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La Jollan honored for board-shaping prowess

Congratulations to La Jollan, Rusty Preisendorfer for his recognition as Surfing Magazine’s “Shaper of the Year.” His career that has spanned close to forty years, and the fact that he has maintained a position as one of the sport’s premier surfboard shapers is worthy of our collective respect.

Born in Los Angeles in 1953, Rusty was fortunate indeed that his father’s expertise as a Mathematician led to his employment at Scripps Institute. He was 14 when he moved to La Jolla, and he began surfing seriously the following year.

In 1968 surfing went through a dramatic transformation. The trend in surfboard construction was toward the shortboard revolution. Like any naturally rebellious 16 year old, Rusty embraced this transformation. And it separated the young guys from the older guard who were constantly giving them grief in the line-up.

Living on the hill just above the Shores, Rusty remembers the times as a grom, when he could run, zigzag, down the hill to go surfing after school or on weekends whenever possible.

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“It was a great time,” reminisced Rusty, “Mitch’s Surf shop was open and selling blanks. All my friends, like Paul and Dan Bridgeman, Dan Evans, Blayne Broderson and Xavier Shield were into making their own boards, so I started making my own as well. I started shaping boards in an old chicken coop in Charles Ramsey’s backyard.”

School was his main priority, but he supported his shaping habit by working part time at La Valencia. The following summer, after graduating from La Jolla High School in 1971, he got a job shaping at Gordon & Smith were he honed his skills under master surfer/shapers Mike Hynson and Skip Frye. On trips to Hawaii he worked with Dick Brewer. Although Rusty is quick to credit these gentlemen as guiding forces in his shaping career, it’s the Australian influence of the late 60s and early 70s that he credits with influencing the direction his shaping would take. “The Australians, like Wayne Lynch, had a whole new approach to the surfboard template. I was 17 and it was new, different and inspiring.”

Rusty would stay on at G & S for four years before starting his own brand, Music Surfboards. While the label lasted just over a year, he says that time was a period of personal growth and acquired discipline, both factors accounting for his current success. With his parents pressuring him to continue his education (which he now appreciates), Rusty entered UCSD, graduating in 1978 with a degree in Visual Arts. That same year he began a working relationship with Jon Durwood at Canyon surfboards. While there, Rusty began shaping surfboards for World Champions Peter Townend and Shaun Tomson. It was in 1983 that Rusty solidified his reputation as a master craftsman, improving the design of Simon Anderson’s tri-fin thruster while shaping boards for then world tour rookie and future World Champion, Mark Occhilupo.

Two years later Rusty founded the Rusty surfboards brand, his simple, clean and memorable “R.” logo already well known in the surfing community. By the mid 80s more than half of the top 15 surfers were riding Rusty surfboards. Currently Rusty ships more than 15,000 surfboards annually worldwide. With seven to eight year-round shapers working for the label, Rusty admits this is a fantastic time to be a shaper. “After the demise of Clark Foam, people became more open minded in terms of acceptable materials to use.” Along with the shift in materials there have also been technological advances in the “art” of shaping. “These computer aided devices have allowed for not only better consistency in the quality control of boards shaped, but frees up our time to better experiment with different shapes, foams and resins.” Currently Rusty would seem to be the leading proponent of EPS epoxy foam with a four-fin or quad set-up, which he has been using almost exclusively for the past two years.

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When he’s not traveling, (as a recent empty-nester he seems to be doing this with more frequency) you can find Rusty most mornings checking the surf at La Jolla Shores. But if there is any type of serious swell in the water, it’s Blacks Beach that holds his interest. “I spent some time in Hawaii in the early years and became interested in shaping boards for larger waves. When I returned home from the islands, I realized I was really comfortable in big surf, like three times over my head, and Blacks is one of the few places around that can deliver up to that size and still hold up.”

Think three times overhead sounds giant? Imagine what that means if, like Rusty, you measure over 6'4" tall.

Note: An editor’s error created an incorrect sentence in a recent column by Linda Van Zandt, (Dec. 13, p. 30). Shewrote that “Less (fin) depth means less resistance. The board will move faster through the water, but will have less holding power when turning.” In editing, the meaning of that sentence was accidentally reversed.