How do we go about describing Nate Tyler?
He’s a child of the Central Coast whose surfing is fast, unruly, and beyond beautiful. If you’re looking for Nate in the water, it’s best to look up. See someone making stratosphere-breaking leaps with minimal regard for ankles or fiberglass? There’s a high chance that’s him.
Despite his glorious style, Nate prefers to sail under the radar. For a man so associated with creating the standard for high-performance free-surfing in California, he’s a very far cry from the regular e-bike-to-the-surf-in-the-morning-and-post-an-Instagram-Reel-about-it-in-the-evening contingency that’s common in contemporary surfing. But that’s the way we like it. It’s one of the many reasons we are more than proud to have him as one of our Authenticos.
Nate can usually be found tucked away in Central California. Equally focused on creating sculptures as he is on surfing, Nate’s built himself his own slice of paradise in his childhood home in Templeton, where he lives with his family amongst various chickens, cats, and dogs. He still frequents his favorite home breaks along the Central Coast too, preferring the wild, windy, scenic beaches to the jetties, piers, and crowds just a few hours south. And who can blame him, really?
Because his name is one that comes up all too infrequently, we decided to give Nate a call to catch up. Of course, he answered right as he was getting out of the water. “Ah, I was only out there for, like, six minutes,” he said. “Well, it maybe would’ve been more eventful had I only actually gone for six minutes,” he laughed.
It’s a classic spring day for surfing in California: windy, flat, and frustrating. “At the time it’s definitely more of a desperation move,” Nate continued. “I haven’t been in the water for a while, though, so I needed to get out there.”
From there the conversation took the inevitable turn into what sort of equipment Nate’s been using to account for the smaller, sloppier conditions. “Recently it has been one of the Haydenshapes (Nate’s shaper) twin fins,” Nate explained. “Those have been pretty fun for how absolutely gutless the waves have been. It goes fast and it gets you excited to surf because you don’t feel like you have to be some shredder hero on it.”
“My boards have changed a lot recently,” he continued. “Like, I find it harder to ride a shortboard because, over the years with filming or trying to get whatever it is out of surfing when there’s a camera on the beach, I’m always surfing high-performance boards. And now, the second I get on a high-performance board it’s almost like I relapse and expect to get this or that done, which just leads me to get super angry when I fall. So when I’m in non-pro mode I just want to be on the funnest board I have and keep expectations down on the floor. Regardless of how the waves are, my brain will just click into gear when I grab a high-performance shortboard. And I usually let myself down more often than not, hah.”
Our conversation then pivots into a more formal question and answer back-and-forth about sculpting, work, and life.
805: Have you been doing much filming lately?
Nate Tyler: I’ve done a little bit here and there but it’s been slower than average. Or better put, it’s been equal to my regular spring output. Springtime is when I put my head down and get my other work done because I’m not exactly just surfing and making all my money from surfing. I have other opportunities with sculptures and whatnot.
How much work have you been putting in on that side?
Well, it’s a little crazy, because the whole COVID slowdown for travel pivoted everything into being really beneficial for sculpture work. There were so many people that weren’t traveling, and my guess is they were saying, “Hey, we’re not spending X amount of cash on going to Europe, let’s use it on a sculpture.” So, like, 2020 and 2021 and the beginning of this year, have just been crazy. I’m dropping off sculptures at a gallery and then I’ll call the same gallery the next day and they’ve already sold. As the saying goes, “When the going is good, just put your head down and go,” hah. I don’t think the art world is usually like this so I want to embrace the chaos a bit. I build furniture as well and that world has been really, really busy too.
So, in a way, it’s nice to be taking a little bit of a surf break. It feels super good. I think I just went into a different mode over the last few years of not traveling, but I’m very appreciative that I have those other outlets. It’s made me very thankful that I don’t have to hop on a plane every two weeks now and leave my kids, who are older now, behind. Mostly because they would be super mad at me for missing the invite.
It all seemed like a transitional time in my mind but really it’s been pretty seamless in the real world. There are crazy opportunities that I’m just trying to capitalize on, and sometimes I have to put surfing in the back because I just feel like I’m very fortunate to have those opportunities. And there are so many people that get the surf deal and get the surf career, or whatever you’d call it, that I did. But you can get so lost. You can get so mentally lost because you’re so focused on this fluid lifestyle that you’re living. But having real, obtainable opportunities allows me to produce income and work in my shop on my property and it’s almost more of a dream than being a successful, grimy surfer.
Almost sounds like you’re searching for a sense of purpose and finding it in those sculpting and furniture opportunities. Making something tangible.
Just like with everything, I got to a point with pro surfing where it was really good for a while, and then really slow, and then good again, and then slow again. And I feel like the art world runs such a parallel line with the surf world where you go, go, go when it’s good and you try as hard as you can while getting ready for a slowdown because you know that it is coming.
Is there a particular piece you’ve worked on lately that stands out?
I did a larger scale one that was really fun. But as the size grows so does the difficulty in balancing it as well. That was interesting because it was a challenge, so that was fun and rewarding. But sculptures are really fun because there’s nothing I do on the computer, it’s all strictly by hand and sight and feeling. Everything, even when it’s starting to look a little bit familiar or I’m doing a rendition of a past shape, always ends up as a one-off. And they always end up as their own challenges. It never feels like a production, and they all take on their own world that keeps it incredible, and interesting.
And you picked a lot of that up from your dad, right? You had no formal education in it, and there was a lot of trial and error I’m sure?
Exactly. It was an accumulation of, like, 40 years of his trial and error and then my 20 years of working with him. He’s an incredible person, though. He used to be a math professor and has an engineering background where he even built an airplane and flew it for years. Like, literally hand-built it. This is definitely his mastermind and I’m building off it and doing some tweaks here and there. So, the real inner-workings are the result of lots of years of application and trial and error.
And what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day for Nate, then? “Ah, not much!” he laughed. “Like I said I surfed and now I’m going to jump in when we’re done here and make some food and finish working for the rest of the day.”
Can we expect to see him soon? “I’m starting an exciting little surf project here in the next month,” he let slide. “Probably doing one trip, but I have so much other work on the books that I almost have to put that priority first and then just see where I have time here and there and capitalize on the gaps.”
Either way, we’ll be looking forward to it.