Rusty Surfboards

Rusty 1

Photo: John Durant

Rusty is one of those rare animals – equal parts scientist, engineer and artist.  His process has always contained a healthy amount of curiosity held in place with control and discipline - beginning at a time when there was no shortage of solid influence.

In the 1970s some of California’s best surfboard builders were in San Diego: Carl Ekstrom, Mike Hynson, and Skip Frye were pushing the envelope as the shortboard revolution found its footing. The multi-shaper factory system was up and running at Gordon & Smith Surfboards, and testing grounds like Black’s, La Jolla Shores, and Sunset Cliffs were a short drive from anywhere in the city.

Early in his run as a surfboard builder, Rusty commissioned different shapers to make boards for personal use. He absorbed design details like an intellectual sponge, arriving at conclusions about entry rocker, volume, and bottom contour. Working for Larry Gordon at G&S, Rusty participated first-hand in the start-to-finish business of building boards, preparing him for running his own factory, glass-shop, and stable of talented shapers.

Rusty 2Photo: John Durant

Rusty’s first label, created in the winter of 1972 was Starlight Surfboards, named for Starlight Drive in La Jolla where he lived above La Jolla Shores. Returning from a trip to Australia in 1974, Rusty started the Music! Brand. About that time he shaped a hundred or so boards for Cadillac Surfboards, a short-lived shop in La Jolla. Intent on accruing shaping experience, between 1972 and 1978, Rusty shaped for Gordon & Smith, Pure Fun, Sunset Surfboards and Encinitas Surfboards, finding a long-term shaping gig at John Durward’s Canyon Surfboard factory on Santa Fe St. in Pacific Beach.

How did the R Dot logo come about? While shaping at Canyon, Rusty crossed paths with Australian Peter Townend who at the time was considered to be one of the most accomplished (and stylish) surfers on the planet. The Canyon brand was taking off and some of surfing’s top competitors - PT, Shaun Tomson and Dave Parmenter among them - were riding Rusty’s shapes. At Peter Townend’s suggestion, Rusty began adding his personal imprimatur to the Canyon boards. At first it read Shaped & Designed by Russ Preisendorfer (Rusty’s first name is Russell). Within a year it was shortened to Shaped by R. Preisendorfer. One evening out on the town after surfing, Rusty signed his name on a cocktail napkin in pencil and gave it to Henry Hester who, at the time, had access to a stat camera at his day job at Kay Computers. Henry produced a PMT - photo-mechanical transfer – of the cocktail napkin signature, isolated the capital R followed by now famous dot to a high-contrast kodalith slick. The bumpy edges of the original R. logo were a result of the rough pencil on the damp cocktail napkin, enlarged and rendered in high contrast. One of the most recognizable logos in the history of surfing stared on a wet folded-up napkin. It’s the same logo in use today.

On July 4th 1985, Rusty gave notice to John Durward and said goodbye to Canyon Surfboards. It took a month or two to wrap up the last shaping orders at Canyon, but from September of 1985 every board Rusty shaped carried the instantly recognizable R. Dot logo - black on white, rendered with the original rough edges.

By John Durant

John Durant - is a life-long surfer from Santa Monica, now residing in North County San Diego. He’s a writer/photographer by trade and a regular contributor to Surfer’s Journal. To see some of Durant’s photography go to


Photo: Anthony Friedkin