Letting my eyes slowly drift over the various signs and banners attached to the hundreds of booths at the Port Salerno Seafood Festival, I notice one that draws to me like a magnet. The words Shark Zen snagged me like a 4/0 hook in the jaw, while the black banner with the white circle, bisected by the silhouette of a shark, flaps like a Yin-Yang calling card to me.
As I approach the booth, I see a number of long-sleeve UV shirts and t-shirts hanging from a rack, and some stickers and business cards on a card table, As I flipped through the rack, checking out the designs on the shirts, I noticed a sign that said “Send a Kid Snorkeling” on the table…now this was intriguing.
I felt pretty confident that I had seen every variation of sea life-inspired t-shirt design out there…but these were different…the broad, Asian-like brush strokes, minimalist treatment and contrasting colors were evocative of the kind of art I had grown up with in the Far East…there was a Spiny Lobster, a Mahi, a Bluefin, a Snook and a Tarpon…all solid Florida fish designs…and that Shark…a sinuous curve across an eclipsed moon…I decided I needed to learn more about this Shark Zen and find out more about that sign.
Billy Walsh is the founder and artist behind Shark Zen. A Ft. Lauderdale, Florida native, Billy had migrated to New England for a number of years when good fortune and circumstances led to his leaving behind the corporate world to return to Florida and pursue his life-long passion of art and the waterman’s lifestyle. Billy told me that his first drawing was of a Blue Fin Tuna, inspired by a fishing trip off of Boston, but hat he was using shadows and negative space to create a figure. Billy had seen a portrait of a surgeon many years earlier that inspired him to try this style, which has shaped the Shark Zen Brand.
I learned that Billy had an extensive business background in internet retail space, sales and marketing and business development. Having made his mark in that arena, Billy felt the call of his seaside roots and returned to area he had grown up snorkeling and fishing in as a kid. Shark Zen is based on a philosophy of having a connection and balance with the Ocean…the shark representing the sea-life, the Yin/Yang symbolism representing the balance…as Billy puts it “serenity coupled with edginess.”
The numerous designs are available as Fine Art Prints, t-shirts, stickers and excellent long-sleeve UV protection shirts. These shirts are designed for the water-sports enthusiast and work great as a rash guard, as well.
As an artist, Billy relates that he “wanted to do something a bit different.”
He writes that
“Shark Zen is deeply connected to the sea life experience. The experience of looking for sea life, finding it, being exhilarated by it, and it being exhilarated by you. Shark Zen is meant to translate this powerful experience to you through designs, products, and community.”
The giving back and connecting with a community encompasses not only the Shark Zen community, but the community of people here in South Florida. Billy has partnered with two local non-profit groups to provide funding to send at-risk children fishing, snorkeling, or paddle boarding for the first time. Shark Zen will chronicle each child’s experience through social media and SharkZen.com. A portion of each sale goes toward these programs.
The Edna W. Runner Tutorial Center serves the community of Limestone Creek in West Jupiter, Florida…the epicenter of Atlantic Coast Diving in Florida. The Center assists kids to excel in school so that they can go on to further their education, build meaningful lives, and graduate from the poverty of their present circumstances. Shark Zen is working with the Center to design an Introduction to Snorkeling experience for these kids, many of who have never been in the ocean that is but minutes from their homes. For more information please visit http://ewrunnerctr.org/
The second non-profit organization supported by Shark Zen is the Florida Fishing Academy. Their mission statement says that “Using marine-related activities, we teach children a healthy lifestyle and a constructive hobby; guide them away from drugs and violence; engage them in efforts to preserve Florida’s fragile natural resources; and introduce them to the marine industries as a potential career path.”
Billy Walsh has returned to his roots and through his passion for art, for the Ocean and his community, is creating a lasting legacy in South Florida.
Shark Zen…finding that balance.