Carl Ekstrom, left, and Rusty Prisendorfer recently at the BoardRoom in Del Mar. Photo by Chris Ahrens
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Waterspot: The gurus behind the perfect board

A shaper is surfing’s equivalent of a guru. While their primary function is to carve out your stick from foam, shapers do far more than that — offering advice that can increase your performance on a wave, and, in some cases, even save your life. The right board matters from waves from 1 to 20 feet, but once waves top triple overhead, the ocean can be a hazardous place. Two of the most influential shapers in the world, Rusty Prisendorfer and Carl Ekstrom, live in San Diego County. I have had great boards from both of them.

I was working the counter at Cardiff’s Koast Surfboards when Prisendorfer walked in carrying one of his “Music” Surfboards. I recognized the tall, blond surfer immediately from his numerous appearances in Surfer Magazine. The board under his arm was vivid orange, wider than most boards of the time, and gave the impression of something that would work perfectly in local waves.

Rusty was looking for work as a shaper, he said, and I sent him down to two little Leucadia board factories — one that produced boards for Koast and the other called Pure Fun, where shaper Hank Byzak was running the show. Both factories hired Rusty, and he created some fine boards there, before leaving to start his own company, Canyon.

Rusty made me the best double-ended Egg I ever rode. It never let me down on waves everywhere from Rincon to Baja, while mostly at Swami’s where the wider template and softer rails made transitions smooth as butter.

I didn’t meet Carl Ekstrom until 1983 when I was announcing a Solana Beach surf contest, and he was working as a judge. While not as prolific as Rusty, Ekstrom had carved out a niche for himself with the asymmetrical surfboard. He had been retired from board building for about a decade but liked keeping current on what the top surfers of the day were riding. One afternoon at lunch, many years from that first meeting, he discussed the thought of building some surfboards. The first one, a tri-finned asymmetrical board, was for Windansea standout, Richard “RK” Kenvin. The swell was a solid 6-foot the day RK paddled out and proceeded to tear into the clean northwest swell. Back on the beach, Richard proclaimed that board an unqualified success before ordering a second, smaller board from Ekstrom. Those early sessions helped shape the direction of San Diego surfing for years to come as surfers like Lucas Dirkse and Ryan Burch were soon on board, so to speak, experimenting with asymmetry and other out of the box designs.

Without my knowing it, Carl had built me a surfboard for my 60th birthday. It featured three fins, but I removed one of them and turned it into a twinfin. I still have beautiful 7’6” asym and ride it whenever the waves call for something with those dimensions.

As anyone who has followed surfing over the years realizes, Rusty would become one of the top board makers in the world with his R. logo performing beneath the feet of surfers like Australian world champion Mark Occhilupo and gracing the covers of countless surf magazines worldwide. Rusty continues to make custom surfboards and, on occasion, will build something with the Music label attached to it.

Carl Ekstrom builds only a handful of handcrafted surfboards a year. His quality is unparalleled, and his surfboards are among the most coveted you’ll ever want to own. I wish I still had the Egg Rusty built me all those years ago. I wonder how he would react to my requesting he make a new one?

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