Outer Waters: Patience & Placement

Trevor Gordon’s self-discovery along the course of least resistance.

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The first week of the new year sees Southern California on the business end of a monstrous flex, the Pacific roaring to life in a way it hasn’t in years. South winds howl, creeks flow, and the surf absolutely pumps. 

As is often the case during such swell and weather events, wave riders of all ilk have flocked to the various nooks and crannies of Santa Barbara County’s cobblestone coastline. At the center of the scene is Santa Barbara Harbor and the once-upon-a-time secret spot known as Sandspit, or, for the more locally aware, Sandbar—a grinding, foamy, barrel-producing result of the Army Corps of Engineers that bounces off the seawall and peels ferociously around the corner into the deeper water of the harbor entrance and the wharf beyond.

Fewer than 30 yards from the action, tied off in the harbor slip closest to the lineup, sits a 45-foot performance catamaran named Aldora, a colorful array of surf craft scattered on her trampolines. As the swell settles in and stretches out over multiple days, the boat becomes an impromptu clubhouse for local and visiting surfers, the morning high tide affording easy lineup checks from the coziness of her cabin. 

On the morning of the swell’s peak, Aldora’s captain, Santa Barbara native Trevor Gordon, surveys from the deck. The beach and seawall are abuzz with the standard trappings of a surf circus, but the boat, which serves as the full-time home for Gordon and his wife, Maddie, rocks indifferently, her undulating motions barely noticeable, her captain similarly still and sedate among the anything-but-typical conditions. 

Eventually, Gordon paddles out on a self-made 8’8″ long fish twin-fin. Sitting much deeper than the traditional takeoff spot—closer to the nearby yacht club and offshore buoys than the harbor mouth—he strokes into a large and sloping set wave with strange and ominous boils roiling down the line in front of him. Drawing an unbothered line, the regular-footer trims along toward and then past Sandbar’s normal lineup. Impossibly, the ride continues right through the mouth of the closed harbor entrance and, for a moment, looks poised to shoot Gordon through the end pilings of Stearns Wharf and onward to the usually surfless sands of East Beach, where boats are being ripped off their anchors and wrecked despite sitting in some 50 feet of water. 

Gordon pulls off the back at the last moment instead, as if responding to some clarion call, and paddles into a position at the end of the wharf that only he can see. Soon enough, he’s up and riding again on a crumbling, swollen beast, his approach as casual as it might be on a waist-high day in Rincon’s cove. The ride ends well over a mile away from where he first took off, the whitewater bringing him ashore near the Chromatic Gate sculpture—a place where surfing simply doesn’t happen. “Growing up here,” says Gordon, “you always heard those stories about guys getting waves like that—stuff that just seems impossible. It was sort of hard to believe that that could actually happen until this swell. I had to give it a try.”


Refitting the 45-foot performance catamaran Aldora in the Canaries for an Atlantic crossing. Photo by Erin Feinblatt.

A freshly minted 33 years old, Gordon is tall, handsome, solidly built. He’s been an undeniable, though equally unassuming, stylist in the Rincon lineup since his late teens. From small quads and finless asymmetricals to displacement-hull mid-lengths, weird single-fins, and long fishes, he’s an obvious acolyte of the ride-anything movement. There’s seldom excessive motion as he puts together a wave, whether knee-high or double overhead. His surfing –like many other facets of his character – exudes an outward ease and a sense of connectivity. He’s also world-class with his patience and in relation to where he’s able to place a board on a wave. 

Gordon grew up not wanting for much on the Mesa in Santa Barbara. His best friends were Morgan Maassen, the now-famed surf photographer and filmmaker, and Brandon Smith, the son of high-performance surf innovator and shaper Davey Smith. As a kid, there was lots of boogie boarding and body whomping and messing around on waves. Gordon stood up on a board for the first time at 7, but surfing was merely one part of a larger effort to stay stoked and salty. Boats were the main event then.

 “As far back as I can remember,” says Gordon, “it’s always been about boats in my family. I don’t think we ever got on a plane for vacation. We got on a boat. Boats have been a constant in my life, much more than surfing.” 

Photo by Will Adler.

Both his mom and dad raced Nacra catamarans before becoming parents. After having Trevor and his younger brother, Spencer, they bought a Catalina 30 named Wave Dancer for more family-friendly adventures, complete with a Jolly Jumper lashed to the railing for the boys. That gave way to a powerboat named Sojourner, then a 52-foot ketch sailboat when Trevor was in high school, then another powerboat for comfortable and easy trips out to the Channel Islands, and another after that. Still, as middle school gave way to high school, he and his friends started to go deeper with wave riding. From their neighborhood, they could access four different spots via skateboards, with Sandbar being the crown jewel at the bottom of the hill. 

Gordon surfed in NSSA events and the regional Volcom series, and leaned heavily into the Christian Surfers Alliance contest scene that was popular in the area at the time. “I remember winning one [contest] at pumping C-Street [in Ventura] when I was 15 or 16,” he says. “It felt like a big deal, but it was pretty much the only time I ever won anything, or even came close. Everything else I did really poorly in. There was never any big indication that surfing could become my career.” 

Through his early teenage and competitive years, Gordon mostly rode Channel Islands thrusters, often blems that he could buy cheap from the factory in Carpinteria. But the right surfboard can change your life, and that’s exactly what happened to him when he first rode a bright-red 5’3″ rounded-pin quad from shaper Ryan Lovelace. 

Photo by Jeff Johnson.

Gordon was 17 at the time, and Lovelace—a half-decade his elder and just evolving past the early phases of the shaping learning curve—was gravitating toward alternative craft. “It was obvious from the first wave he got on that little red board,” says Lovelace. “Something changed for him. [The board and Gordon] clicked so hard, so fast. He was like this whole new surfer, almost overnight.” 

Gordon also recalls that fateful first session: “It definitely opened my eyes. All of a sudden I was surfing Rincon on a board that glides. You know, pull your back foot forward a bit and just stand there. You don’t go back after that.” 

Without ever formally discussing it, Lovelace and Gordon found  something deeply formative in each other, a friends-first type of partnership between two like-minded individuals, both unknowingly at  the start of their respective careers. The shaper-surfer collaborations, however informal, continued in earnest over the next decade. Lovelace would shape a board or two, and Gordon would ride the shit out of it— his classic, stripped-back approach offering a no-frills investigation into what worked and what didn’t, from hulls and high-performance  finless sleds to asyms and all manner of midlengths.

Maassen, who’d introduced Lovelace and Gordon, heavily document- ed the early phases of the collaboration. As Maassen’s career blossomed  and took him away from the daily scene in Santa Barbara, longtime surf journalist turned lumberjack poet Michael Kew stepped in and became the primary documentarian. Eventually, some of surfing’s more art-minded lensmen took note, folks like Will Adler, Jeff Johnson, Jeremy Koreski, Jack Coleman, and Thomas Campbell, adding their visuals to the ongoing efforts of Maassen and Kew. It was only a matter of time before Lovelace’s shapes and Gordon’s surfing earned them both cult-like followings. 

“It was basically word of mouth and blogs that got people turned on to us,” says Lovelace. “It was wild to have that type of attention that fast. It definitely turned into a thing. You can’t fabricate serendipity like that. And for me to have him as my test pilot for every wacky thing I wanted to do at that time—it was really, really fortunate.” 

It was also during this period, not too long after the introduction to Lovelace, that Maassen played matchmaker again, this time connecting Gordon with a young illustrator from England named Maddie, who was curating a popular surf-themed Flickr feed called The Magic Bus. In short order, the duo struck up a relationship, and Gordon headed across the Atlantic to meet the young woman who’d been conceived aboard a sailboat by nudist parents. 

He spent two months on that first trip. Maddie eventually moved to Santa Barbara to attend college, and the courtship continued in earnest. They’ve been married now for nearly a decade, a partnership that’s had a major influence on Gordon’s trajectory. From bowhunting to a penchant

for toast and tea to their floating home, foodie habits, and ambitions for an anything-but-traditional future, it’s not hard to see the fingerprints of their relationship in nearly everything Gordon does. As one friend put it, “It’s never just ‘Trevor’ or just ‘Maddie.’ It’s always been ‘Trevor and Maddie,’ since the beginning.”

Mid-session runaround amid the ambient clank of masts and halyards. Photo by Morgan Maassen.


“I’ve followed the path of least resistance,” says Gordon. “I mean, I really don’t like doing things I don’t enjoy. If something bums me out, I have no problem stopping, at least until the right thing comes along. But then I’m totally hell-bent and obsessive about making it happen.” It’s a line of thought that underscores the tension at the root of Gordon’s personality—and the side of him that’s driven to create things for a living: the endless push and pull between laziness and productivity. Though not necessarily prolific, Gordon’s creative output has been both steady and impressive. He sold paintings to pay for his first trip to England to meet Maddie. He made zines to show off his early photography. He’s never been afraid of scissors, needle, and thread to customize clothes or make a board bag.

And while his sponsors have helped him find his way to far-flung destinations to create content—places like Russia, the Cook Islands, India, and Morocco—the lion’s share of his professional footprint has been the result of sticking close to home and relying on his own sweat equity. As a result, it’s easy to see why—given his skill set and his position as the face of Mollusk Surf—Gordon is a slam-dunk candidate for canonization on the Mount Rushmore of hipster surfers. But such snap judgments miss the mark. 

“He really walks the walk,” says filmmaker, rancher, and former pro surfer Chris Malloy. “He bowhunts a little. He builds his own stuff. He’s a great fisherman and can pick some guitar. And then there’s his sailing and artwork. Trevor isn’t just some dude in a Mollusk outfit playing a part. He lives very close to the ground. It’s all authentic with him.” 

“He’s really good at having an idea, evaluating its worth, and seeing how to bring it to life,” says Santa Barbara–based photographer and longtime Gordon coconspirator Erin Feinblatt. “From finding funding to putting in the hard work, he knows how to make a project happen.” 

The voyage back to Santa Barbara aboard Aldora—across the Atlantic, into the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up the coasts of Central America, Baja, and California—introduced Gordon intimately to both his new home and the circle of open-ocean skippers. Photo by Will Adler.

A cursory look at Gordon’s résumé quickly confirms it: There was a cookbook, The Tiny Mess, made with Maddie and another friend, which was featured in Bon Appétit and sold out its first print run. There was Escape From Bigfoot Country, a video project where Gordon purpose-built a truck camper from scratch for his 1990 Jeep Comanche, then road tripped to the Pacific Northwest on a surf hunt. Camel Finds Water, another video project, resulted from Gordon discovering the hull of a rotting Paragon Nokia powerboat on a friend’s Gaviota Coast property and trailering it back to his home at the time, up Rincon Canyon, for a full rebuild. He then hauled the finished product north of the border to surf before eventually selling the boat to help fund his next big idea. There was Floater, an innovative short created with friends Ian Durkin and Foster Huntington that features Gordon and others riding “invisible” surfboards. Waves on Mars, a sci-fi-inspired video also made with Durkin and Huntington, showcases Trevor and Maddie sailing their first boat, a 36-foot Catalina named Brisa, deep into Baja. Gordon also had a hand in Chris Malloy’s film Groundswell and Lovelace’s movie Almost Cut My Hair. More recently, he’s built his own portable shaping bay, made primarily with scraps from Mollusk’s shop in Santa Barbara, and has begun making somewhat bizarre but impressively functional and aesthetic boards under the label Toy Boat. In sum, he follows his curiosities and makes a living sharing what he finds along the way. 

“I don’t know what I am,” he says. “I like learning from mistakes, both my own and other people’s. I’ve always appreciated folks in the groove of their own deal, who aren’t afraid to plow their own way in life—contrarians with confidence and independent thinkers. I figured out pretty early on who I was and what I liked. Since then, my goal has always been to make just enough money to keep that lifestyle going and see where it leads.”

Presently, that means Aldora. After nearly seven years of living on Brisa in the SB Harbor, Maddie and Gordon had their eyes on the possibility of starting a family and doing some extended blue-water cruising. 

Windblown trim in Baja. Photo by Will Adler.

A few late nights spent scrolling the for-sale listings on YachtWorld uncovered an Outremer 45 performance catamaran, which was dry-docked in the Canary Islands after being demasted in the Strait of Gibraltar. Aldora had already been around the world and was on her third owner. Despite a steep price tag and some daunting red tape to travel to a Spanish-owned island off the African coast amid the height of COVID restrictions, the Gordons sold Brisa and her coveted slip in the harbor in May 2021 to go all in on Aldora, buying her sight unseen.

“I got there and it was even worse than we’d thought,” Gordon says. “[Aldora] needed lots of work, and it wasn’t going to happen without paying lots of money or taking lots of time and figuring it out.” 

Unsurprisingly, he chose the latter option: elbow grease. The punch list was daunting. The engine didn’t work, the mast was still broken, the hull needed to be refinished, there was a missing skeg, and new rudder posts were needed, along with a full electric overhaul. “It was 20 times more gnarly of an undertaking than anything I’d done with boats before,” says Gordon.

Supply-chain issues, a language barrier, and the occasional need to learn entirely new skills to finish certain jobs kept things moving slowly, but by the start of 2022, he and Aldora were ready to head for home. The passage began with a nine-day sail to the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Senegal. After a quick resupply, Gordon and three hired hands he’d found on Instagram got underway on what proved to be a 25-day crossing to landfall in the Caribbean. 

“As far back as I can remember,” says Gordon, “it’s always been about boats in my family. Boats have been a constant in my life, much more than surfing.” Photo by Kanoa Zimmerman.

It was a transformative sail for the young captain, simultaneously confirming his hopes for his new boat and opening his mind to the open  ocean: triggerfish schools as far as the eye could see, floating in a placid ocean with the bottom some 16,000 feet below, late and lonely nights navigating under the stars, heavy seas, and broken equipment. 

Arriving in the Caribbean, after lucking into a fantasy anchorage for a few days at a dreamy right pointbreak, led to a haul-out in the Dominican Republic so Gordon could once again fabricate a new skeg, which had snapped during the crossing. “You don’t learn anything until you start breaking things,” Gordon says. “And eventually everything breaks on a boat, so you can learn it all.”

After the repairs, the surfing portion of the long sail home kicked off in earnest. Different friends visited for extended time aboard as Gordon made his way through the Caribbean—a stretch that included several white-knuckle hours spent in 25-foot seas, surfing Aldora down the faces of waves at 17 knots, whitewater regularly washing over the cabin windows. Then the passage took him down through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific coast of Central America. Folks like Dan Malloy, Will Adler, and professional snowboarders Bryan Fox, Alex Yoder, and Caley Vanular all dropped in, along with multiple visits from Maddie.

More surf was scored, more fish were caught, and more fun was had, much of it documented by Gordon and his trusty Handycam, along with copious amounts of RED footage and drone shots captured by the camera-toting stowaways. “I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like,” says Gordon of the film that’s gestating. “But I know I’m not trying to entertain anyone with some story-driven narrative. It’s going to be a vibe video with a whole lot of little, weird, beautiful moments.” 

With Maddie by his side, Gordon finally steered Aldora into Santa Barbara during the ides of June 2022, sailing past a perfectly flat Sandbar roughly five months and 9,000 nautical miles after leaving Lanzarote in the Canaries. The couple had spent the prior night anchored anonymously offshore of the Channel Islands, offering a final, quiet moment of both reflection and anticipation. “Coming into the harbor was a little surreal,” says Gordon. “Friends and family came out to celebrate. It was good to be home.”

Photo by Will Adler.


It’s a few weeks after the big swells of early January when I meet up with Gordon. The boat is back on the hook at her regular spot in Fool’s Anchorage, an open-water area off of Santa Barbara’s East Beach. We’re eating tuna Gordon caught and talking about what the future might hold. A little wind has picked up and is twisting Aldora to and fro, but the setting remains impossibly pleasant with a clear sky and the lights of Santa Barbara sparkling in such a way that a comparison to the Côte d’Azur is considered. 

The Gordons aren’t sure when they will shove off again for the open ocean—maybe a year or two, maybe sooner—but the general plan is to head toward Hawaii for a season, then up to Alaska for a summer, then back down the coast before a proper transpacific route. Of course, plans could change. And probably will. It’s a big, intimidating thing to consider: sailing full time, supporting yourself as self-employed creatives, and maybe starting a family somewhere along the way. 

Gordon is as nonchalant about it as ever. He finds comfort in the unknown. “No expectations and lots of possibilities,” he says. 

A couple hours after dinner, we’re ripping back toward the harbor in a small inflatable dinghy. It’s a clear and nearly moonless night. Venus,  Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all easily visible. Gordon mumbles some- thing about living in rhythm with the elements, but I lose his voice as  my thoughts melt into the shiny black surface of the sea and the many thousands of sparkling lights around me. A subtle but steady northerly wind bites as he gooses the throttle and aims toward the guts of the wharf.


Photo by Will Adler.

I don’t notice him adjusting his line, but soon we’re center-punching a narrow high-tide passage through the pilings—a perfectly executed and mechanized shooting of the pier. I’m struck by an affirming sense of being alive as we pass through into the tranquil waters of the harbor’s lee. Micro-lines of whitewater rolling through the inside of Sandbar are briefly illuminated off the port side as the dinghy slowly banks starboard toward the drop-off zone. 

Though visible for only a moment, this soft, shoreward tumbling  of tiny waves is an understated reminder of the ocean’s relentless move- ment and the timeless freedom that awaits when we step away from the  certainties of a life on shore. I keep my thoughts to myself, but Gordon, as if having heard, offers a similar idea as we say our good-byes. 

“Really, I just want to keep sailing,” he says. “Both Maddie and I, right now, we don’t really have any interest in living on land.”

[Feature Image: Reading telltales with Dan Malloy. Photo by Will Adler.]