Monster Wave Puzzles Make a SplashMar 21, 2023 04:33PM ● By Britta Wilder
Kurt Snibbe and Norm Petersen with their trio of puzzles.
By Britta Wilder
In life we are faced with puzzles. Pieces come together to form a nice fit; other times it takes work to figure out the shape of things and just where our efforts are headed. For local longtime cartoonist and avid surfer Kurt Snibbe it took the perfect wave to solve his challenge: what to do next with his art?
“I was paddling out at San Onofre one day and this tiny wave slapped me on both sides of my face,” Snibbe recalled. “It was a jolt--and I thought, ‘you little devil!’”
Out on the water--especially between sets-there’s a lot of time for reflection. Snibbe began viewing his surroundings as canvas, scrutinizing the ocean for ideas and giving the waves personalities he’d later incorporate into cartoons.
“I was coming up with different versions-like monsters-it became a passion of mine!” Snibbe laughed.
Raised in Pacific Grove, Snibbe had always enjoyed drawing for fun but hadn’t considered it seriously before attending San Diego State University. During his senior year the prolific artist - known for his wacky, loose style - was doing editorial cartoons for the campus paper, launching a career which later led to prestigious posts as a cartoonist and visual journalist for a series of news organizations. These included: The Daily Californian, The Riverside Press Enterprise, The San Bernadino County Sun, The Business Journal for both Orange and San Diego counties, The Orange County Register and ESPN. The artist ultimately returned to the OC Register, where he currently works in general and sports editorial for the popular focus pages.
“There’s a lot of visual potential in the sports world, that’s for sure,” Snibbe said of his successful cartoons.
In 2020 the Coronavirus hit hard, resulting in massive shut downs and new work-from-home mandates. As a graphic artist, Snibbe had already figured out telecommuting--what he hadn’t counted on was an injury to his arm, and the emotional and physical toll it took on him.
“I needed to stop and take a break,” Snibbe recalled. “There was a real emotional aspect to this for me - I couldn’t draw, and I also couldn’t surf.” While his wife, Jenni, was a huge support throughout this challenging time, Snibbe was frustrated with his limited abilities.
“I could still use a mouse for work, but the drawing stopped. Not being able to surf, either, was tough. This lasted about a year,” the artist said.
After exploring ergonomic and additional options in rehabilitating his arm, Snibbe’s eventual recovery involved literal toe-in-the-water medicine- surfing at San O and Doheny on “easy” longboards to get back into the swim of life. He and another local longtime surfer, Norm Petersen, began swapping pandemic stories and bonding over the joy of riding waves daily. Without realizing it another piece of Snibbe’s story was falling into place.
“We met surfing and we shared a similar sense of life and humor,” Petersen, a San Clemente native and retired food broker, explained. “We both grew up reading Mad Magazine-so we laughed at all the same stupid stuff.”
Snibbe recounted to his friend the numerous cartoons he’d been toying with--including his interpretation of that mischievous wave that hit him and the caricatures it inspired. Petersen, who’d already had a successful career in the food industry, knew potential when he saw it.
“So, I asked him, ‘what are you going to do with them?’” Petersen recalled.
Without thinking, the creative genius responded: “Puzzles.”
Petersen thought, “Hmmm....why not? That’s great!”
Within two months the businessman located a manufacturer and Snibbe’s detailed drawings of the San O seascape - complete with notorious ocean creatures and ‘local characters’ - was produced. Naming their new enterprise was obvious: The Monster Wave Company. All the pieces came together. The public loved it.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise!” Snibbe laughed at the positive reaction to his 500-piece homage to his favorite local surf spot.
Petersen, whose wife, Catherine, is a devoted puzzler, understands why the project took off and the feedback has been so strong.
“We love doing puzzles, it’s family time and a great way to get children off their phones,” Petersen said. “There’s also the surf-content format... my wife knows I’m a whole lot happier when I’m surfing every day!”
In December 2022, MWC launched its second puzzle featuring Doheny State Beach-- a 1000-piece jigsaw-- just in time to ride the Christmas wave and spread holiday cheer throughout town. As Snibbe is busy doodling and designing daily, fans can look for future puzzles in the pipeline, like Trestles “Lowers,” dropping in February 2023.
Despite MWC’s success, the picture didn’t feel complete for Snibbe and Petersen until they put in one last piece: giving back. For every puzzle sold, the owners donate a portion of the proceeds directly to the San Onofre Parks Foundation and the Doheny State Beach Foundation.
“We’re super grateful San O and DoHo like what we have,” Petersen smiled. “It felt appropriate for us to do and it’s our way of giving back to the beaches we love and that have given us so much.”
Writer’s Note: I spent many happy hours over the holidays putting the San O and DoHo puzzles together with friends-- a great way to relax and get in some ‘beach time’-- plus the artwork is amazing!