Tyler Warren isn’t just a surfer. Not that he couldn’t be just a surfer if he wanted — his skills on a board certainly justify lavish trips to remote island nations, accompanied by a cadre of photographers. But Tyler is different. He’s creative and innovative and fearless. And those qualities shape more that just his surfing, they shape his career.
It’s these differences that compelled Tyler to take up art while living in “the OC” — a county often perceived as vapid and empty. It’s these differences the led him to invent weird shaped boards, like his famous “soap bars”, in an era when surfboard shaping had gone stagnant. It’s these differences that imbued him with a surf style that’s all his own, a fusion between shortboard and longboard riding, with a distinct smoothness about his turns. Because Tyler Warren doesn’t just surf on waves, he dances with them, and that sort of flow is intrinsically connected to who he is.
So who is he? A man who fearlessly choose a different path. A man who refuses to conform to society’s notions of what “work” ought to look like. A man who finds a sense of peace in the studio, the shaping bay, and — most of all — on the water.
“It always feels good to be in the ocean,” Warren says about how his love for the sea has guided his approach to life. “It’s kind of cleansing to the soul, like that refreshing feeling of going in with a bad day and coming out feeling way better”
It’s tough to say exactly what made Warren fearless in the face of big waves or bold career moves, but perhaps it comes from a tremendous confidence in his expertise. If so, this confidence is hard-earned: As an artist, he’s trained at the easel of his uncle, the oil painter Kenton Nelson; As a surf shaper, he grew up hanging around the shaping bay of Terry Martin, the most prolific board maker ever; and as a waterman he’s paddled out with every pro you can think of (yes, Kelly Slater included).
The result is a certain bravery — a “no time like the present” attitude — that permeates everything Warren does. One minute he’ll be surfing, the next, he’ll dip into the shaping bay, a little later he’s in the studio, covered in paint. The idea of a “9-5” has never once entered his thought process.
“I started by making prints and printmaking you know, and then like selling ‘em at shows,” he says of the hustle that helped him craft a career. “Doing like runs of 50, then I’d like sell ‘em all. I was like, ‘Oh, I can make money doing this, then I don’t have to go work at Taco Bell.'”
As Warren’s art career started to build — Simple Shoes had him do a line of sneakers, famous surf artists like Andy Davis offered him to join group shows — so did his surf career. Offers for trips to Indonesia and South America with famous photographers started hitting his inbox. Big brands wanted to chat. Shaping also rocketed into the stratosphere, especially when Warren made his first “soap bar”, a board that’s full through the middle but stubby and square at both ends, like a bar of soap. The shape rides fast and loose, making it incredibly popular with surfers who like to race down the line.
“My goal with shaping is to make a board that surfs smooth and has enough speed and paddle power,” Warren explains. “And once again flow. You learn from every board you make — flatter here, more rocker there. You know, more tapered here. And that’s same with painting, too.”
For Warren, it’s only natural to compare one of his careers to the others, and flow is central to all of them. He’s an innovator and bold in his creativity — whether that’s by carving a new line on a wave, drawing a new wave on the canvas, or crafting a board that feels completely fresh. He’s also a true artist in all three disciplines: Applying a sense of fearless creativity, childlike wonder, and love to everything he does.
Most of all, he rejects conformity in favor of passion. He lives for the moment, not the time clock.
“It’s all about doing what makes you happy and not really worrying about what anyone else thinks,” Warren says from his shaping bay. “If you get ridiculed or made fun of, or anything. You know, I think the bravest and boldest and most unique thing you can do is just keep going. And not stop for anybody and just be true to yourself.”