Month Of The Shaper: Rusty Preisendorfer

Editor's Note: In conjunction with our annual Surfboards Issue (On newsstands Nov. 18), we will be posting one interview per day with a craftsman who contributed to the issue. Some are the biggest names in the bay; others are underground and want to keep it that way. But all of them share an equal passion for the crafts that move us forward. In these tough economic times, they all have a lot to say on where their craft is going. This time: 2008 Shaper of the Year Rusty Preisendorfer.

Name: Rusty Preisendorfer
Zone: Twilight
Years Shaping: almost 40
Boards Per Week: then…handshape 20 plus; now…program 30 to 40 finish 15 to 20
Specialty: none really…I pride myself in being very versatile

Is your business better or worse since the Clark Foam shutdown?

Overall numbers are down. There is a lot more to it than Clark's closure. Short supply of good foam immediately following Black Monday had a discernable impact on the US surfboard market that winter. It opened the doors for more imported boards…not just from Asia. Consumer confusion on what construction was really a positive step forward slowed sales. General economic concerns have taken over as probably the number one reason why many people are trying to get a few more miles out of old faithful. Better or worse? We are all having to make adjustments but I feel it's better in the sense that it is more challenging which is more stimulating. I think we are all being forced out of our comfort zones, for better or worse, into the next big chapter in surfboard construction.

Do you feel polyurethane foam/polyester resin will always be the dominant surfboard construction?

Not always. I don't see too many wood tennis racquets around anymore…collector's items mainly. Persimmon drivers, steel bikes, wood airplanes and so on. For the most part, things keep moving along. At some point superior materials and construction techniques will replace most of the PU/PE in the marketplace except for art's sake. Some folks like driving old cars around because they are cool and have some good memories attached. For the most part, the average consumer is concerned with value: good mileage, safety and comfort. Same thing with surfboards: something that has good performance characteristics is durable, and affordable. Short term, there are some riding characteristics of PU/PE that still appeal to some surfers in certain conditions. Classic longboards, big-wave paddle-in equipment. At some point sturdier materials with the "right" feel will take over more of the traditional market. Also, as the years tick by, isocyanate urethane foam along with polyester resins will become increasingly problematic from environmental standards and legislatively unwelcome…even in other countries.

Do you think there’s an increasing or decreasing appreciation for a custom surfboard?

Our custom orders are up. Most surfers with a bit of experience are realizing the benefits of a real custom board…not just pre-machined foam inventory that happens to match a narrow set of criteria and easy to customize with "your name here". People trip out when I call them or email about a custom. I don't do it with every order but if I see something that requires a little more information for me to feel comfortable about the end product, I'll go after it. Shortened turn around time is a by-product of the times…so this should also be a little {{{incentive}}} for the surfer considering a custom.

Are quads declining or increasing in popularity?

We seem to be building quite a few. Some people are just getting around to trying them. Fin positioning is critical. There isn't any magic formula. It's more of a decision on how the rider wants the board to feel: more like a tri or more like a twin…or something in between. I made an asymmetrical (thank-you Carl Ekstrom) quad for a long hollow left I like to surf.

If it hasn’t already, will your surfboard production ever have to go overseas?

I respond to my customer's feedback. The feedback is becoming louder and louder: "we need well designed, affordable product, with good margin, and we would prefer it to be a brand, not a label." This does not mean we will stop making boards here. On the contrary, we will be able to spend more time and energy on real custom boards, creative projects, research and development.

What kind of music do you like to listen to when you shape?

I have very eclectic tastes…I have about 16,000 songs on my iPod. In addition I have XM and all hooked up in the room and my office.

How much time do you spend on a single board now?

As much as it takes to get it right.

Do you spend more time on the computer screen or in the shaping bay?

Computer, but I program at home and on trips as well. I still spend a fair amount of time in the room too. I use DSD, APS, and Shape 3D so it's critical to see how all the different apps translate into cut foam.

How important is teamrider feedback to you?

Feedback is and always will be super important. Teamriders are an important part of product development. Shaun Tomson recently asked me this question: "is your best-selling model teamrider based? For that matter, any does any major manufacturer have a best-seller that is team rider based?" I think the answer points to the average surfer: a design that is user friendly for the everyday surfer. So feedback from the bros is just as important as the feedback from the pros.

What kind of board do you enjoy shaping most right now?

I enjoy my time in the room. The challenges…the stimulating stuff changes all the time.

How often do you get to surf?

Pretty much everyday.

Are you actively pursuing “greener” avenues in your surfboard production?

I'm a big fan of EPS/Epoxy. Is it greener? Compared to PU/PE, I've been told it is. We are developing a custom composite program. The process is probably a little greener still. I'll be honest….my primary focus is on performance and value to the end consumer. If I can achieve that with "greener" materials and methods that it is a win-win.

DAY 1: William “Stretch” Riedel
DAY 2: Mark Price / Firewire Surfboards
DAY 3: Jeff Clark
DAY 4: Chris Gallagher
DAY 5: Matt Biolos
DAY 6: Geoff Rashe
DAY 7: Mark Wooster
DAY 8: Jeff Bushman
DAY 9: Rusty Preisendorfer
DAY 10: Rich Price
DAY 11: Shane Stoneman
DAY 12: Ricky Carroll
DAY 13: Xanadu
DAY 14: Chris Christenson
DAY 15: John Carper
DAY 16: Michael Walter
DAY 17: David Barr
DAY 18: Ben Aipa
DAY 19: Jeff “Doc” Lausch
DAY 20: Jesse Fernandez
DAY 21: Cole Simler