A small man standing 5 feet 6 inches tall, dressed in a brightly colored T-shirt, acid-wash jeans, smiles through a vibrant red beard. He has two rings in his lip, one in his nose, and plugs in his ears that are three-fourths inch in diameter. A tattoo peeks out from under his T-shirt and covers his forearm. The tattoo showcases lyrics to a song and artwork that he says comes to mind when he hears it.
Longboard in hand and old-school high-tops laced up tight, Tyler Nelson, owner of Endless Summer Longboards, is ready to share his passion with the world.
Nelson, 22, has been hand-crafting high quality longboards out of his college home in Duluth, Minn., since 2008. He came here in 2007 to complete a graphic design degree. Before attending the University of Minnesota Duluth he had never set foot on a longboard.
“The first time I rode on one, it scared the hell out of me, and I knew I was in love,” Nelson said with a smile. “I liked the challenge, and I knew within a month of that first ride that I wanted to build one.”
It’s been four years since Nelson first pushed off on a longboard, and he hasn’t stopped since. Nelson has embedded himself deeply in the Duluth longboarding community. He is the president of the Duluth Longboard Crew and has organized a growing Duluth event, Gnar of the Gnorth, a downhill riding competition now in its fourth year.
Nelson has devoted his life to the creation of boards, and also to forming a close-knit community and way of life.
“Endless Summer Longboards is more like a philosophy,” said Nelson. “It made me so happy, I’ve decided to share this with everyone.”
In a small house on Jefferson Street, Nelson began his mission to create the highest quality longboards in the Midwest. His first steps toward success began by networking through Silverfish Longboarding. He used the forums as a tool to reach out to other builders for advice, and eventually to spread word of his own custom longboards.
In his quest to create quality boards, Nelson spoke with the pros in hopes to learn as much as possible from experienced builders. At first, he said, it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of “warming them up” before they let him in on their building techniques. After a lot of emails and long phone conversations, he was in touch with longboard builders and carpenters along the West Coast.
“My phone bill wasn’t too good, but it was worth it,” says Nelson. “I knew that if I made a good impression on a small group, they’d go to another group, and to another group. It’s all about making a good bond with riders, friends, and companies.”
Nelson had developed a network of support and made a small investment into the necessary supplies to build high quality boards. Luckily, Nelson had grown up with carpentry. Both his grandfather and his father had worked the trade, and Nelson already knew how to operate the machines and owned most of the woodworking equipment.
Over time, Nelson’s college home became his workshop and office. His garage hosts his wood working equipment where Nelson says the “dirty work” is done. His basement hosts more then just college parties and jam sessions, but also includes a painting room and a small room Nelson calls “the oven” which is used to help adhere glue and paint on the boards.
Upstairs is his personal design studio. Posters, fliers, advertisements, stickers, T-shirts, and board designs are created here. Anywhere you look around the room you can see Nelson’s inspiration. From a stack of straw hats, each with their own story and one signed by Nelson’s favorite surfer, to the “Endless Summer” movie poster taped to a door, the room gives the feeling of summer even in the Duluth winter.
The cold doesn’t bother Nelson.
“Here in Minnesota it snows, it’s cold weather, but you can still feel like it’s summer,” he said. “You just need to find where and how you can do that. You can feel like summer all the time.”
For Nelson, this meant putting school aside to focus on creating Endless Summer Longboards.
“When I was really getting into the company and doing it full time, I was basically a nocturnal builder,” he says. “I would be awake from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. in my shop and up in my graphic studio, working on boards, working on new decks or promotional materials... It worked really well for me. No one was around, I could have my own solo personal time. It had a slight spiritual side to it by being with myself, working with my hands, and building these fun, functional pieces of art.”
This passion is exactly what landed Nelson a position at his biggest competitor, Northern Pine Longboards, based out of Eden Prairie, Minn. In one conference call, Nelson highlighted his skills of design, quality building, networking and marketing, which turned into a job opportunity at Northern Pine Longboards.
Bryan Williams, part-owner of Northern Pine Longboards, offered Nelson a position on their team. Williams said Nelson does great work in regards to building and designing custom boards as well as the graphic design done on the boards.
“He’s passionate about the sport, which is what we need,” said Williams. “We need to keep that homegrown feeling, he’ll be the street guy and the hype guy.”
Soon, Nelson’s board designs will be available through Northern Pine, but he says he will still continue to work independently on Endless Summer Longboards as a side hobby.
“Longboarding is not a religion, but it kind of has the same feel as church,” says Nelson. “You get everyone together and I don’t care if it’s your grandma or your son or anyone. There’s no such thing as too old or too young. You just get people riding together, having fun, and being happy together.”
A similar version of this story previously ran in the Statesman.