Surf, Sleep, Tattoo: An Interview with Artist Jacek Minkowski


Jacek Minkowski has lent his artistic skills to customers along the West Coast, from Avalon Tattoo in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego to Mom’s Body Shop in the Haight community of San Francisco. Inking arms, legs, backs, and other body parts with symbolic, commemorative, and sometimes inane images while charging the idyllic California surf all along the way.

We talked to Jacek about his roots, his work, and how he is enjoying the Northern California surf scene.

Panama Jack: So, tell me about your background. How you ended up here, and how did you get into tattooing?

Jacek Minkowski: Well, I was born in Poland in the ’70s, moved to the U.S. towards the end of ’80s. I’ve always been interested in tattoos, and I was the guy creeping around looking at guys that were tattooed. Kind of fantasizing about it, drawing barbed wire on my wrist and not listening in school and stuff.

And then I moved to Chicago in the ’80s. Some years after in ’96 I started tattooing there professionally, and then, through tattooing, I ended up in San Diego. That’s where I found surfing, and pretty much everything else is history. Stuck on the West Coast from San Diego to San Francisco, I’m just definitely gonna stay wherever there’s waves, you know.

Panama Jack: Do you have a favorite style tattoo that you like to do?

JM: Mostly stuff that’s based on American and Asian tradition. Bold lines, really simple, bold, popping colors. I like a lot of black and white, as well. Definitely anything that has a solid line structure, that’s easily readable, stuff that ages well.


Panama Jack: Do you make any other art?

JM: Absolutely, yeah. I have a studio at home, and I’m pretty much painting full time whenever I’m not working. Haven’t really sold much. I mean, there’s a landscape of a coastline. [Points at a muted, Central California coastal image on the wall behind us.] Actually, I painted that a while ago. You know, from two or three years ago. It’s a little bit but mostly for fun, you know? I focus on tattooing as far as work and profit. Seems to be a little more realistic.

Panama Jack: So, I know surfing plays a big role in your life. How often do you get out in the water?

JM: I try to go out every day if I can. It’s pretty heavy here. I mean you definitely have to wait a day to get smaller to go out and have fun. Most of the time it’s too big, and it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of mental prep. Like right now we have 12 to 15 foot waves. You have to pick the right day. When it’s that big, it’s hard to do it every day. It’s pretty taxing. But otherwise, this place is pretty amazing. It’s the best surf spot I think I’ve lived at, ever.

Panama Jack: And, what kind of boards are you riding these days?

JM: Everything that I’m capable of piling up here. In San Francisco, it’s mostly a short board experience. Definitely a powerful surf, so you have to have shorter equipment, more capable. But we also have amazing small waves, so I have a full quiver. I have over 40 surfboards stashed. So, I’m pretty much ready for whatever happens here. Anything from long boards to short boards. Every few months there’s another favorite that I pull out which I forgot about.


Panama Jack: Do you ever go on any surf trips anywhere?

JM: Not much anymore. Pretty much stay around here, yeah. It’s just, it’s just so good here, really. It’s kind of hard to leave, you know? Conditions sometimes they’re pretty good. So if it’s not crowded…I avoid the weekends. There’s a lot of really fun stuff around here, for sure.

I mean I drive around quite a bit, wherever there’s some fun waves around. There’s some spots around here that just take a little travelling. Santa Cruz is nearby. You have to drive around, an hour or two sometimes, to end up in the right spot. But it’s pretty rewarding. It’s not crowded, people are really friendly. It’s a little different vibe, you know.

Panama Jack: Is there anything else that you like doing in your free time?

JM: Yeah. I hike a lot. There’s amazing forests around here, and mushroom season started, so I hike around for wild mushrooms a lot. Whenever I can get out of the city…once a week, at least.

Panama Jack: Where do you go?

JM: I mean that’s kind of a secret, I don’t want to give away my spots. Within two, three, four hours, there’s amazing wilderness accessible.

Other than that, I just do the same old same old. Surf, sleep, tattoo.

To find out more about Jacek and his work, visit, or stop by Mom’s and get some fresh ink from the man himself.

like panama jack