Tyler Hatzikian is a California surfer/shaper who was born and raised in the South Bay. Featured in the films Singlefin: Yellow and One California Day, Tyler makes beautiful hand crafted boards in the traditional way. We caught up with him to talk about surfing, shaping, and sprint cars.
What was your childhood like?
Well, since my dad surfed, I was exposed to surfing at an early age. I grew up getting carried down to the shoreline at Malibu on his shoulders with my toy truck in hand. He would plop me down on the beach at Malibu while he surfed, and I was oblivious to the famous surfers who probably walked up to The Point right by me.
When did you get your first surfboard?
My first board was a hand-me-down from my dad when I was about 7—a 7’6” Pat Rawson garage board (before he had a name). It was bright yellow … although the rails were more grey, from patches of duct tape, than yellow. I have memories of having that board in my room, waxing it up with strawberry Sex Wax and dropping in off my bed.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
The first time I remember surfing was at El Porto in the summertime. My dad took myself and a neighborhood kid down to the beach. The fact that my dad surfed didn’t really make it cool to me at first though. Other influences got me to commit to start surfing. It wasn’t until the older neighbor kid started surfing that it was cool, and that’s when I really started. That was when I was between 7 and 9 years old. It was a pretty big deal to be able to accomplish that first ride. I got praise from my dad and friends, and that kept me going.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
It wasn’t really surfers at first. I would say my first idols/heroes were sprint car drivers. Before I started surfing, we used to go to Ascot Park in Gardena, which was a clay dirt half mile oval. Almost every Saturday night, we’d go and watch the sprint car racers. We enjoyed going to the races together as a family. My dad was a plasterer and so he usually worked on weekends and I would help him out. It was a big deal to be able to look forward to going to the races and having a good time at the end of the day’s work.
What is it about shaping boards that appeals to you?
When I’m shaping a board, I’m thinking of surfing—surfing in my mind. Even though not in the water, I still feel connected. Basically, if I’m creating a curve on a board, I’m so concentrated on shaping that it basically feels like I’m surfing as I’m shaping a board.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
I would say Cloudbreak, Tavarua. That’s because that was a trip I was invited to go on when I was 21 with a bunch of pro longboarders that were at least 10 years older than myself. And that’s the first major trip I got to go on for a magazine where it was 13 days there paid by the mag. We showed up to Tavarua and everyone was taking quiver shots—all the guys pulling their boards out of their bags, looking at my equipment and looking at me like I was going to get creamed, like I had no business being on that trip. I brought heavy single fins, 10 foot, and other guys had tri fins that were light with super rocker— basically just long shortboards. I remember going out in the boat and everyone waited for me to go out first to see me get pitched. They thought for sure I was going to get hammered. Probably five of my top 10 barrels of my life are from that trip and that was in ‘94.
Who/what inspires you?
Creative people. People that don’t sit around, that are active and driven.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Balance … meaning not being too extreme one way or the other, but being open-minded yet realistic.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
I wouldn’t really change anything, but I would have liked to maybe dabble as a race car driver, racing sprint cars a little bit more. If I didn’t do what I do right now, that might have been a direction that I would have gone. I’ve done a sprint car school, but haven’t actually raced them.
What are you most proud of?
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing started out as a passion—with me wanting to get better at it. It was my first real individual sport and I felt I had tendencies leading to that instead of team sports, although I liked team sports like baseball and soccer. It was personal time. But as I developed my surfing and started building surfboards, it became not so much a break or relaxation like it is for most people, but it was work—having to talk shop down at the beach (even if just looking at waves). It was the office and I had to perform on a daily basis. If somebody has a bad day of surfing, no one usually cares. But if you’re a label, the pressure’s on; everybody wants to say if you’ve had a good day or bad day, and that’s a lot of pressure.
The meaning of surfing has changed for me. It was different when I was younger than it is now. So I look forward to finding different ways to get back to that solitude, such as surfing my home spot with no one else out on big days. It kind of takes me back to when I was a kid when you’re focused on your own surfing, relaxed and mellow. You didn’t have to worry about all of this drama. When you’re surfing big waves, it forces you to focus on the surf. It kind of clears your mind. When the surf is smaller, you’re thinking about the guy next to you, the crowd. But big waves bring you back to the point where you don’t think about anything else. You’re just focused. Otherwise, hot dog surf is just drama for me. People want to challenge you to a surf-off in the water. Big waves allow me to keep that distance between all of that crap. It keeps people on the beach and I can be way outside.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Happiness would be working with my hands and getting them to create exactly what I want them to create. There’s a certain satisfaction to that. Also, at my age, being able to build a family is important to me. My wife, Katherine, and I have been together for twenty years and my daughter, Evelyn, was born two years ago.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Probably, in shortboard realm, your Merricks and Rustys—the guys that are out front … shortboard guys that are actually working with top surfers in the world and also using computers to lock down baselines for their team rider,s and being able to build off of that. It’s interesting.
In the longboard realm, it’s hard for me to say because my path is basically trying to build longboards without the shortboard influence. And it’s a constant refinement whether it’s the craft of glassing or shaping. There’s a lot of young guys that … I don’t know … make boards that I probably wouldn’t say have traditional roots. They’re more kind of rough garage-ish, light longboards. The way I view most other longboard builders … I don’t feel it’s as pure. My boards are an evolution, an advancement and progression of traditional design. I think a lot of guys that build boards now make longboards, but they’re trying to advance it to try to carry more shortboard elements into it. I’ve been trying to keep my aim true since I started making longboards. I’ve tried not to muddy it up with other influences.
What is in your current quiver? What is currently your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
777, Wingnose, Balsa, 8’ gun, 6’6” squashtail tri fin, Parabolic rail Wingnose. I’m constantly testing new designs. The one I’m most comfortable on is the balsa though because I’ve been surfing it so much over the last few years. My favorite surf spot is the north side of the El Segundo jetty.
What’s your favorite meal?
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I pretty much listen to satellite radio so it’s all over the map, but I like Waylon Jennings.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful to my customers over the years who allowed me to build on my vision. Without my customers, I wouldn’t have been able to be in the position I’m in right now as far as traditional design goes—refining and making my craft. First of all, you need repetition to build and perfect your craft, but the type of work that we do is so time-consuming that it costs a lot of money to make the boards. Volume is low, so it takes years to develop. You can cut corners and do mass production but that’s not refining, perfecting. I’m also grateful that I pretty much knew what I wanted to do from an early age and that gave me the self-confidence to stay away from drugs.
What causes/organizations do you support?
We support the City of Hope.
What’s next for Tyler Hatzikian?
We’re trying to educate—letting people know more about our approach to surfing and board-building, and basically trying to really build our catalog. Keeping things fresh. We would also like to increase our involvement with our “test pilots” and to be able to create more prototypes with test pilots and customers.