Rusty Del Mar: Surfing epicenter celebrates 25 years

By Claire Harlin

What began with 16-year-old Rusty Preisendorfer shaping surfboards in his backyard in the 1960s grew into the mainstay hub of surfing culture in Del Mar.

This year marks 25 years in business for Rusty Del Mar, located at 201 15th St., and just like its early days, the surf shop is not only a prominent gathering place for wave worshippers but carries a brand name that’s coveted worldwide.

“Having a brand with so much heritage and history here in town adds to the image of Del Mar as a surf town,” said Zach Groban, co-owner of the shop.

Like many Del Mar youth, Groban has been hanging out at Rusty’s since he was old enough to surf, and he said it was an honor to take his first job there at age 17.

“You always idolized the kids who work here. Working here was cool, and all my friends hung out here and worked here,” said Groban, 32, who joined Preisendorfer in becoming a partner in the business almost a decade ago.

“It’s awesome, it’s so tight- knit here. Living here, growing up here and then owning it — it’s pretty cool.”

Before Preisendorfer even started surfing, he was perusing garage sales for old surf boards and fixing them up. Thousands of boards later, his surf gear and well-known brand are recognized internationally by a single letter “R” with a dot — just like he used to sign his name on his signature boards.

Preisendorfer surfed at Windansea while attending La Jolla High School in the 1960s and perfecting his board shapes under the influence of pros like Dick Brewer and Skip Frye. He studied art at the University of California, San Diego — which further perfected his craft. Not only did he pen the artwork on boards, but surfboard shaping is part skill and part art.

“Back then you did everything, from shaping to artwork to fiberglassing,” said Groban. “Surfboard shaping is a really creative skill. You have to think about what shapes will work well in the water and visualize the contours and rail lines in a surfboard.”

Preisendorfer said opening Rusty Del Mar 25 years ago is connected to his fond memories of driving up the coast from La Jolla in the 1970s and 1980s looking for surf.

“Fifteenth Street was usually my first stop,” he said. “I’ve always loved the cool, small-town vibe of Del Mar.”

Preisendorfer launched the Rusty brand in 1985, and he said he remembers driving down 15th Street on several occasions and noticing a little corner boutique that never seemed to be open.

“I thought to myself, ‘What a great spot to open a surf shop,’” said Preisendorfer, who still works full-time shaping boards out of his Miramar warehouse. “My wife, Angie, and I opened Rusty Del Mar later that year.”

He said it’s been fun to watch several generations of the young local surfers start out at Rusty with their first summer jobs and then go on to have successful careers.

“Quite a few now hold key positions in the surf industry,” Preisendorfer said.

Groban described Rusty as the “epicenter” for surfing in the community — the place where kids come to see the latest surf video or newest model of board.

“We see kids wanting surf stickers when they are barely old enough to talk, and also kids getting their first boards here,” Groban said. “We see them grow up with the sport.”

Preisendorfer said Rusty Del Mar enjoys steady and sure seasonal tourist business, but the connection to Del Mar is much more important to him.

“I find the support from the long-standing loyal customers the most rewarding,” he said.

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