It was in the mid-1970s when I was working the cash register for Koast Surf Shop in Cardiff when a tall surfer walked in with a new surfboard. That’s a switch, I thought, someone, coming to a surf shop to sell a board, rather than buy one. The board was beautifully proportioned and perfectly glassed. The name “Music” subtly laminated onto the deck. I had heard of the surfboard label and figured correctly that the man holding it was someone who was also making a name for himself along our coast. He introduced himself as Rusty.
Rusty said he was looking for work and I sent him down the road to Hank Byzak’s Pure Fun shop in Leucadia, and Country Honk, the factory where Koast had their boards built. Rusty was a good enough shaper even then that he quickly landed work at both places. From then on, we were friends.
A few years later Rusty began shaping for Sunset Surfboards in Encinitas. From there, it was a short hop to starting his own Canyon Surfboards label with his then partner, surfer, radio DJ, Juan Grande. Canyon quickly grew into one of the biggest board manufacturers in San Diego when, suddenly, it was gone. I never did know what happened, but I soon began seeing surf magazine photos of Rusty Surfboards, which soon became recognizable by a logo featuring nothing more than an “R” followed by a dot, ridden by some of the best surfers in the world.
From the beginning, the Rusty team was an elite fleet featuring ‘70s stars like David Barr, David Parmenter, and Richard Kenvin. Still, it would take World Champion, Australian Mark “Occy” Occhilupo to turn the light onto Rusty’s ability. And, just as it was with the rivalry between Occy and our own Tom Curren, their board makers, Rusty (Rusty Surfboards) and Al Merrick (Channel Islands Surfboards) politely battled it out for top manufacturer. While the judges more often favored Curren (three world titles) over Occhilupo (one world title) in the surf, the battle for top board maker of the era has never really been settled.
Even in a time when surfboard blanks required a great deal more hand labor than they do now, both Merrick and Preisendorfer were meticulous in their crafts, measuring outlines, rails, and rockers down to the smallest detectable fraction. And while both are great surfers, and master craftsmen with enough knowledge of hydrodynamics to get doctorates, they heavily depended upon the feedback from their talented stable of riders who offer suggestions on everything from length, thickness, rocker, fin placement and more subtle design changes like how far forward to keep the release on a rail.
I never did own a Channel Islands Surfboard, but I have had two Rusty’s, both of them precision machines that brought out the best from my limited surfing abilities.
As it has from the beginning, Rusty Surfboards resides in San Diego and is operated by Rusty and his son, Clint, who shapes alongside other masters like Rick Hammon, Hoy Runnels, Mike Russo and Pedro Beattagin. Other fine shapers from Rusty’s past include Roy Sanchez, and Encinitas local Greg Sauritch, who has been on his own for decades now.
This story is obviously about a particular surfboard shaper, but there’s a bit more to it. The more is my hope that it inspires readers to contact a qualified surfboard shaper with over 10,000 surfboards to their credit. Nothing compares to the joy of your that water skate built with you in mind. Holding that baby for the first time is such a rush!
Photo Caption: Legendary surfboard shaper and designer Rusty Preisendorfer. Photo by Chris Ahrens