A Conversation with Shaper Tamir Klein
INTERVIEW and PHOTOS BY TOMMY MOORE
Tamir Klein is a surfboard shaper from Milwaukee, WI. He is the owner of Homegrown Surfboards, one of the few surfboard operations in the Midwest. Like many shapers, Tamir was trained on the West Coast and brought his talents and drive back to Milwaukee to set up shop. DAYBREAK Editor-in-Chief Tommy Moore spent an afternoon in Tamir’s shop talking about his path into shaping and honing his craft.
Tamir Klein: I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, and I’ve lived in Milwaukee the majority of my life. I learned to surf here about 11 years ago, picking it up in town. I went to UW Milwaukee, and I studied printmaking and geography there. Once I was done with school, I moved out to California. I didn’t go with the intention of building boards out there, but I just wanted to get out of Milwaukee for a bit and see what I could kind of find out there. I ended up just working a groundskeeping job. I lived on the grounds in this sheet metal shed for about a year, and was able to surf every day. While I was working that job, I saw they had board building classes in Venice. I signed up for one and built a board with somebody where they walked you through the process. After that, I felt like it was something I wanted to keep doing.
I ended up leaving my groundskeeping job and drove around California and up to Oregon trying to find a job in the board building industry. It wasn’t really working out though, and I had a bunch of boards stolen off my car. It was a combination of all that happening, and then not finding the job I wanted, when I decided to move back to Milwaukee. Once I was back, I started building boards in my parents basement actually. That was about four years ago, now. Since then, I’ve moved operations to a studio on the South Side of Milwaukee. This is the first time I’m doing this full time too, so it’s been a lot of putzing around and finding the right balance.
Tommy Moore: It’s always a wild leap to take and trying to figure out what that balance is. It’s always a fluctuating balance too, which makes things tricky.
TK: Totally. There’s definitely a lot of weeks where I’m contemplating why am I doing this. It’s an expensive undertaking, not only financially, but in time too. Then on top of that, if something doesn’t go right with a board, there’s other risk factors at play.
TM: It’s such a fickle process to when it comes down to it. There are so many things that can get slipped up so fast and that’s just another wrinkle in the system.
TK: I’m super grateful that two years ago, I had the opportunity to spend about two weeks total with Tim at Migration. I pretty much told him, “Hey, I feel like I’m really struggling with glassing. Can you walk me through how you glass boards?” He said to come over his way and that he was totally cool with it. I was there for a week and then came back a month or so later for another week to wrap things up. It was really great being able to work with him and learn from him. He has such a high standard for the boards he makes. Now, not only do I have a process down as far as glassing goes, but now there’s a standard I’m trying to get to. Now, I’m able to keep that in my mind and visualize what I need to be doing.
TM: It’s always great to have a reference point like that, too.
TK: I could watch YouTube videos all day, and I could read up on stuff, but I need to be actively like looking at someone doing something to know how to do it.
TM: Glassing especially is a very different beast than what it seems like when watching videos on it. I’ve glassed a board I built once and it was one of the most terrifying and horrible experiences of my life.
TK: Yeah, it’s scary. Your heart’s racing because you have only so much time to do everything right. I remember Tim telling me eventually I’ll be able to get into the flow and calm down. It was interesting getting his perspective. It helped me realize I’m not crazy by being overly anxious about this.
TM: I’m sure at a point too, all that anxiety starts to go away and it becomes more of a meditative process like sanding.
TK: I’m slowly working music back into my glassing routine too. When I was first glassing boards, I’d throw on some music thinking that would get me into the flow of things, but it honestly just seemed like it distracted me. I’d end up more focused on the music than I was on the boards. Now that I’m getting more comfortable, I’m slowly working it back in.