HANDS ON: Shaper Profiles – Uncle Mike

Most people do their best work when they’re happy. With the exception of those few miserable people you meet who consistently produce brilliance despite their perpetual wallowing; happiness is usually directly related to productivity. What exactly dictates morale varies for everyone, but it’s no secret that when one’s quality of life sputters, that life’s passion often takes an accompanying dip.

That’s why news of Mike Walter’s departure from his namesake, Uncle Mike Surfboards and SUPER Surfboards, came as quite a shock to the surf world. With a list of team riders like Dion Agius, Ry Craike, and Kolohe Andino, it’s no secret that his products traipsed along the cutting edge of surfing’s performance spectrum. Uncle Mike seemed to be entering his prime as a shaper, but surprisingly, he believed he had made a large deviation from his intended path; Somehow, though business boomed, things were all wrong.

Today, as he opens the gate to his Oceanside Garden of Eden, lush and verdant with bamboo patches, colorful flowers sprinkled about, and a smiling Desert Tortoise named Speedy milling along green blades of grass (he’s also currently devouring his second banana of the hour) it’s apparent: nothing is wrong. Everything is right. And as he enters his shaping bay, which is naturally embedded into th carefully manicured, jungle aesthetic, another thing is apparent: great things are to come from his new endeavor cleverly title 21-13 Surfboards. Don’t think too hard…you’ll figure it out.

With this exciting new transition, it only made sense to pick Uncle Mike’s brain, and get the inside scoop for SurferMag.com’s Shaper Profile Series: Hands On.

What inspired your career change?

I just wanted to get back to the soul. I wasn’t happy in the direction we were going with UM and Super. With the split, I wanted to go more roots. I finally escaped from the jungle. I can shape as many boards out of here as I can out of any place…probably even more because I don't have the headache of the glass shop going off and people coming in to ask questions. From day one I have always had a glass shop…I have always glassed my own boards. And now I am going the opposite direction…I am going to contract glass out. But there are a lot of really good glass shops out there.

When did you make that decision?

I was leaning on that decision probably six months ago, and it just kept sounding better and better to me all the time. I finally decided, 'Hey that's what I'm going to do, and I'm going back to the jungle.' You know, life is not that long and where you work is where you spend the most time. You want to be where you’re the happiest. Especially thinking in terms of soul and shaping for the people, you know you have to be happy. If you're not then you can't create that well. A lot of my creations will come when I'm stoked. I'll be in bed and an idea will hit me, and I'll have to run downstairs and get going. It's always when I'm happy. Some of the best stuff I have made like the F-21 series and the Pro series have all come out of here. It is just a lot more creative when I'm in this environment…this is my element.

The way inspiration hits you sounds similar to the way musicians create new music…it strikes and must be recorded…

There are people in the surf industry that are just like musicians in more ways than one. There are the guys that write the music and the guys that copy and play the music. You know, I have never copied someone else's stuff. I don't have a template that fits my board. When I design something I usually work with 3 to 4 templates to make my board. I don't want to copy other people's stuff, it wouldn't be any fun. It would be like a musician copying another musician's stuff; you want to write your own music. It has a real connection to the same artwork of painters or musicians. That environment is where you want to be. The last year I haven't really been doing that, I wasn't really getting out of the box with the shortboard and stuff. So that’s why I wanted to come back here and do a little more exploring.

What's the latest thing you have been really excited about?

Being back here! I just got back and I just put my first board on the rack right now. I haven't shaped anything yet. I'm just really happy right now.

It's weird how UM twisted into a path that you didn't feel comfortable with anymore…

You know, I really liked all the guys I worked with but a lot was put on me at one time. I was shaping for 10 people at a time…so I had a lot of things going on at once, which was fun…but I had to cut loose on some stuff to get where I wanted to be. It just wasn't going in the direction I wanted it to go. It was losing soul fast. I wish those guys well, and I don't want to harm them in anyway, but I have to do what's best for me. My thing is a passion and if I can’t do that then I don't want to be there. Money is not what drives me…you know I have my killer beach shack and I'm good. My bros come over and order boards and we will see where it goes but I'm just excited to be back here.