Rick Leitner

Rick’s Story

“Tiki Gods represent what sailors saw during WW2.”

“I started making tiki gods 12 years ago after I bought one from a Key Largo guy. I knew that I could make them too.

No two look alike. I keep the designs in my head. When I work on them in my driveway, people stop and talk to me and often buy them right there off the street.

Making tikis is a whole Zen thing for me, a time of quiet creating. I get totally engrossed in the carving, the shaping and nuances of the facial expressions. Sometimes people will bring me their own logs to carve, although the kind of wood they bring is important. I use Palmetto Sabal Palm or Washingtonia Palm to make the tikis because they are good at resisting moisture.

After Hurricane Irma, there was a lot of debris around that was worthy of carving. I know a lot of landscapers and they hook me up with wood from their tree trimming jobs.

It’s obvious that my supply costs are minimal. The wood is free, the costs come from buying the polyurethane varnish I put on the finished tiki, fuel for my 12-inch carving chainsaw, maintenance on my blow torch and, of course, my time.

Tikis represent a mid-century modern design that I have always been intrigued by. The carved wooden gods originally came from the Māori people who lived on the Polynesian islands off the coast of New Zealand until the late 1800s. Tikis became popular after World War 2. They were a way to replicate the physical features of Polynesian people. The tiki’s threatening mouth is meant to intimidate any enemies.

I make tikis in all sizes and sell some for $50 while others are priced at over $200. Some take me a couple of hours to create, some take all day. It depends on the size and the amount of detail in them. The uses for tikis are limitless: bar stools, tables, sculptures, or planters. One guy made a floor lamp out of his. They will last indefinitely as long as they are not immersed in water.

Sure, I make some money from it, but my mainstream job is as a physical fitness trainer. I work for myself and specialize training high-risk patients who are recovering from surgeries, arthritis, and gastric bypasses. I recently trained a guy who went from 410 to 225 pounds.

For 10 years I was a homicide detective for Broward Sheriff’s Office. It was fascinating and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. It just got too demanding and consumed my life. I had no life other than work. The constant flow of murders, rapes, carbon monoxide poisonings, suicides and kids hanging themselves would interrupt my sleep. I needed to get out. But I miss it.

I was recently was part of the annual spring Wilton Manors Tropical Plant Fair at Equality Park. More than 50 vendors participate. The meetings feature plant experts and representatives from local nurseries. I have always loved painting and sketching, and making tikis taps in to my artistic nature. It’s a balance for me. This is my alone time.

That is why I became Tiki Rick with business cards and a name: Kapu Tiki.”

Rick Leitner's Bag

Rick’s Treasures

“My chainsaw and blowtorch.”

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