Next-generation surfers keep it in the family
BY REBECCA TOLIN
Rusty Preisendorfer’s passion for shaping surfboards has made him an international icon. Now, the famed surfboard maker’s grown children are following in his sandy footsteps. After nearly 40 years of handcrafting boards, Preisendorfer was named Shaper of the Year by Surfing magazine in 2008. His kids, Clint and Avalon, started working in the Rusty Boardhouse as teenagers. After a stint playing minor league baseball for the Yankees, 24-year-old Clint Preisendorfer started shaping boards alongside his dad. While Avalon once wanted to be an astronaut, the 23-year-old artist can’t resist creating artwork for Rusty’s surfboards and clothing. “Dad is a very creative guy and I look to him for a lot of my inspiration,” Avalon explained from Fiji during a family surf trip. “When I do art on his surf boards, it’s like I’m doing art on his art.”
Josh Bernard has worked in his dad’s surf shop for 17 years. He’s only 29. Yep, the math means Bernard began his Surf Ride career at the ripe age of 12. Although “work” entailed playing with mini toy skateboards and sniffing root beer surf wax, as well as helping fit customers with shoes. “People were like, ‘How old are you? Isn’t that too young to work?’ ” Josh recounts. “Nah, my dad owns the store.” Not surprisingly, this early entrepreneur is now CEO of Surf Ride, with locations in Solana Beach and Oceanside. Josh assumed the top post when brother Dustin stepped down to design Surf Ride clothing. Their dad, Bill Bernard, and his twin brother, Richard, opened shop in 1974 and became known for stocking one of the largest surfboard selections in the country. Nice gig.
Josh Hansen didn’t plan to work in the family surf biz. For one thing, he didn’t surf. Hansen grew up skiing the mountains of Montana. Meanwhile, his father Don Hansen took business trips to Encinitas to check on the surf retail company he started in 1962. After Josh studied business technology at the University of Vermont, the dot-com bust dashed any other plans and prompted him to jump into the family enterprise. Josh’s parents, brother, and sister eventually followed him to San Diego and now all pitch in at Hansen’s. At 31, Josh oversees most of the day-to-day operations. They’re not big on official titles, but technically he’s the VP and his dad the CEO. “He’s been in retail for 50 years and the business is still thriving, knock on wood,” Josh said of his father. “So I look at everything he’s done and I go, ‘Geez, if I could do a tenth of what he’s done I’d be in pretty good shape.’ ”
Contrary to popular opinion, Rusty Preisendorfer doesn't spend all his time locked in the shaping bay.
When someone starts in about their hip replacement and their ball player son, you think "senior discounts and prune juice." But if that speaker is high-functioning surfboard designer Rusty Preisendorfer, you're talking a whole 'nother story. We recently stuck a mic in R-Dot's grill, and asked him for some perspective on the contemporary surfboard landscape.
Rusty, enough about you. What's up with your son, Clint? I was told that he was drafted by the Yankees.
At first, the Florida Marlins wanted to take him straight from high school. Tall left-handed kid. 6'5", never injured, topped out at 91 m.p.h. and had a lot of action. Had a good bat, good glove. He spent a couple of years at Palomar Community College and had some good coaching. The Yankees drafted him, but ended releasing him after a year. We had a talk, and he explained that he didn't have the passion anymore. He was more into surfing.
I've heard Clint can shape. Is he following your path now?
Well, he surfed as a kid when he wasn't playing ball. When he was 17, he finished a couple of boards off the machine. Those are about ninety percent done, so it was just fine-sanding the core. In the last year, he has shown an interest in both hand-shaping and learning the CAD software to design surfboards. Even glassing -- he wants to learn how to build a board from start to finish.
Clint Preisendorfer, a world away from the bullpen.
That brings up an interesting question. Are there shapers today who don't know how to hand-shape a board? Can you just finish out a pre-shape and call yourself a shaper?
Actually, there are two sides to that. There are a lot of good shapers who are skilled with their hands, but they're -- I don't want to say technophobic -- but if they embraced the software it could really help them with doing production boards. On the other hand, if you use the machine and have the feedback of a couple of great surfers, you can really fine tune things and experience a lot of success. So yeah, some shapers have made a name for themselves without having to hand shape thousands of boards.
Despite being most well known for making really tuned boards for professional surfers, you're gaining a reputation for boards for the regular surfer.
Things change. In the mid-'90s, you started seeing alternative surfboards in surf films by guys like the Malloys and Thomas Campbell. It was obvious that guys were having a lot of fun on shorter, wider boards. It was sort of a backlash, admitting that, yeah, the pros surf well beyond us mortals, but ... some of it has been the Internet, too. You didn't see it in the print media, because we know that food chain. It had to come from other places. Now people realize that for average conditions, probably the last thing you want to ride is what the pros ride.
In the end, what makes surfing unique is the surfboard, the custom surfboard. It's such a rare opportunity. You can't, as far as I know, order a set of custom skis. A custom guitar is thousands of dollars. But for a few hundred bucks you can go to a shaper down the street working in his workshop, and come up with something completely unique to you --the surfer.