Getting an opportunity to interview world renowned surfboard shaper Rusty Preisendorfer was a great honor. His answers were thoughtful, informative and offer a look back at surfings past, while providing a glimpse into the future.
So Rusty, take us back to the beginning of your shaping odyssey, what was the inspiration?
Late '60s, end of the longboard era, boards in shops were $200…expensive. To put it relative terms, gas was 25 cents a gallon. Do the math. Not only were they expensive but things were evolving so fast, they were obsolete by the time [they] ended up on the store racks. The materials at Mitch's for a new board: $30 and anything goes!
What did that first board look like? How did it ride?
The first one was a twin fin I built with a friend, Dan Evans. We shaped and glassed it together. He had built a few and walked me through the steps. It actually rode unreal. The next few I had a little help from my friends. My first solo effort? I think I'm glad I don't have it to remind me!
CW: Who were the guys showing you the ropes back in your early shaping days? Any mentors?
To quote Mike Hynson, "Anyone that ever picked up a planer." Early on: my high school friends who got into it a little before me – Dan Evans, Dan and Paul Bridgeman, Blayne Broderson, Charlie Ramsey. [In the] '70s: names more people would recognize: Mike Croteau, Mike Hynson, Skip Frye, Hoy Runnels, Mike Eaton, Jim Turner, Dick Brewer, Mike Diffenderfer, Bill Caster, Bill Barnfield. More recently: Pat Rawson, Eric Arakawa. Still looking, still learning.
CW: Can you touch on the feeling that went through your mind when you first saw someone really surfing well on one of your shapes?
Validation; I can do this.
CW: Was there a point when you knew that shaping was your path? Were there any competing career paths and what were mom and dad's thoughts on the matter?
As a young surfer in my teens I had aspirations of being a great surfer. By the time I was 17, I was looking more like a basketball or football prospect. No gym, just genes. My father was 6 foot 7 and looked like a professional athlete but was an MIT grad research mathematician. I was raised in a fairly academic environment. I dabbled in shaping late in high school. My first year at UCSD, my head was at Blacks and in the shaping room. I realized that although I surfed reasonably well for a large person, my future, potentially, was in shaping. I took a few years off and pursued my passions: surfing and board building. I went back and graduated from UCSD with a degree in art and a minor in psychology. Both seemed to have helped me in my career path. My parents were supportive.
CW: Any advice for the young shaper trying to break into shaping in today's world?
Do it for fun. If it's your passion, run with it.
CW: Rumor has it, you get to surf with some top team guys in good solid waves. What's the level of surfing at right now? Is this a special time as far as surfing performance goes or just another step of progression along the way?
Years ago I think the gap between a solid recreational/enthusiast surfer and a pro was a lot smaller. These days the best surfers are so far out there. It's one thing to watch them on a DVD or even from the beach. Get a front row seat and I think just about anyone would have to readjust their thinking on how good the top guys really are.
CW: In the past few years what changes in equipment have made more radical surfing possible?
Equipment keeps evolving but changes have been subtle. The surfers are feeding off each other and learning how to do new stuff. I think it's interesting to watch some of them ride old school equipment, either free surfing or for a movie segment and see what they can do with it. Back in the day we could only dream of certain maneuvers. Now, they have mastered stuff we couldn't even imagine. Knowing what they can do…they can actually pull it off (sometimes) on the old school boards. So with that being said, I think imagination and creativity are equally as important as equipment.
CW: What are you excited about as far as surfboard design right now? Looking to the future is there a magical mix of materials with the elusive strength, flex and ridability elements almost here? Is it here now?
It's here. Most surfers are actually conservative and cautious when it comes to new technology. There is a big print media disconnect. "Pros are riding this." Well, the other 99.9% would be better off on something else that is, by the way, here. You can have lighter and stronger with good flex. It just costs a little bit more. The pros have lighter but they do not have stronger. They don't have to worry about it (stronger) from a financial standpoint. But it is a bummer when their "go to" contest board disintegrates after a few sessions. So they usually shelve the really good ones and save them for heats.
CW: So much talk about being 'green' in our industry. What happens to board design when factoring friendliness to the environment into the equation?
If you really care, go body surfing nude.
CW: Peering into the future for you personally, what's Rusty up to say 10 years from now? Tropical Island with solid waves out front or mowing away the shapers bay? 'Both' is definitely a fair answer!