Court fight has happy ending

After settling a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co., Robb Havassy ended up with 365 surfboards.

Ever since then, he's set out to diminish that number. On Thursday, he'll be raffling off 150 of the boards in Huntington Beach.

Sixteen years ago, the Costa Mesa resident painted and gifted a board to his friend — a Hollister Co. photographer who lived in Florida. When a photograph of Havassy's creation, with a purple phoenix on one side and a shield constructed from the words "peace," "love," "life" and "surf" on the other, reached the Ohio-headquartered apparel behemoth, it became a key part of the company's surf-centric ad campaign.

Hollister executives created exact replicas of the board, each one detailed and aged to rival the original, Havassy said, so they would reflect "a surf shack feel." His "RH" signature was replaced by "Hollister Co." logos on clear view in malls nationwide starting in 1999.

"Surf culture is a big part of my life," said Havassy, 43, who found out about the usage in 2005. "And it was kind of a slap in my face. So I sued them for copyright infringement and right of publicity violations."

After a litany of litigation in federal court, Havassy, in an attempt to avoid spending the foreseeable future tied up in appeals, settled the case and later received all the boards the company had produced, including the original.

Attorney Derek Lemkin, part of the team that represented Havassy, said the terms of the settlement are confidential.

One hundred and fifty of the boards will be up for grabs at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum between 5 and 10 p.m. Thursday. Havassy will construct a large art installation with the surfboards, and all proceeds from the raffle will be contributed to the museum.

"I always wanted to recycle and upcycle these surfboards for collectors and museums and do various activities for fundraising purposes," he said. "I want to use them to do something positive, but they were created not to surf but simply to market a brand."

The Huntington Beach Downtown Art Walk has partnered with the museum to host the event. Art Walk, held the third Thursday of each month, is free and showcases art in local restaurants and businesses. A registration table with maps and wristbands will be located in the parking lot.

"I met [Robb] briefly at our last Art Walk," said Susan Welfringer, Huntington Beach Downtown Business Improvement District manager. "His young daughter was one of the children having so much fun with the wet clay. I could tell from the buzz around him that he had several fans excited about the upcoming exhibit."

Since 2007, the remaining boards have generated substantial income for charities, with individual pieces going for well over $1,000. This week, patrons who purchase one of the 400 raffle tickets have a chance at landing a highly coveted board for $50.

With this event, Havassy hopes the museum will receive much-needed support, attention and resources.

"I want to do something fun, something cool and find a way to bring people together to support the surf culture," he said, happy that the boards will be dispersed in the community instead of becoming part of a landfill.

In addition to the funds raised, the opportunity to have Havassy supporting the museum is meaningful to its director at large, Cindy Cross.

"I hope everyone comes to '150 Surfboards' to meet Robb, support the museum and maybe take a piece of surfing culture and history with them in the form of one of his boards," she wrote in an email. "You don't have to be a surfer to want one (although they are actually ridable). Everyone with a home or business in Surf City should want one!"

Havassy's legal battle led to more than just a surplus of surfboards. It inspired him to compile the book "Surf Story," which will be on sale at Thursday's event. The 440-page volume celebrates the art and creative culture of surfing and was published by Havassy in 2008.

"I love the ocean, the environment and the connection we have to Mother Nature," he said. "There's this incredible energy in the culture surrounding surfing and the creators in it."

According to Havassy, an art kit, gifted to him when he was 26, guided him to his craft. The UC Irvine psychology and sociology major, who once modeled for Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and Armani, had never taken an art class and had no idea what to do with the set.

"Finally, I did one painting and then another, and this is at an age when you figure you know yourself pretty well," he said. "I didn't know how easily it would flow out of me, and that's what I've been doing ever since."

A surfer, golfer and father to 4-year-old Marin, Havassy does multiple freelance jobs to make ends meet: painting, sculpting, photography and designing clothing, surfboards and skateboards. He also owns a signature apparel and sandal line.

He does everything he can to support his family.

To this end, Havassy is planning on moving to Costa Rica in June. Once there, he hopes to work on the second edition of his book and open a gallery and surf boutique. He also intends to launch an art school.

"Art happened to me — I didn't have a say in it," he said.

Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: "150 Surfboards," a fundraiser by Robb Havassy

Where: Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, 411 Olive Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday in conjunction with Downtown Art Walk

Cost: Free to attend ($2 donation requested); $50 for raffle; boards can be purchased before the event for $100 unsigned or $250 signed by Havassy at the event

Information: Call Cindy Cross at (714) 960-3483

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