wasn't feeling it, though, until he browsed the site one day and came across Alien Workshop's run of Warhol skateboard decks.

Bessell got in touch with the foundation, and the Artist Series was born.

The sale of Bessell's Warhol collection blends fortuitously with the October 2012 premiere of "San Diego Surf" at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The 90-minute movie -- the unedited reels of which were reportedly shelved after Warhol was seriously wounded during an assassination attempt in 1968 -- tells the story of an unhappily married couple looking for a better half for their unexpectedly pregnant daughter. The foundation commissioned Paul Morrissey, who co-filmed the original project with Warhol, to complete the movie based on existing notes and the rough cut.

While the debut of Bessell's Warhol quiver wasn't connected financially to the movie's release, its timing was spot on. More public screenings are scheduled for early next year. In the meantime, you'll find 55-year-old Bessell in his shaping room, working on the collaborative series with a perfectionist's eye. For more on that, ESPN.com caught up with the master shaper via email.

ESPN.com: What's been the most challenging part of this project?
Tim Bessell:
Designing the perfect quiver was the hardest part. My standards are so high that it was always on my mind to do the best job I could. It was self-brought-on stress.

The most rewarding part?
The overwhelmingly positive response to this collaboration, and the success that we have achieved in such a short time. The Gagosian Gallery -- the number-one art gallery in the world -- is selling our boards on their website. This is a dream come true, and worldwide media is picking up this story. Everyone seems to be stoked on this project.

Who will this artist series feature next?
We have plans for other artists [of the] same caliber as Warhol. We have a few in the works, but nothing is signed yet, so I'd rather not say [who they are] right now. I will let you know as soon as the ink dries.

Let's sign off with your thoughts on Warhol.
My admiration for Andy's work and what he accomplished in his life -- words can't describe. Andy Warhol is a true genius and this once-in-a-lifetime project is by far the highlight of my career to date.