“I never did it for the money, I just like seeing people stoked with their helmets.”
Tag Gasparian’s workshop is a throwback to the vintage days of custom paint. The former pro surfer, who long ago swapped the board for the brush to paint his own path in the powersports industry, likes to keep it old school. You won’t find a computer anywhere in the Tagger Designs headquarters in Lake Elsinore—Tag’s design process goes from mind to matter in one constant flow, without any form of electronic interference.
“First,” starts Tag, “I just talk to the customer and get their ideas of what they like—style, colors, how they want their name, all the stuff that they’re envisioning. Then I put an idea together in my head. We used to do mock ups for customers when we first started, but I had to pay someone to do the graphic designs on the computer and show them and go back and forth with customers. That process, says Tag, distracted from the art of painting and conscious design.
“I tell people, look at my stuff. Nobody’s ever bummed with what we do. Just tell me everything that you want and I will put it together for you when I paint it.”
His designs have covered the craniums of some of motocross’ biggest names—Villopoto, McGrath, Tedesco—as well as NASCAR driver Boris Said, World Supersport rider PJ Jacobsen, former Formula One driver Scott Speed and the late, great Off-Road racer, Kurt Caselli.
The son to art mad parents in the mecca of Laguna Beach, California, Tag’s first calling was unsurprisingly that of the ocean. And he was good on a board, too, so good he turned pro as a teenager and toured the world hitting some of the biggest breaks in the globe.
“I wasn’t that great of a contest surfer,” Tag says with a refreshing honesty. “Nowadays they have pros that just do trips and videos, which would have been perfect if they had that back then for me. When I free surfed with any of the top pros I could surf as good as them, but I just didn’t have the contest sense or smarts to calculate all the stuff that you need to win.”
The interest in painting was clearly a genetic one, Tag having been a drawer all his young life, and his time in the professional surf ranks allowed him to explore the process of airbrushing.
“When I was surfing professionally I started air brushing. Before that I’d paint surfboards just for myself or friends. I started painting for my surfboard sponsor, Gary Linden Surfboards in Oceanside, then I just kept evolving, working for other companies, bigger name surfboard companies.”
Retiring from the waves at 32, Tag began working at a rival design company for six years before putting his money where his mouth is and starting Tagger Designs in Lake Elsinore, California.
“I was basically running the previous shop I was working at,” Tag says, “so I thought, this is shit, I can do it on my own. I took a second mortgage out on my house, got a little bit of money together and started my own thing.
A year of struggles gave way to a steady flow of riders from the SoCal basin. Tag had a healthy contingent of juniors in his team, and he’s since gone onto team with Bell to produce the gold painted trophy the company gives to its champion racers at the end of a title winning season.
He doesn’t yet have a favorite design, but there’s one that comes close.
“I really love some of the Motocross des Nations helmets we’ve done,” Tag says. “I know it’s just red, white and blue but people always freak out about those.”
My own introduction to Tagger Designs came from my colleague Adam Waheed, a man known for a very particular style and grace.
For a few years now, Waheed has repped some of Tag’s designs in various bikes tests across the globe, and I always liked his yellow and black Shoei Tag did for him in 2014.
A custom helmet is something I’d always wanted, but knowing I’d never make it as a racer also meant knowing no one was going to be making any Rennie Scaysbrook replicas anytime soon, so I had to get it done myself.
I tasked Tag with creating my helmet for this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, sending him a bunch of retro helmet design photos I have always enjoyed. My particular taste for helmet design stems from the 1970s and ’80s—I don’t love graffiti, or fluro, or millions of colors in no particular order. I like simple, tough effective designs. Think Ayrton Senna or Wayne Rainey or Kevin Schwantz in Pepsi Suzuki days. Senna famously never changed his helmet, and drivers would often speak of the fear they felt when their mirrors were full of a red and white McLaren with that famous yellow helmet looking for a way through.
I left Tag to his own devices, confident he would somehow nail a design I had crafted in my mind. The truth is, I had no idea what I wanted, all I knew was it had to be simple, tough and effective. Sounds easy, right?
One of the photos I gave Tag was of the late Stefan Bellof, a German Formula One racing driver killed in 1985 killed in an accident during the 1985 1000km of Spa World Sportscar Championship race. Bellof’s helmet was easily recognizable—the red, yellow and black of his native Germany a symbol of his speed. Tag took a shine to that helmet and used it as the basis for my design, incorporating the top graphic while adding a thick red stripe down the middle, green and gold around the bottom of the helmet and a faint, ghosted Kangaroo in purple flake down the side.
The German color across the top suits me if only because I like it and have German heritage from many generations ago, and the green and gold marks who I really am inside.
Hopefully this helmet will bring a bit of speed for this year’s assault on the most famous hill climb in the world from a driver who set the fastest lap in history around the legendary Nordschleife circuit at the Nürburgring.
I have not a single artistic bone in my body so having guys like Tag in the powersports industry is important because it can give a rider a sense of individuality. A custom helmet might not be for everyone, but I’m damn happy with mine and if you want to stand out from the crowd, Tag is the man to help you do it.