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Thu, 24 January 2019

Eminem had Slim Shady. David Bowie had Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke along for the ride. Well, who has Stevo the Kneelo? Lawrence Atkinson finds out.


AIRBRUSHED: The mystical Stevo the Kneelo trips through the golden light of a cosmic dream

Stevo-Kneelo-004There is a kneeboarder who lives in Jeffreys Bay. He's quite good at riding waves. He's also a good surfboard airbrush artist who has evolved into an artist who sells paintings.

He has an imaginary friend called Stevo the Kneelo. Well, he's not that imaginary, but he has morphed into some kind of an alter ego, or persona, or is that shadow?

Stevo the Kneelo, despite a penchant for whacky costume and shooting people with his airbrush gun, is not an alien. Or is he? Neither is he a psychopathic aristocrat or an immortal zombie like David Bowie's alter egos. Or is he?

I recently spoke to JBay kneeboarder Stephen Van Der Watt, and he confessed. He is Stevo the Kneelo, and he is definitely human.

"I grew up between Kuils River and Bloubergstrand, Cape Town. In 1984 when I was 11, my dad had an old spoon kneeboard, and I used to mess around on it. I'd ride the white water at Big Bay and Small Bay.


QUICK TIME: Stevo gets bored painting, so spends no more than four hours on a canvas.


"I did try standing up on it but that didn't work with that board. I never saw other kneelos around when I was in Cape Town. I was a kid playing."

By 1989, Stevo's family had moved to JBay and the ante was upped. "I was 15 and surfed every day. Play time!"

He had one of those Macski body boards made of fibreglass and soft foam. "They were terrible!" he exclaims.

DISCO DUCK: Stevo loves hamming it up.

"I used to wax it up and ride it on my knees and then lying down. About a year later, my mom bought me my first proper kneeboard. As lighties, we weren't allowed to surf Supers. It was too hectic, so we surfed Point and gradually worked our way up. Then I earned my place out at Supers."Stevo-Kneelo-007

GRAPHICAL ART: Stevo sells his paintings at the Country Feeling shop and restaurants in JBay.

The "Stevo Kneelo" thing started at school, when every one had nick names, they just started to call him that, and it stuck. "I like it," he says.

As a youngster, he loved to draw and his father was a good artist. So Stevo studied graphic art in Port Elizabeth for two years.

One day the guy just gave me a gap and said, "Hey do you wanna try this?" On the weekends, Glen D'arcy's factory was the place where they hung out. "I started off sweeping the factory and cleaning up. They had a few artists working on their boards, and I just used to watch them. One day, the guy just gave me a gap and said: "Hey do you wanna try this?"

"I've had a few breaks. I worked for a few years for Cheron (Kraak), managing one of her Country Feeling shops. Then I moved into her art department as an "appie", under Stephen Bibb. I continued, like as a hobby over the weekends, spraying boards."

By 1998, Stevo had gone into it full time spraying for Blue Hawaii, while working freelance for people like D'arcy, Larry Levine, Mikey Meyer, Rebel Surfboards, Natural Curve (Hughie Thompson) and Simon Fish, and he's still at it.


DAY WATCHMAN: Stevo the Kneelo sits and surveys surfing at the SA Champs. Photo Chase Dell

When someone goes into a surf shop and wants a design, or some crazy artwork based on an idea, or has a picture from the Web or a magazine, "we sit down and chat. I'll do a couple of sketches, and once he is happy, I go ahead".

Some people want weird designs from Stevo: from penises to boobs on boardsStevo counts Stephen Bibb as his favourite artist. From Cape Town, he's been in J-Bay for about 30 years. "He does all of Cheron's art work. In my opinion, he's the top airbrusher in SA. He does the waves and stuff in a lovely retro style. Very cool."

Some people want weird designs from Stevo: from penises to boobs on boards, even peeled bananas.

In 2001, he sold his first painting, sun flowers with a blue background on canvas. It was at his stand at the J-Bay Shell festival. "This girl came up to me and she liked it so much and she bought it framed it and she's still got it. I didn't think much of it at the time."


TIT FOR TAT: Stevo is one of those eccentric characters drawn to the ley lines of JBay.

Now you'll see his art adorning restaurants and surf shops in JBay. Like many artists who surf, he started by drawing and painting waves at school.

The graphic art course cemented his wave art style. "My problem is I get bored too quickly. I lose interest. So I always try to paint as quickly as possible - no more than four hours, depending on the size and type of painting, and I'm done.

"I paint on wood, surfboards and canvas, but my main love is painting on canvas with acrylic. The canvas sort of moves; it sort of controls me. You press down on the canvas, and it's such a lekker feeling. I also enjoy painting on wood. Wood is so unpredictable. I start off with a certain picture my mind, and it comes out different.

"I'd like to go overseas one day, like Europe or America, in the skating / surf community, in the art community. I'd dig that. Just go and hang and paint within those guys. Or even down to Cape Town, Muizenberg area."


KOKI CAT: Bold black brush strokes are part of the unique graphic style in his wave paintings.

Stevo's creative talents are boundless. He is also into music, playing drums for "10 or 15 years". He'd play hard rock, jazz: "almost anything". He's backed off from his music, but wants to back into it.

"My typical day is similar to most people in Jbay. If there are waves I'll surf. And when I got boads to spray, I'll spray them. Otherwise I hang in my studio and paint." "There's not much to do in Jeffreys Bay other than surf and work. But it's not a bad life, it's a good life."

He sells his art at the Country Feeling Surf Shop and restaurants and through the internet. "I post my artwork on Instagram, on Facebook, and I get people from Germany, America and wherever, and they see my work and they like it. I send it to them. It's lekker."

"I post my artwork on Instagram, on Facebook, and I get people from Germany, America and wherever, and they see my work and they like it. I send it to them. It's lekker.""When the J-Bay Open is on and in winter with the winter swells, that's when I really sell my art. I just sent one to Norway and it got stolen at the airport. I was kinda feeling proud that someone would want to steal it!"

Hugh Thompson of Natural Curve Surfboards is a mate and commissions Stevo for all the spray work he needs on surfboards he shapes.

"Stevo is more than just a guy who puts colours on a board. He's an artist, it's his life. When you give him a job he has a greater vision than just a colour or a pin line on a board, a greater imagination. He sees waves, lines and colour differently.

"He reimagines the concept that the customers give him. Many customers specifically call for his art on their boards. He's also earned his place out in the water at Supers and he is an artist on the waves. You can see the link between his approach to big J-Bay and his approach to art.

"An interesting point is that many board spray painters are slightly colour blind. And Steve is typical. He sees turquoise differently to the rest of us. It adds to the fun."

So next time you are in JBay and the waves are pumping, and you see a kneelo flying down a double overhead wall, drawing art lines on a liquid canvas, that's Stevo the Kneelo. Wave artist.


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