Volvo Designer Just Wants to Surf

Tisha Johnson tells us about her absolute favorite thing.

byBrett Berk|
People photo


Tisha Johnson is a chief interior designer for Volvo Cars. She is thus responsible for helping create some of the most stunning, clean and elegant automotive cabins on the road. It also means that she’s had a part in creating recumbent conceptual delights like the Volvo XC90 Elegance Lounge, and the Concept 26.

As constrained as Johnson is by the confines of automotive interiors, in her time out of the office, she longs for freedom and unfettered space. Her means to this liberation? Her favorite thing.

What is your favorite thing?

My Becker LC3 surfboard.

Why do you love it?  

I love surfboards because I love surfing. And the Becker board is what you call a funboard, so it’s kind of like a short longboard. And it’s a tri-fin configuration, which is sometimes called a thruster. That just means that it’s a little more nimble than a typical longboard. And, because it’s a little bit smaller, it works well with my stature, and where my skill set is now. I can really catch waves on it.

Tisha Johnson

What about its design compels you?

A traditional fiberglass-glazed surfboard is just gorgeous to me. But what I love about this one is that you can see in the shape what the board is about. It’s a very simple planar surface, and it’s this very simple section, but that section is developed in such a way so that the nose tips up a little more. The rails develop in a way. It’s all about the performance of the board.

As a designer, I love thinking about how this form is developed to get the most performance, to get a particular type of experience. And when I think about what goes into making the board it’s very reminiscent of the industrial process. There’s a foam core, there’s a fiberglassing and a glazing process. The whole thing is something material that I can relate to, made of materials that I use professionally and that I love being able to get my hands into. So it’s familiar in that way, yet the outcome is so different. For me, in my work, these materials are always being used to show off a particular design that’s going to sit, to show off an idea. With the board, I’m hopping on and I’m using it to move around.

What drew you to this particular model?

Well, I lived in Southern California, and at that time I was doing a lot of surfing in Malibu. Becker is a Southern California shaper headquartered in Hermosa Beach. So I just went into a local surf shop and saw the board and I was just at a point where I wanted something a little bit small, but I still wanted to stay on a longer board. And it’s really beautiful. It’s a creamy white color, so it’s really elegant looking. But still very simple.

Not unlike a Volvo interior?

I’m definitely consistent in my attractions. I’m drawn to designs that are straightforward and essential—just what you need to really feel finished and good.

What does surfing represent to you?  

It’s this perfect synthesis of motion and nature, and the experience connects you to your environment. It requires your full attention, so you’re very focused and in the moment. And it’s super-thrilling because you’re basically being pushed by this mountain of water.

But at the same time, you know, as you paddle out, you can’t help but appreciate how beautiful the world is around you. How you’re dipping into the ocean. All your senses are really being triggered. You can hear the water beating against the board, and of course the waves themselves. And you’ve got this feeling of speed and motion, you can see all this beauty, you can taste the salt water. It’s just—kind of, everything.

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