Jeff Timpone Interview
Jeff Timpone Interview
Jeff Timpone of Timpone Surfboards is easily the most well-respected, go-to shaper on the island of Maui. Shaping out his small shop in Haiku, Jeff is well known for his performance oriented and expertly crafted surfboards. He’s involved in every part of his craft. From sanding to glassing, Jeff has been hand-shaping surfboards for almost fifty years. Jeff shaped for Russel Surfboards in the 70′s and later went on to be at the forefront of tow-board design in the 90′s, shaping tow-boards for guys like Dave Kalama who helped pioneer Tow-in surfing. He shapes boards for all conditions including big-wave guns for paddling Jaws. We recently had the privilege of interviewing Jeff, asking him about every thing from his influences, early days shaping, tow-in boards to shaping big-wave guns for Jaws.
Photos courtesy of Nic and Jeff Timpone
You have been shaping for over forty years. How did you get your start?
Well, my start came out of my own need for surfboards. In 1967 – 68 surfboard designs were changing so fast, you couldn’t just go to the local surf shop and buy the latest models (which were getting shorter). So, like a lot of young surfers, I started building my own boards. Trying to jump a step ahead of the newest board designs was very difficult, simply because at the time I didn’t know how to shape, glass, or sand. Remember this was the late 1960s, there weren’t YouTube shaping tutorials or any other means to learn conveniently. So, I had to improvise a lot, building my boards start to finish, even making my own fins.
Who helped influence your shaping?
I’d only shaped a couple of boards when I moved to Oahu in 1968. When I first got there, I was building boats in Honolulu behind the Surf Line Hawaii shop off Piikoi Street. They had some of the first Dick Brewer “pocket rockets”, racy narrow blades. Those boards were in at the time; I got good looks at them in the shop, from working in the area. Around that time, I moved to the North Shore, staying at a place right on Rocky Point. It was kind of an international pad, had a South African and an Australian living there with a bunch of other Haoles. One day, Bob McTavish showed up with a raw blank under his arm, he had come to stay with us. I watched him build himself a board behind the house in the backyard. The first time I watched him surf that board, I was blown away. My board designs changed after that from, Barry Kaniapuni and Tiger Espere inspired shapes, to shorter and wider designs. Though still keeping them in the 7’ range to handle the different North Shore conditions, But no quiver, just one board at a time.
Tell us about your years shaping for Russel surfboards and working with Mike O’Day?
I was hired to sand and make fins at Russel’s shop in 1972, hand-foiling fins and fitting them to early fin boxes. At the time, Mike O’Day and Bruce Jones were the two shapers, each doing 3 to 5 beautiful hand shaped, multiple stringer, nose and tail block California guns a day. Before airbrushing came along, all the color was done with resin tints and pigments; Russel’s shop was making some of the best for those times. I was still making my own boards, and O’Day was willing to help with his expertise and he really showed me the proper ways to use the tools of the trade, he was a great teacher. When an order came through at the shop that neither Jones or O’Day wanted to do (usually knee boards or really short boards), I got to stay late after work and practice my shaping. As time went on Bruce Jones opened his own shop, so Russ hired Shawn Stussy to shape. Then O’Day went to work for the telephone company, and I got my first shaping job. Thrusted straight into it, I was shaping 15 to 20 boards a week, the learning curve was extreme. Over time, by knowing how to use the tools, I was able to develop my own style of shaping that worked for me. Undoubtedly, working around such original and master craftsmen really helped me hone my craft. As Russ use to say, “We build Cadillacs here…”. Needless to say, quality was top priority.
You moved to Hawaii in 1989 and now are one of Maui’s most respected shapers. What’s a normal day in the shop like for you?
I’ve got a small shop out on the North Shore in Haiku, the same town I live in. Every day is a little different, I typically shape 1 – 2 boards a day and am also glassing and sanding as well, so there is never a dull moment. I think taking time for customers is very important, having open one-on-one interactions with them creates an added value that I know they appreciate. I enjoy the change of pace throughout the day. Doing more than just shaping, staying hands-on in the process of building each board brings me a lot of feel good moments. I like the control of knowing when each board will be finished and not being at the mercy of a production glass shop or any subcontractors. Quality remains my top priority from the early days. Building boards that last and perform has always been my status quo; this formula works well for my business. Customers come to me with everything custom design from belly-boards to SUPs. I’ve build just about every type of water craft over the years, so I think people trust me with just about anything they can dream of. So yeah, everyday is a little different and it keeps me on my toes, its still something I’m very passionate about.
You helped pioneer tow board design alongside Gerry Lopez and Dick Brewer making boards for guys like Dave Kalama and Pete Cabrinha. What was that time like for you?
That was a very exciting time for myself and the athletes I work closely with. Here on Maui, before the tow-in movement started there was a core group of watermen (the Strapped Crew) who wanted to just surf with foot-straps on there performance boards. Connected surfing, aspects from snowboarding and windsurfing, but on their regular surfboards. I made all kinds of concept boards for them. Guys like Rush Randall was a stand out, Pete Cabrina, Dave Kalama, Mark Angulo and several other were amazing to watch (see Radical Attitude) and gave tons of feedback. This “strapped” movement gave birth to tow-in surfing and catching bigger and bigger waves was the natural progression, these guys were as extreme as it gets. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I kind of shaped my way thru the evolution the tow-in movement and found myself with a couple others at the forefront. I remember watching some of the first tow-in sessions, before it turned into a scene. It was mind blowing to watch them surf 30-60 foot waves. I still make tow boards for the days that are too big to paddle.
What are the basic design characteristics of a Tow board?
I had my own ideas on rocker, bottom contours, rails, and fin placement for a tow board design. As almost every tow board was a custom order, I’d incorporate the rider’s ideas with what I knew worked. Seeing the lines the riders were drawing on the waves helped me fine tune my designs as well. The boards must have worked pretty well, I made a lot of them in that time frame. I categorized the boards by the intended use; small, medium, large, and extra-large. They varied in length, width, thickness and weight, weight is very important. To get the desired weight, I was routing strategic trenches on both sides of the stringer and filling them with BBs or even lead in the early days. I’m still making some tow-in boards every winter with similar design formulas.
There seems to be way more paddle in days now at Jaws than tow-in. Are you making a lot of big wave guns for Jaws?
Yes, paddling in at Jaws has replaced much of the tow-in crowd. We’re definitely on the cutting edge of big wave paddle-in board here on Maui. Maui has taken center stage of the big wave paddle scene, and for good reasons. Each winter I build handfuls of paddle-in Jaws boards. By hand shaping each board, I’m able to make slight adjustments for the individual riders. I’m not building the most boards, but I put in a ton of energy and focus in each big wave paddle-in board to build the best. Both female (Andrea Moller) and male (Yuri Soledade) winners at the last Billabong XXL awards, took top honors with some of my boards in their quivers. Stuff like that let me know I’m consistent and doing something right.
What kind of of board are you making for guys surfing Jaws?
For me, every Jaws board is special and everyone’s skill level is a little different. I haven’t made any 11 footers for a couple of winters now. The Jaws boards are getting shorter with more refined dimensions. Some of the kids out there are paddling in with boards down in the 9’ range. But I’d say most for the Jaws boards are around 10’ x 21+” x 3 ¾ “ or even thicker, mostly pin tails with slight variations and just about all are 5 fins, to be easily ridden as quads or thrusters. The last couple weeks I finished a winter quiver of 9’6”, 10’2”, 10’6” with slight variety in designs so they can be ridden at the outer reefs and Jaws. Building these types of paddle-in boards is fun and exciting, people are trusting their lives with my boards, so there is always a lot of attention to detail. Feedback from the riders is key with these boards. Hearing how the boards feel on the big waves help me understand and know which element of the design are influencing the ride. Naturally, getting good feedback is like a validation for the designs I’m using. Ultimately, I need to feel good about the board before I can hand it off to the surfers.
For more info on Jeff Timpone and Timpone Surfboards see www.timponesurfboards.com