Welcome to the 24th episode of the second series of our podcast. Today with us, from Hawaii, the shaper Jeff Timpone.
Let’s discover with him his stories, over 50 years of surfboards shaping (all of them handmade), surf and much more!!
You can find the episode in all major podcast platforms (Spotify, ITunes, YouTube, Amazon,…) or read the transcribed episode here in our website (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)
TTOS: Aloha Jeff, welcome to the show, where are you today?
All is well, I'm sitting behind my desk in Maui, Hawaii.
TTOS: How is going over there, in this time of coronavirus?
It has been unusually busy, I think because everybody's surfing and nobody's working….
TTOS: from one perspective is amazing, but the other one is really worrying, right?
I think we're blessed here in Hawaii, because we're kind of isolated already by just being on an Island and they control the amount of people and who's coming in right now. If you want to enter, you have to have multiple tests and be screened and have your temperature taken constantly. I think here on Maui, we're doing pretty good, we've had very few new cases, but, everywhere else, is scary….
TTOS: In your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
Just, joy, you know, the stoke, the adrenaline, the ride, it doesn't matter how you call it. I have been surfing since 1962 and I still have a blast out in the water. There's just something about it, it's magic, it's the fountain of youth…. Today I'm 72 years old and 'm still able to paddle out and ride waves, it's not pretty anymore, but I get the same amount of happiness out of it, it just brings a lot of joy. That I think is the best thing about surfing.
TTOS: That something that nobody can explain, but maybe joy is a good word….
You said it's unexplainable, that the feeling, I don't know if it's adrenaline or some other drugs that our body produces, but whatever it is, it works….
TTOS: Definitely! 1962, you started surfing, right? It's a quite long time ago…..do you remember your first surfboard that you have ridden?
I honestly didn't get my first surfboard till 1963 and it was in June. I got it on my birthday as I first discovered surfing when I was fishing off of the Huntington Beach pier with my father and saw a guy just arrived kind of right underneath me and go right through the pier…..I went “Oh, that looks interesting, I want to try that”
Of course, my father, who was a wonderful gentleman and provided a great life for me and my brother said, “well, you got to buy your own board, I'm not buying that thing for you” so I saved, I shaved my pennies and nickels and orders for like a year and then, on my birthday, we went down to the pier and I bought a brand new Dale Velzy pop-out for, I want to say, it was like $82 or something and I had most of the money and dad kicked in the rest and I do still have pictures of myself with it!
TTOS: it's amazing that your first surfboard was a Velzy…..
Yes, but it wasn't definitely hand-shaped by Dale, it was a pop-out as I found out later when I crushed the nose and the thing peeled like a banana and the stringer only went halfway through the board. It was a lot of corners cut on that board, but I didn't know the difference, I was a total beginner….I had the stoke already
TTOS: When did you start shaping professionaly?
I shaped , let’s say, I built start to finish my first board in 1968…..I took a board that had already been shaped down into like a seven/10, and I shaped it down into like a seven/two or seven/four.
Sometimes I try to remember what tools I used because I honestly could have used a knife and a fork, I mean, I don't remember, honestly, but I shaped it and I glassed it and I made a fin for it.
And then I sanded it and rode it and then brought it over here to Hawaii and sold it for like 75 bucks…. I thought, “Oh man, I'm hot stuff here”, but, you know, I was wasn't building boards for anyone but myself, I was young and I could surf a little bit by then and that, probably, felt good to me.
At that time in life, I was building fishing boats and through that job, I learned all about fiberglass and resin, which still comes in handy for me, the stuff that I learned building those 27 and 33 foot fishing boats.
TTOS: You know, there is something in common among shapers of that era,like you, when they started in the sixties, they were shaping only for themselves and not thinking at it like a business….
Yeah, and, you know, what all I cared about then was by next wave and living here. I actually didn't live on Maui. I lived on a Ohau and we got so much surf there. I mean, it was just ridiculous and crowds, back then, were very minimal… top of a crowded day was maybe like 10 guys.
There were always tons of waves, it was different in Hawaii back then.
TTOS: I know! I was speaking with Joey Cabell in one of the previous episodes and he was telling me the same thing; the lineup was not that crowded even if there were some Californian or Australian surfers coming in…. there was a lot of space for everybody….
I have a connection with Joey, I got to actually meet him and talk to him at Dick Brewer's 80th birthday party few years ago.
That boat shop that I worked on was owned by Joe Quigg that built, Joey's 50 foot catamaran right next door.
I used to see him and Joe Quigg (that actually was an old board builder), he was a master craftsman and obviously knew how to make boats…. he was so meticulous, he made these 50 foot boats, two of them cause it was an asymmetrical catamaran. I got to watch the thing, get built, start to finish because we were working next door and the first one that came out I'm pretty sure it was for Joey….you know, he sailed it down to Tahiti….
TTOS: Joey told me about that story and it was pretty cool. In effect, in the past and , in some cases, even today, it was not only about being surfers, it was being about watermen….
Yes, there are so many things you can do in the ocean….in fact, as I'm getting into my years where I still love to surf, but it's not pretty anymore. I do a lot of stumbling with my takeoff, but I'm also taking one of those outrigger canoes, and I have a lot of fun with them.
TTOS: you told me that your first surfboard is the one you shaped for yourself, when shaping surfboards started to become a business for you?
I stayed in Hawaii till 1972 and then I moved back to California because the boat business kind of fizzled out. I got hired at a place called “Russell Surfboards” , Bob Russell Brown was just a wonderful gentleman and we had two master shapers and they needed a sander and someone to help with experience and I got the job and being around that group of people I really learned a lot and I learned how to professionally shape, I learned how to glass, I learned how to do a lot of stuff in that shop because we were building somewhere between 35 and 40 boards a week. I was making a fin and sanding six to eight orders a day and, back then, the boards were different, there were no airbrushes, all the colors were done in the resin with pigments and tints.
It was a great learning experience and I made really good money there until I started shaping them, my pay got slashed, but I've slowly built my way back up and by the time I got pushed into the shaping job because the other guys just kinda moved on. You know, there's no retirement plan in surfing, you just go till you drop.
TTOS: I like that.
You know what, honestly when I look back, I've had a great life. I wouldn't change a thing….I've had wonderful people come and go through my life and I've got a family you know, life is good.
TTOS: Who are, or were your references in the shaping business?
The guys that I worked with mentored me, told me that, if I wanted to make it in the business as a shaper, I had to be able to do everything from a kneeboard to a 12 foot gun. I've always kind of kept that in the back of my mind. I still like doing different stuff every day,I would go crazy if I had to come in and just make long boards or short boards or, you know, whatever. I have such a diverse clientele that keeps me on my toes, but in the surfboard industry, there's sort of an evolution… today, for example, we're back in twin fins, all of a sudden people are incorporating different shapes with different fin configurations and different bottom configurations. So I feel good about being able to do different stuff every day.
TTOS: Is there a particular shape that you really like to do today?
One of the reasons I moved out here in Hawaii, was, in the first place, to do boards for waves of consequence. And I had no idea that when I landed here that there was a place called Jaws and that I'd be involved in making tow boards that were pulled into the biggest waves in the world and now, and before, making, guns as everyone's paddling in. I think guns and tow boards are the ones I get the biggest rush out of, let's just put it that way….I’m getting chicken skin on my arms….just thinking about it.
TTOS: Because you're thinking about the guys that are using them , right?.
Exactly! I'm about one mile from Jaws, and back in the early days, when it was Dave Kalama, Rush Randle, Laird Hamilton, Cabrina, Mike Waltz, Sparking Gullo, the whole crew. They were the only guys out there and I could drive down there and basically watch them ride my tow boards and get a lot of information and just get the stoke from them. It was a crazy time, there was nobody there, there was no flotation devices, there was no rescue sled,it was really kind of hardcore and, you know, God bless them, nobody got killed or seriously hurt.
TTOS: You know, it's interesting what you say, you get the stoke from the other people surfing, it's not only about you surfing…
Yes, also being able to teach my son and my daughter, how to surf and share that with them was a huge, huge part of my scope too. My son was a great, it still is a great surfer and my daughter, she's got two kids of her own and she doesn't get out there as much as she'd like to anymore, but we were the surfing family for quite a while.
TTOS: Let's talk about the relationship between surfer and shaper, you know, in all the episodes that I've done so far with the shapers, they said like the relationship between them and the surfers is so important because they help them to do better and to improve.
I couldn't have said it any better. I have customers that I've had for 40 years, we're still working on new stuff. As they're aging, their boards are getting bigger, but they still, you know, when you're in your late fifties, even early sixties, you're still able to surf pretty good. they just needs to be able to catch the waves. The surfers shape our relationship, I learned so much from what people are bringing or putting on my plate for me to do, because they're all going in a little bit different of a direction. Let's put it that way. You know, some people want to make their surfing easier, some want their boards to be long, but super performance. As I said,that's where I feel confident that I can kind of take somebody else's ideas and make a reality for them.
TTOS: Yeah, it's very interesting….
There are other guys out there like Pat Rawson, they're my age and they're very accomplished shapers and they're doing the same thing I do, they're not doing mass production…..
I actually opened Timpone in 1980 in Huntington beach, California and I was praying to, I could have 10 boards a week, after two weeks I was taking like 30 orders a week, just went through the roof to this day. I don't know why or what it was, obviously I knew what I was doing a little bit because I had such great experience drilled into me over at Russell Surfboard and I learned from very accomplished people. I knew what I was doing, I never just never blew it up, which is fine…..I didn't want to see that there's a whole other story, but there's a responsibility that comes with having that kind of workload and putting out that many boards….there's all the people that really start to rely on you for their livelihood and ups and downs. When it's down, you got to fire people and lay people off and, and it's a terrible feeling.
TTOS: Of course, that's the worst part of the job,but there is your name on top of the surfboard, so if the surfboards are not done properly, then your name is affected.
You said it exactly, I always tell people, “Hey, it's my name on the front door here and you're going to get my best effort and if you absolutely hate it, bring it back, tell me what you want me to change and I'll make you another one for free”, that's never been an issue for me. I want people to have a positive experience, like that they will come back, that's my business model.
I believe that between us shapers, none of us are making a zillion bucks, but we're making enough…..and we're I'm enjoying the lifestyle still
Settling. It's actually in effect. What they're telling me is that Alison really not the best thing for us is talking with people you know, talking with surfers adding generations, you know, like a kind of a grandfather that is my age that is bringing his grandson to the, to the shop and shape his first surfboard. You know these are the things that are gratifying,
You know, now the kids are starting to surf, they are so young, they're out at three/four years old and they're ripping…..this is crazy.
TTOS: They, they go for a performance of board straight, straight at the beginning, right?
They're only like four feet long, they don't fit on my rack.
TTOS: Do you remember a particular athlete or a surfer that gave you an important contribution for your shaping?
There's been so many guys that I've learned so much from that I would have to say…..
I built a lot of sail boards when I first got here to Maui and that's how I met Dave Kalama and Rush Randall and Mark Enduro.
I think combining certain aspects of surf boards into the toe boards and I also made some of the first kite boards for the first world champion Marcus Austin.
I think just all of that put together, it makes my boards unique. I don't want that to sound like I'm head and shoulders above anybody or anything, I think I just have a lot of knowledge of different stuff that I've kind of pulled together. People bring me ideas, Dave Kalama brought me so much information and new ideas and bottom designs and stuff that “wow, you know, something, we do it and it worked.”
Not only tow boards, but also regular one, you know, I was talking to someone just this morning about the towing thing….it didn't start with Jaws…..there was a group of guys here that put foot straps on their surf boards and they were paddling into waves and doing flips and stuff much before arial.
That was Kalama, Cabrina and Rush Randall…. those guys. The boards that we made for them were, I don't want to say they were “snowboard influenced”, but it was “attached surfing”. As their feet were attached to their board. There was all these new options that you could pursue and try to make work.
I think it was that group of guys, later in my career, some great surfers on my boards in California and I had a great group of guys in Texas riding my boards.
When I got to Maui, that kind of embraced me and trusted me to build those first toe boards and the first stand-up paddleboard, I just happened to be the guy who had an open mind and that they could come to me and talk to me and give me their ideas and I could take their ideas and put it on phone communication.
TTOS: conversation is so important, right?
I don't ever want to say, I know all about shaping or surfing…. I'm more of the guy that can call himself a technician. I could take people's ideas and turn it into a surfboard, I seem to be able to interpret their ideas and get it on the boards, be it good or bad, you know, you never know
If you put Kelly Slater on an ironing board, he's still be shredding, if you put a good surfer on anything they're gonna love it, or they're gonna say, “Oh, okay, well, this works, but we can do better.”
That's where the surfer/shaper relationship comes in….it's the constant improvement and refinement of designs and shapes and that's part that keeps me going also keeps me up at night.
TTOS: if you had to pick one moment of your career and call it “the defining moment”, which one would it be?
Well, that's a tough one, I may not be able to answer that one because you know, the career is still going, as there may be something still out there that I haven't experienced, but you know, I had such an amazing time and I’m still having such a full life…
I would say that, being in California in the sixties, seventies and eighties, it was mind expanding, there was so much going on and so much surf and so much partying, those were wild times.
TTOS: Let's talk about innovation today, I was looking at your website and I saw about the new materials, sustainability eco-friendly how do you deal with innovation today?
What we're doing today is, we're using solar made foam or recycled foam cores, we have a plant-based epoxy that we use, we're using flax hemp and basalt fabrics on our “Maui leaf” design, and it could be any shape, but we're just trying to make boards out of less harmful materials. The sustainability thing, some of it is longevity, many boards are being built with single layer of glass on both sides and they end up in the landfill. We're trying to make boards that last for a few years and I think that's very important, That's what we're doing and I don't see too many other people pursuing it here, it started off as kind of like a thing, a project that my son and I worked on, and it was all his idea.
He graduated from college with a sustainable business degree and a sustainable science business degree,. he just had this idea, he researched all the materials and now it's become two-thirds of the business, we're building a lot of styro-poxy, we are building so much and we can't keep up with the demand, but the materials can't keep up with us.
We're having trouble getting all the epoxy that we need, we're importing some of the fabrics from Australia and China because they make organic hemp, which we use on the decks of our boards.
That being said, the sustainability part of our business is taking off because people are conscious of what they're getting….we can make a really light performance, short board, durable, that's not going to disintegrate.
I know you're aware that most of the pros that travel the earth, they're getting so many boards and they just ride them a half a dozen times and they just give them away or they sell them and they're breaking boards left and right……
TTOS: We cannot complain that the sea is polluted, we need to do our part as well, right?
Exactly, we're very involved in that. At some point I'd really like to get my son to talk to you because he's brilliant when it comes to this stuff, he's got ideas that I don't think about…His brain goes is going in a totally different directions and he's actually in here building boards with me, he's doing a lot of the glassing is all the epoxy, laminations and hot coats and sands of the boards.
It's basically just the two of us that are building, six/seven boards a week to start to finish.
TTOS: I can imagine it …. I would love one day that my son will come up and say, “dad, I know something that can improve your business. Let's do it together”…that's the reason why you create a family… it's very rewarding also from a father perspective….
I'm so happy to have him here, not only as he's super meticulous and really focused on making the best board possible, but he's my son, you know, and I've been working for so long while he's been in school and growing up and stuff. I'm getting to really enjoy him now just as a father and son relationship, we're having a great time building boards together.
TTOS: What's next? We talked about, of course, innovation, sustainability custom surfboard. Do you have any other projects going on?
You know, not really….I'm really super focused on just what's in front of me.
My other projects are going to be traveling a little bit more too for my own enjoyment.
Last year I was actually supposed to go back to Europe like I did for my 70th birthday….,but, unfortunately the COVID just screwed everything up. I'd like to go back over there, I've already paid my money to go back on my annual surf trip to Mexico….there's this beautiful little place with this beautiful little sand bottom point waves that I just have fallen in love with.
TTOS: We're going to finish our interview with a short Q/A question answer session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind.
The best surfboard that you have ever ridden…
I had a six/nine just took a squash tail with a triple concave and I kept it….
I've got a couple of boards that I've kept, but this one when I was still young enough to surf, that was just the board.
I'm a big guy, 220 pounds, it was widened six, but boy, that board just worked.
TTOS: Do you have a favorite shaper?
I have to say Mike Diffenderfer. I met him when I lived in Kauai long time ago, and some guys over there had some of his boards and they were absolute masterpieces, wood crafted. He was a master shaper, 15 or 20 years older than me, he passed away, he got sick and died.
TTOS: Your favorite song?
Well, I'm you know, being a child of the sixties, I'd have to say, Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin.
TTOS: Your favorite surfer today.
I'm just going to go probably with, John, John, he is amazing. I also like Gabriel Medina and Italo…
TTOS: the last question, we want to know your best relationship advice….
I was married to my wife for 37 years and she passed away about five years ago and I had a young lady after her, who surfed with me a lot and having a girlfriend who surfed I think that just made it for me…..I'm going to leave it there because we're no longer together…. it's all good, I was just too old for her.
Surf it is so important in my life….
TTOS: thanks a lot, Jeff, for being on the show with me today.
Recorded in January 2021