In exactly one week, four hours and twenty-seven minutes from this exact moment, copies of our first ever “Interview Issue” will be dropped from a fleet of temporarily-leased fighter jets, soaring through the sky with the grace of a prized Bald Eagle, and landing in fine establishments and on well-kept doorsteps all across the Western Hemisphere. To what we imagine will be your delight, the issue contains 30 carefully-curated interviews with and by our favorite human beings on this planet. We’re talking world-renowned creatives, sports legends, tech-titans and a slew generally brilliant folks who have 1000x more ear-lifting stories to tell than we currently do. But that’ll be in one week, four hours and twenty…five minutes.
In the meanwhile, we have something we hope will keep you afloat: a full-on interview by film director + local surf creative, Mikey DeTemple, with Whalebone Founder and Ditch Plains Backgammon Champ ’98, Jesse Joeckel. It’s actually a story that has never been properly, nor entirely, told in one place — until right now. We hope you enjoy it, and look forward to giving you 30 more of these insightful conversations in our new issue next week. Twenty…three minutes.
Mikey: I’m surprised no one’s ever asked you to do this. I kind of thought like, “I wonder if anyone’s asked Jesse,” because I don’t know if anybody knows your story. I don’t quite know your story. I think it’s interesting you built something pretty amazing in this community and then you added the addition of a magazine to it, which has fully benefited the community. It’s really neat. I was like, “Fuck, why not ask the founder of this entire thing?” I was like, “Do you know who I’m going to interview? Jesse, if no one’s asked him.”
Jesse: Yeah, it’s funny. I’m usually pretty behind the scenes.
Mikey: You are, and that’s why I would like the idea of interviewing you. The brand has it’s own identity which is separate from your identity. Which is cool.
Jesse: Which is probably a good thing.
Mikey: Yeah. I’ll start with the first question. This is kind of funny. You didn’t show up for our interview this morning. I came here at 9:15 a.m. and there wasn’t anyone here…
Jesse: My whole thing was, “Alright, if I’m out surfing, I’m pretty sure Mikey’s probably going to be out surfing and we’ll probably link up later.” Today was the first time we had waves in probably, what…40 days or something. It was nice to get out on the water for once and actually surf, not just float around. Sorry if I made you get out of the water.
Mikey: No, I hadn’t gotten in yet, actually. Which is fine, because it got me in the water earlier than I was planning on. That leads right into another question. What is it like sacrificing your summers to run a multi-tier business that has so many different things going on? It seemed like you were able to jump in the water this morning, which is awesome. I mean, there’s got to be a lot of points when waves show up and you’re like, “Well…”
Jesse: When I first started, I was pretty young. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I would just close up and go surf, go to the beach, and kind of do my thing if I wanted to.
Mikey: Like the old school surf shop note on the door?
Jesse: Exactly. That’s kind of how it was. Then I hired a couple people, but I still worked every single day. I was still here every single day. It’s come full circle. Now I have great, great retail employees that work for me. Both stores are fully covered. I’m here anyways, but I still can now go surf without feeling bad, which is great.
Mikey: No surf guilt.
Jesse: No surf guilt.
Mikey: Mid-summer surf guilt.
Jesse: Yeah. Like today, I’m out on the water like, “Oh, someone’s going to be there at 10:00 a.m. I could still kind of surf.”
Mikey: It’ll be fine.
Jesse: Yeah. It’s good, though. In the summer there are some waves, but it’s usually a perfect time to just put your head down and get done what you need to get done without getting distracted by it. September is definitely another story. You’re burnt out from the summer. You’re like, “All I want to do is surf.”
A photo posted by Jesse James Joeckel (@whalebonecreative) on
Mikey: Yeah, you just power through it and go through the motions until September comes. You mentioned before when you first started that you’d throw a note up on the door. How did it all start? When did it all start?
Jesse: It all started in the winter of 2010 when I was in Hawaii. I had plans to go to Hawaii for the winter, but right before I left, this opportunity came to get this space. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. The original plan, like, the name came to me as “Whalebone Creative.” It was called “Creative” because I was going to have kind of like a little creative, not agency, but…
Mikey: Like a platform.
Jesse: Yeah. I was going to do freelance work out of this space. It was going to be more of like a studio. I had done a lot of T-shirt designs for other people and I wanted to do something with my own name on it. The T-shirt thing took off. I mean, not right away, but I realized that’s what I wanted to do. Instead of working for other people, I could work for myself and create. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do anymore. I was like, “You know, I kind of like working for myself rather than having people tell me what to do.” So I just started — taught myself how to screen print and kind of went with it. Took a lot of trial and error. Even today, I’m still printing.
Mikey: How many free samples did you have to give out?
Jesse: I still see some of the boys wearing original, free mess-ups. I’m like, “Oh man, can I just…what’s going on? I appreciate it, but don’t wear that in public. Let me get you a new one.” It’s funny. Definitely a trial and error thing.
Mikey: I still have my “Defend Montauk” T-shirt with these two axes.
Jesse: Yeah, see, that’s like probably year one or two.
Mikey: Obviously, it’s Montauk-inspired, it’s ocean-inspired and it’s fishing-inspired. Where do you pull inspiration from? Here?
Jesse: The roots are definitely here, but I’m realizing as I get older, it’s also about getting away from the Montauk bubble and getting out and traveling and experiencing other surf towns, fishing towns or just anywhere away from here pretty much. It’s nice to have your roots here, but I’m sure as you know, it’s so nice to go out and travel — it brings you back home no matter where you go. You learn so much on the road. Just meeting random people and sitting down for drinks and dinners with people you never expected to meet. You hear their stories and hear about their culture and stuff like that. Not that I pull my inspiration from them, but it clears my head to where I can come back after a trip and have a clear head and get back to work.
Mikey: Reset, come back, look at it all differently.
Jesse: We’re lucky. We’re fortunate enough to be in a pretty, seasonal town.
Mikey: Yeah, and not having to be stressed out that you’re missing customers.
A photo posted by Jesse James Joeckel (@whalebonecreative) on
Mikey: Yeah, you’ve got a few months to focus on your creative energy, and you don’t have to worry about inventory as much.
Jesse: Yeah, even if you don’t want to be, you’re so available these days. I see you lock your phone up somewhere and disappear. If it’s available, you’re going to check your emails. You’re still going to get texts or whatever. It’s hard to escape.
Mikey: What are some places that you love that have a similar feel to Montauk?
Jesse: As far as travel-wise goes, Kauai. That’s probably the only place that I truly ever detached myself from whatever it may be, social media or emails. It’s the only place that I’ve been where it just wasn’t like, “Oh, you still have service on your phone. You still have internet everywhere.” It’s the only place where it puts everything into perspective where I could care less if someone’s trying to get a hold of me or not. You can just let go there and disappear. I go places and I’m in the water during the summer and I get out, and the first thing I do is look at my phone to see, “Okay, who texted me.” I go on my app to see how sales are at the stores. I guess that’s just the world we live in now, especially being a business owner.
Mikey: It’s got to be the world you live in.
Jesse: Another place is where my dad lives on his tiny little island out toward Jones Beach, Robert Moses area. You can only get there by boat. It’s just peaceful. I was talking about this with my girlfriend the other day and she has a place that she can go to visit her family in Rhode Island, which is beautiful and it’s very detached. She was like, “Where do you have?” Kind of the same question you asked me. I don’t…I guess I don’t have it. I have a couple of beaches that I can go to in Montauk where I won’t see anybody. Maybe get a few waves and kind of detach, but you’re still in the same town; your phone is blowing up on the way home. You’re waving to people. But this place, you can only get there by boat and it’s a little one room shack, but my dad’s done a very nice job. It’s really beautiful and so peaceful. I definitely have roots there. I spent most of my childhood there.
Mikey: Got it. Is that where you grew up? On that island?
Jesse: Yeah. My parents are split, so I would spend the weekends there with my dad. We would go all the way there and have two overnights. My grandfather was, when he was still alive, there every day. Every morning I had to wake up, go down, sit and talk to my grandfather for at least an hour…a rule, by my dad. When you’re a little punk kid, you’re like, “Oh, I just want to go fishing or take me surfing, dad.” Now, looking back, those were the most prized memories, sitting on my grandpa’s front porch and just talking about baseball or fishing or whatever it was. Those are some of the most important memories I have in my life.
Mikey: You can’t help but smile to think that your dad made you have a conversation with your grandfather on this house that’s on an island that you can only get to by boat. On Long Island, in Central Island where it is all surrounded by people. It’s like you grew up in a place where it’s, like, the greatest escape from a giant like shithole in a way. Where did your mom end up?
Jesse: My mom’s out here. She taught at East Hampton High for — I’m probably going to get this wrong — but maybe 12 or 15 years. She just retired after school closed down this summer. She’s out here. She’s a new grandmother, and is very happy about that. She jokes around about everyone’s having babies out here, all her friends and stuff — getting called Deb’s Daycare and just taking care of everyone’s kids. She couldn’t be happier. My stepdad is still fishing. He’s a long-time commercial fisherman.
Mikey: Your brother is also a commercial fisherman?
Jesse: My brother is also a commercial fisherman.
Mikey: A great surfer.
Mikey: It all kind of runs in the family.
A photo posted by Nick Joeckel (@nickboyatnight) on
Jesse: The three most important men in my life are, including my grandfather who’s since passed, so four, all pretty die-hard fisherman or watermen or whatever you would like to call it, “baymen,” whatever. I guess that’s a huge part of the brand and that’s a huge part of the inspiration.
Mikey: It’s your heritage.
Jesse: Yeah, it’s heritage. I would like to say that it comes out naturally in the brand, or I would hope so.
Mikey: With the magazine in its second season, does that give you a whole other platform to do what you want to do? Are there any, you know, when you started the magazine, were there any holes that you, like, thought you needed to fill as far as creativity goes?
Jesse: No. The only thing when we started the magazine was that I had done Whalebone by myself for six years — made every decision, made every design. Every plan, every event, every single thing… I did on my own. All of a sudden you have a great team of people, but my number one concern was “is [what I’m doing] going to translate through to a media channel, to a magazine.” Two years later, I can definitely say that it is gone above and beyond everything that I expected. The team at the magazine and the design and everybody that works on that, we look at each other and laugh, every issue we’re like, “man, this is getting better and better.” We’re scared because there’s got to be a ceiling somewhere. We’re enjoying it. I learn stuff every issue. It’s great. There’s such a good team of people. I could never have taken my clothing side of the brand to where it is without them. After six years of doing things alone, it definitely came to the point where I needed to take another step. I feel very fortunate. I mean, we get to do it in such a great town.
Mikey: A great spot.
Jesse: Yeah. We’re looking out the front door right now which is equally as beautiful. Then we have the second location now on the harbor there with another stunning view. I get to see all my friends come in after 10 or 12 days at sea. You watch them come in and you’re like, “Oh man, these guys haven’t seen land for a week and a half now.” It’s kind of cool. I guess you feel a little bit like a welcoming committee. Go down and have a Budweiser or two with the Sea Capture boys. That was great.
Mikey: That’s awesome. Yeah, you could turn that, go full circle back to the whole heritage of the brand. You’re right in the mix of everything.
Jesse: Yeah, it’s great that both locations are very fitting for the brand. I built the brand around this space here. I don’t think if I were in town it would be the same.
Mikey: No, it’s definitely not the same energy this place has.
Jesse: You can’t walk out back and go for a paddle.
Mikey: One of the most special places in Montauk is where we’re sitting on the deck, right now. You must think that every time you pull up, every morning and stick the key in the door, you’re like, “Wow.”
Jesse: Especially if I get here early. The sun’s coming up right through here. It’s beautiful. It’s so peaceful.
Mikey: What do you think is next? You guys obviously have had a successful season. The magazine is looking incredible, every issue. I mean, the creative direction is so well executed. What’s the future for you guys? What do you want to do?
Jesse: It’s interesting to say. You want to grow fast, but at the same time, you want to stay as true to the brand as much as you possibly can. For the clothing brand…I hope to have, this location for as long as I possibly can, but just to always have a flagship space in Montauk. This is where it all started, so I would love it to stay here. As far as the media and the magazine goes, it’s so hard to say. You can do the whole Montauk thing over and over again, but we want to do issues that branch out to other cities and other topics. You need to make that happen. You need national clients, even global clients. We started small, but we’re expanding, and the reach is not limited to Montauk, or the East End in general.
A photo posted by Jesse James Joeckel (@whalebonecreative) on
I mean, you can subscribe to the magazine now and we’re getting subscriptions all over — even other countries and stuff, which is crazy. I think I just want to stay true to the brand, true to the roots, true to the name, true to Montauk and just expand and bring it wherever we can. We’re doing a little road trip across the country with the brand over the fall, which should be exciting. We’re just putting the feelers out there and seeing if people accept this little brand from this little town on the end of an island. Yeah, that’s the goal.
Mikey: It seems like everything’s moving in the right direction.
Jesse: Yeah. It’s nice that we are seasonal. We do have the rush all summer long and in the spring, but in the fall it starts to slow down and we’re all on the same page. We’re going to recap after this season and then definitely talk about where we’re going next. So far I feel like we’re on the right track. I feel like to be accepted in this town is not the easiest thing. It’s a small town, people talk. But I think it’s well-accepted. I think we do a good job representing the East End. I hope to be able to continue to do that.
Mikey: That’s great. It’s good talking to you.
Jesse: Thanks for having me.