Local artist Justin Merk works the nose of a longboard on his new surfboard mural commissioned by Howler’s Family Restaurant. (Nora O’Malley / Westerly News)

Vibrant surfboard mural pops ups in Ucluelet

Life-sized wall of boards aims to inspire people to play outside.

Ucluelet artist Justin Merk completed a colourful work of public art on the side of Howler’s Family Restaurant around mid-November.

From a red Gerry Lopez lightning surfboard, to stand up paddleboards, to boogie boards and skim boards, to modern shortboards, the 140-foot mural depicts an assortment of 60 personalized boards.

“It’s appropriate for Howler’s,” said Merk, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from OCAD University in Toronto. “It’s playing on the idea that all these boards are on the side of the building because everyone is inside eating a burger.”

The idea for the piece came about from a trip Merk took to southern California for a wedding.

“The house we were staying in, we were 15 in the house, I was lucky I got the kids’ room with a finding Nemo bed,” he recalls. “In that room, there was a silhouette of surfboards painted on the wall that the kids had done. I thought that was so cool. That idea sat in the back of my mind.”

Howler’s co-owner Amie Shimizu said she is super happy with the cartoonish painting.

“Seeing this mural on our wall just gives me the most wonderful feeling inside. I feel like it really represents Ucluelet, us, our restaurant, this town and how it’s growing,” said Shimizu, adding that she hopes the mural will encourage more people to get in the water.

“[Surfing] is a sport for everybody of all ages, just like our restaurant is a place for everyone of all ages. I think it’s kind of cool how it ties it all together.”

Merk, 29, said it took him about 150 hours to complete the life-sized wall of surfboards and that he used a mixture of traditional brush and graffiti to get the job done.

“If people had doubts that [Ucluelet] was a surf town, they won’t anymore as they’re driving through,” said the artist whose own first surfboard was a pink, longboard amicably called ‘Lipstick’.

While the board wall outside Howler’s is certainly Merk’s largest creation to date, the young artist is no stranger to large-scale commissions. Last year, he created a 70-foot gray whale in the restaurant’s bowling alley.

Merk also has other pieces of unique art peppered throughout the town. Relic Surfshop has a face pop-in billboard made by Merk and he painted an intricate cat mural for Taco Jefe Mexican restaurant.

“I would love to do more,” he said. “Whether it be here or in a bigger city, I’m always looking for projects.”

To view his work, visit his Instagram @Merk_Justin.

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