Fresh out of high school in 1991 and living in Charleston, W.Va., Stephen Miles had no clue what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. That’s far from uncommon for an 18-year-old, so he joined the Navy where he served for the next three years as an aviation structure mechanic.
How did a poor kid from West Virginia rise to the top of the custom go-fast powerboat painting game? He never stopped working. Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
But seeds of what Miles would become as the principal of Stephen Miles Design—among the finest high-performance powerboat painting shops in the world—in Owensboro, Ky., were sown long before that.
“I was drawing logos for kids on their notebooks in exchange for their snack money way back when I was in the fourth grade,” he said. “So being creative seemed to be in me early on.”
Although the Navy schooled him in hard work and discipline, it didn’t bring him any closer to a career choice. Miles knocked around his West Virginia hometown for a few months until one of his high school friends working at a beachwear shop in Myrtle Beach, S.C., offered him a summer job and he decided to move there. Within days of his arrival, he met an airbrush artist—an immigrant from Thailand—and went to work for him soon after.