Rusty Preisendorfer Exclusive: You Asked, He Replied

Last week we launched our first interactive Q&A feature with Rusty Preisendorfer, one of the most innovative and creative surfboard shapers ever to pick up a planer.

This turned out to be a convenient way for readers to get information straight from the source. Big thanks to Rusty and those who participated.

Ryan: How many boards have you shaped?

Personally, 40,000 plus. Rusty Surfboards, over 200,0000.

Matt: When you started Rusty (the company), did you see it becoming what it is today?

No idea. No business plan. Just loved to make surfboards and liked to design T-shirts.

Jeremy: How did you start surfing?

Same as everyone else: I paddled out and kooked it for a while.

I was lucky enough to live within walking distance to the beach and start in a relatively uncrowded era. I was able to surf almost every day.

Some spots are definitely more user friendly than others for beginners. Seek those out and put your time in.

Amy: I have only surfed a few times; it’s so hard! But I love it:) What kind of surfboard should I get?

When you first start, width and length is your friend. When you improve, a shorter, wider board is a good solution for everyday surf, but when you are starting out, some length will help your cause.

Most beginning surfers learn in small, weak waves. The most common mistake made is trying to ride too small of a board at first, thinking you will eventually learn to ride it. Don’t worry about looking cool and get lured into trying to ride a shorter performance board that more advanced surfers seem to ride so effortlessly.

Width is good for stability. Length is good for paddling speed, catching waves, and glide.

Here’s a rough guideline on board size for someone just starting out:

Look for wide,  full outlines, egg-style boards, and longboards.

100 to 150 lbs.:  7’ long by 21.5″ wide by 2.75″ thick
150 to 175 lbs.: at least 8’ long, 22″-plus wide, and around 3” thick
175 to 200 lbs.: 9’-plus long, 22.5″-plus wide, and over 3” thick
200 to 230 lbs.: 9’6”-plus long, 23”-plus wide, 3.25″ or more thick

This is a rough guideline. Surfing is a difficult sport/art even for good athletes. Plenty of people who have some background in skating or snowboarding get very humbled at first.

Longer and wider boards will help you catch more waves and offer a stable, user-friendly ride. Once you get the basics down you can gradually move onto shorter boards if you choose. Hang onto your starter board as you progress; you will always have plenty of small days to use it.

Mike: Has the influence of different blank materials changed your approach to shaping and board design?

Most boards are built from either polyurethane (traditional) or EPS (Styrofoam). EPS blanks are more buoyant than polyurethane.

If an EPS and polyurethane blank are shaped with the same exact measurements, [the] EPS product usually ends up lighter.

Boards with EPS foam cores can be shaped slightly thinner.

Christian: How do the “pop-outs” made in China stand up against a traditional foam/fiberglass surfboard?

Without opening a philosophical can of worms, I’ll try to give you an answer that is pretty straightforward:

Pop-out, to me, sounds like a board coming out of a mold. Virtually all molded pop-outs come from China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The integrity of the shape depends on the designer and mold maker.

Many pop-outs are some type of sandwich construction: a very light EPS core is used, which requires epoxy resin. The EPS core is covered with a very durable, high-density sheet-foam outer skin that is sandwiched in fiberglass cloth. Most of these types of boards end up being very durable, but the tradeoff is flex—or lack of it.

If you are using the term “pop-out” in the broader sense, that they are “popped out” of an assembly line–type of production facility, the quality can vary dramatically from factory to factory.

Some use top-quality materials, some cut corners.

Most of the Asian factories now have the same shaping machines being used all over the world.

Like any other type of mass production, over time, workers can be trained to be very skilled at specific tasks.

Dean: I read somewhere that you were an art major. Did you always want to be a shaper? Who taught you how to shape? Is shaping an art or a science or both?

Art degree from UCSD.

Many people have taught me. I’m still learning. Early influences are Mike Croteau, Jim Turner, Skip Frye, Mike Eaton, Mike Hynson, Brewer, Diff.

My biggest influence was probably Bill Barnfield.

Art or science? Numbers are important. Track them, use them for reference, but the art is in blending the numbers and not being a slave to them.

Elizabeth: What are your passions besides surfing?

My family, music, and art.

Joseph: Is EPS better than PU?


Yes, in small, weak surf with smooth conditions, simply because the core is so much lighter than PU, so a lighter finished board can be made.

For most surfers it comes down to a “feel” preference.

The EPS/epoxy boards can be built very light and still have reasonable durability. Adjectives on the ride vary depending on if you are a fan or not: alive and sensitive or twitchy and nervous.

In surf with more power and wind/surface issues, PU is generally preferred. It offers a smoother, cleaner feel and does a better job of “dampening” surface chop.

Cost is also a factor. EPS/epoxy will generally run another $50 to $100 more than PU, but pound for pound is more durable.

PU/polyester can be built very light, but strength is sacrificed. Professionals and surfers with open board budgets can and will order boards with single 4 oz. glass jobs, but there are no guarantees on the lifespan of the board. (Most glass jobs are double 4 oz., making them much more durable, but also heavier.—Ed.)

When I order a new board, is there an advantage to getting glass-on fins? I always surf the same spot. I don’t travel much.

No advantage whatsoever. You can use different fins on different days to get a variety of performance traits. More and more pros are switching to removable fin systems so they can dial in the performance of their boards.

Terry: Do shapers study boat designs for hydrodynamic ideas?

Some do. Fish, birds, and aircraft are good reference sources as well.

Most shapers build on the past. The broader a shaper/designer makes their base of reference, the more possibilities open up. I call it “recombinant DNA.” Every once in a while, a shaper who has a background in a relevant science will come along and share some interesting contributions.

Sometimes a “new” design may come into being because a shaper has engaged someone who has extensive design background in another field that relates.

Jessy: Is the “tribal knowledge” of a seasoned shaper being passed to the next generation? Are there mentoring programs for young shapers?

I believe the art form is alive and thriving with younger shapers.

Some are second-generation artists and others have the benefit of working under the same roof as seasoned shapers. The Internet is full of information, and there is plenty of free design software on the market.

Mentoring programs? Grasshopper, grab a broom, look after the guys you want to learn from, and start there. Soak it all up.

Clint Preisendorfer is following in his father’s footsteps, shaping really good surfboards.

Tony: What do you think the next big trends are in surfboards?

It’s happening…  In the last few years the average surfer has come to realize that
shorter and wider boards are a practical solution for everyday surf.

The other thing that has really changed surfing is the power of the Internet. People are able to research and gather information at an unprecedented level. It helps with decision making and also gives people the ability to make a direct connection with most board builders.

It’s virtually impossible for surf shops to carry a full spectrum of boards from a variety of board builders, so they tend to carry the “best-selling” brands in a limited range of models. This tends to homogenize the selection.

Depending on where you live, there may be a variety [of] shops that offer diverse wave-riding solutions within easy driving range.

The Web gives you an unlimited virtual surf shop to browse.

Big thanks to Rusty and our readers for participating in our latest interactive feature.


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