Tyler Warren Chases The Muse
Written by Chris Coté
Photography by Rob Kulisek
Hollywood is full of actors moonlighting as waiters. Surfing has its own equivalent. There are of course the few freakishly talented souls that can effortlessly wander between worlds, with each chosen endeavor given equal credence and care—day jobs be damned. Tyler Warren is one of them. He possesses the ability to create and thrive in multiple worlds at once while maintaining a high level of knowledge, skill, and credibility in each discipline. He surfs at an elite level, paints with a touch that has garnered him worldwide status as a collectable talent, and designs and shapes surfboards that blend the best of traditionalist masterwork with modern flow patterns and bottom contours, allowing for high-speed surfing with a radical edge. All of this and yes, goddammit—he’s a handsome young man.
As if being a master of many romantic trades is not enough, Warren has been known to sling a product here and there based purely on the strength of his California beach-boy looks, disarming smile, and air of unforced cool.
It’s fitting that Warren’s first waves were ridden at one of the birthplaces of surfing, Doheny State Beach, situated on the border of San Clemente and Dana Point. Doheny has a place in surf history as a classic haunt for its chosen royalty, including Endless Summer filmmaker Bruce Brown, surf pioneer Phil Edwards, and iconic surfboard shaper Hobie Alter. Although he was raised in a high-performance shred zone, Warren found an affinity for the flow and style of surfing’s golden age. He could have easily been raised to rip and shred; instead, he chose glide and a traditional approach, riding classic boards shaped by the sport’s master craftsmen.
Warren shaped his first board at age fourteen, transforming the carcass of a discarded longboard into something new—a total reshape and recycle. As Warren grew up, he honed his craft under the tutelage of Hobie Surfboards’ legendary shaper, Terry Martin. Having soaked up the knowledge of his elders, Warren moved on from typical shortboards and began to favor unique surfcraft from the past, namely the Simmons-style surfboard—a short, stubby twin fin roughly the shape of a bar of soap that was first shaped in the forties and often cited as the predecessor of the modern surfboard. And while the boards he shapes and rides himself are heavily influenced by the past, they are nonetheless modernized to fit into today’s “ride everything” mantra. In 2012, Warren began fabricating made-to-order boards for his friends, an assortment of professionals, and surf-shop clientele, all to rave reviews.
although he was raised in
a high-performance shred zone, Warren found an affinity
for the flow and style of surfing’s golden age
Along with his love of surfing and board shaping, Warren felt a call to painting. He’d been raised on a steady diet of surf culture and a hefty dose of artistic influence, most of which came from his uncle, a successful oil painter from Pasadena, and his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro Nervo, a Mexican artist who, along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, was part of its Muralist movement. “As far as a painting goes,” Warren recalls, “the artist Ray Turner once told me that a good painting should make the viewer feel all of their emotions: love, sadness, joy. My ideal painting, then,” he continues, “would be a woman. I think they’re the most beautiful subject.”
Ebb and flow, it would seem, appear to be the two constants in Tyler Warren’s life. “I usually start off with coffee and then check the waves,” says Warren with a laugh. “That usually determines how my day will go. If I have an art show coming up, I’ll paint or draw more, but I must surf once a day. Sometimes I’ll paint, surf, and shape all in one day, but usually I focus on one or the other.”
And his surfing has a lot of flow, like a spider spinning a web: his turns are pearls on a string. To be sure, it’s beautiful, but there lie within his moments of grace flurries of lethal power. For a visual aide, look to Tatsuo Takei’s postmodern masterpiece Wet Dream, a thirty-two-minute film shot on Super8, documenting Warren as he rides one of his self-shaped surfcrafts. “My main goal with the boards I shape,” Warren points out, “is to make them flow and surf effortlessly. I have always been attracted to different boards. I never thought about it too much. I just did it.”
It’s Warren’s attraction to flow that makes him live the life of a constant wanderer and explorer. One such exploration in 2012 found him learning to ride a motorcycle on the batshit-crazy streets of Bali with two hand-shaped surfboards strapped to each side of his bike. The trip took Warren over twenty hours on land, two overnight ferry rides, and culminated in a fabled perfect wave at Desert Point. The gamble on the long, dangerous trip paid off. Warren scored the cover of Surfer magazine riding his own hand-shaped 7’2” single-fin surfboard along the stunning wall of a crystalline-blue wave, with the tagline “Culture of Cool” splashed beneath his image.
On any given day, Warren is somewhere most of us would die to be. As we spoke, he was between sessions with an eclectic group of surfers in a rented Peugeot somewhere between Bordeaux and Barcelona on the search for surf. “Traveling keeps the mind going,” he says. “It creates a nonstagnant life and teaches you to appreciate different cultures. I love surfing new waves, creating new memories, and meeting new people.” While in Europe, he will be shaping thirteen custom-order boards for local surfers, and visiting Scotland for an advertising shoot with his longtime sponsor, Billabong.
Après surf? Well, when asked where he’d like to see his art in ten years, Warren answers thoughtfully, “I hope to get some real gallery shows under my belt and have a book of my work published. Painting is another thing that you can never master. Like surfing, you can always get better and keep pushing yourself.”
First appearances may fool you, but underneath his trademark floppy surf hat and grommet grin, there’s a worldly, master craftsman. Soft-spoken, friendly, and constantly moving, Warren is a renaissance man, even though the term would likely make him nauseous. If he’s not traversing the globe looking for tubes, Warren can most likely be found mowing foam in a shaping room, grinning, thinking of his next board, his next painting, or the next wave.