Meet One Of The Most Underrated Shapers In The World
For decades, Timmy Patterson has been uncompromisingly shaping high performance surfboards.
“Walter Hoffman sat me down one day, and said, ‘You remember your grandpa? Well, he used to make me blanks out of the lifeboats from Pearl Harbor,” recalls Timmy Patterson, on a sweltering summer day in San Clemente.
“They were made out of balsa wood and he’d skin them and build blanks out of them. We’d shape them in a woodshop in Waikiki and sell them so we could stay there.’ That would have been in the ‘40s.”
Timmy’s shirtless and shoeless, as he often is, sitting behind a foam dust-covered desk. Life’s good. Business isn’t booming, but it’s healthy. In the last year, he’s installed a new computer shaping system and courtesy the rise of Italo Ferriera his designs are as relevant as they’ve ever been.
Times change, but for Timmy some things are the same as they’ve ever been.
“My dad ended up at Windansea. My uncle, Robert, was shaping for Velzy while my dad was making boards for the guys in San Diego. We all surfed, our whole family surfed.” – Timmy Paterson
“My father and his brothers came over from Hawaii. My dad ended up at Windansea. My uncle, Robert, was shaping for Velzy while my dad was making boards for the guys in San Diego. He used to sand boards with a belt sander,” he remembers. “We all surfed, our whole family surfed.
“Hobie opened up in ’61, I think. Robert called my dad and told him there were jobs up in Dana Point. He’d just had two kids and I was on the way, so he moved up Dana Point to work. I grew up in a surfboard factory, just as my kids have too.”
Timmy shaped his first board in 1977, but he keeps his focus off the rearview mirror.
“Doing the retro thing is cool, but at the same time, I grew up when we were trying to get out of that,” he says. “Like, ‘Wow, I’ve shaped for the past 40 years and now I’m going backwards.’ I just don’t see that. I can’t wrap my mind around it.
“Making high-performance surfboards is kind of my thing. I’ll have some customers come in and they’ll want a specific board, and I’ll be like, ‘Na.’ If I’m going to make a board, I want it to work. And that was always the thing, once you’ve done that, how do you up the performance?
“To be able to surf better has always been the goal. I’ve always been into wedgy little beachbreaks, and just to be able to get up and down on them, to have that speed all the time and fit in the pocket and turn anywhere you want on a wave—it’s kind of a constant evolution.’
Timmy’s operation consists of a small retail space with a shaping facility and glass shop in San Clemente’s notorious Surf Ghetto, dotted with some of the best surfboard builders in the world.
“The Surf Ghetto’s changed a lot,” he laments. “The workforce has dwindled. Some of it is from production overseas, but at the same time, I don’t see kids come walking in here saying they want to learn how to make surfboards, they want to learn how to shape. They don’t want to clean the shop, and that’s the first thing. When I started working I was stoked just to sweep the halls and clean-up. That was your in. I did everything from making fins, sanding, glassing and shaping. Now it’s like, ‘I want front row…gimme, gimme, gimme…help me design it and then I’ll cut it and shape it.’”
I ask Timmy how business has fared in our age of acceptance of overseas high performance imports.
“I could always be a little busier, but with today’s business climate and how shops have to do business, we’re starting to pick up quite a bit online. It’s pretty cool. I can’t just drop off 20 boards at a shop. I can’t put that money out. If I’ve got 20 boards they’re going into my shop. I can’t do an overseas-style business.
“There is a point where things start to get out of hand. I think it’s about 70 boards a week where things start to become a nightmare. At about 40 boards a week everything’s manageable.”
Over the years, Timmy’s whittled boards for everyone from Christian Fletcher and Archy, to Pat O’Connell, Adriano De Souza, Brett Simpson, Timmy Reyes… too many to list here.
Archy was the first name that really launched his designs.
“Matt Archbold liked his boards a certain way—double-wing, deep swallow, six—and he liked these bally rails with a flat deck,” he describes. “I mean, he’s heavy back-footed surfer and all his boards would come back with the channels blown out. I don’t know how he did it. The first channel in from the tail would always blow out.”
Currently, Italo Ferreira is keeping his name on the podium.
“Interestingly, from Italo, to the board I made for Stab In The Dark, to Archy’s boards, the rockers are dead on,” he confesses. “I’ll bring old boards out, put a rocker bar on them, and it’s pretty much the same as today. I can take one of Pat’s old ones, or Timmy Reyes’, or Brett Simpson’s, and measure it and it’s literally the same. Maybe there’s a 1/16th of an inch here or there, but that’s usually just volume flow—added volume in the nose and fuller rails.”
“Italo and I work together pretty closely. I think he was on an early Adriano design when we started, then we just continued morphing it to fit his needs,” he continues. “We started playing with different design elements. When he comes to town we work on a lot of boards. It’s incredible the speed and drive he gets, and he’s just getting a little more thickness in the nose or a little more width in the tail. Maybe a little increased entry rocker. It’s not too far out of the box, but there are a couple things that make a difference.”
“A guy like Italo brings so much awareness to the boards, and he’s such a likable guy. From Arch to Pat to Italo, that’s a huge span, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be central here in San Clemente. The feedback I’ve been able to get from them is incredible.”
As far as his shaping philosophy, at heart Timmy will always be a hand-shaper. The computer has helped him make sure everybody that wants one of his boards gets one, but “eye and feel is what I grew up with,” he says.
“It’s cool to be able to design with the programs these days, because coming from full production shaping, to be able to relate it into a program is incredible. You can copy things pretty much dead on, and it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m getting a hand-shaped feel out of a computer.’
“But pretty on a screen doesn’t mean it works in the water. There are boards that I’ll hand shape, put them in the computer and they just look off on screen. But in the shaping room it looks right and maybe it’s even a magic board. It’s how I run my planer and shape my boards. The challenge is how to convert that to the computer so you can replicate it. And it may not look right on the computer.
“If you’ve never hand shaped a board and you’re just designing it on a computer, the tendency is to want to make it look pretty. But that’s not always reality. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, you have to get it in the water.”
And speaking of getting in the water, as we’re finishing up the interview, Timmy’s visibly anxious to jump in his van and get to the beach. There’s a little south swell running, the water’s on the border of tropical and he’s still as stoked on surfing as ever.
“I’ve got my own glass shop, and if I want to design a board and I want it now I don’t have to wait that long,” he says, throwing a board under his arm and his sandals on his feet. “I can shape a board and it’s ready to ride the next morning, or I can even shape it, glass it and have it in the water by the evening…and I do that with a lot of my riders. It’s cool because I get instant feedback. I don’t have to send it out to a cut house and wait a couple weeks then wait a couple more weeks while it’s in the glass shop. I can have an idea right now, make it and ride it.”
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