Meet San Diego Original Rusty Whitlock – Master Surfboard Shaper, Community Activist & Local Businessman

Shaping Boards, Shaping Our Community

In any community, there are people who have quietly, but powerfully, contributed to shaping what makes that community unique and special.

In North County San Diego, Rusty Whitlock – master surfboard shaper, community activist, local businessman, and father of some of surfing’s greats – is one of those people.

Back in the early 70’s, the heyday of soul-surfing, Rusty Whitlock shaped boards for legendary Pipeline surfer Gerry Lopez on the island of Oahu, HI.

During that same time frame, Mr. Whitlock was also carrying the shaping duties of the most iconic brands in the business.

Among these were Lightning Bolt, Town & Country and Local Motion. 

The NASCAR Crew-Chief of Surfing

The importance of having a skilled shaper is the surfing equivalent of a NASCAR Crew-Chief, especially for those on the level of Rusty’s two sons.

Every driver on the track has, essentially, the same equipment. The difference between first & last place generally comes down to who’s crew can mold, modify and tweak every aspect of their car to squeeze every-last bit of juice out of the machine;

Rusty has been among the best ‘Crew-Chiefs’ in the world of surfing for decades.

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A Family Business

Rusty’s son, Cory, was a staple on the international surfing circuit, plastered across every surfing publication for nearly twenty years, a fine shaper in his own right and the CEO of Whitlock Industries, Inc.

Cory’s younger brother, Ricky, turned pro when he was spotted by Bob Hurley at a surf contest; he was only nine-years-old. Ricky is now considered among the finest big-wave surfers alive -not too shabby.

         (L-R) Cory, Ricky & Rusty                     

From 1976 to 2015, Rusty Whitlock and his family’s RW Surfboard brand held shop in a quiet corner of Carlsbad, just off the beach.

The shop was a communal gathering spot, open to everyone. It was a place where local kids could skate wooden ramps after school and mom & dad could hangout with local pros and have custom shapes made by a true legend.

In 2015, they were forced to close their Carlsbad ‘Community Center’ known as “Whitlock Ink” when the city re-zoned the area for condos & lawyer offices.

By this time, the Whitlock’s and their RW Surfboards had long become an institution in San Diego’s surf culture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        
                                                                        Whitlock ‘Community Center’, Oceanside                                                                                              

After the forced relocation in 2015, the Whitlock tribe landed up the beach in Oceanside, just as rejuvenation of the classic beach city was beginning.

The new shop is now thriving in it’s new locale and has become three businesses; Whitlock Ink. (retail/print shop), Whitlock Surf Experience where you can get both surf and SUP lesson from legitimate pros and finally the Shape-shop where you can get that custom one-off shape or learn from master-craftsmen how to shape your own board.

Speaking to this storied shaper in his family’s shop, Whitlock Ink., I was immediately taken aback by his humility.

Sweet and compassionate, this luminary was, for all of his experiences, from battling monster waves to corporate suites, just a man with a deep love of family, the ocean and our community. 

With fifty-years of shaping under his belt, the respect this man is shown throughout the community (surfing and otherwise) speaks not only to his incredible skill but his openness and eagerness to help others.

Most Memorable Surf Experience

After just talking for awhile, I asked about his most memorable moment in surfing, here’s what he had to say:

“Well I don’t know if this is a ‘good-one’ but my most memorable moment was in 1972. My first experience riding at Sunset Beach on the Northern side of Oahu…I had moved over in the Summer-time [small wave season] and used to go sit with seminal Hawaiian shaper Owl Chapman and other locals.

They used to point out to the rolling waves and tell me how this break, during Winter months, would become a monster. We spent hours watching the rhythms, Owl always repeating ‘if you get caught in this don’t go left’ (where the instinctual-out  appears to be), ‘you have to paddle into the impact-zone to get out of this one.’

So Winter rolls around, we get our first swell of the season and I’ve paddled out solo.

Suddenly everything gets dark; bigger and bigger waves start stacking up.

A West bender comes up & suddenly I’m all alone with a huge wall coming.” 

Remembering all those Summer-time conversations he ignores his instincts & paddles into the impact zone.

“There was nobody out in the line-up and no one on the beach, just me and the now twenty-foot plus walls coming in heavy.”

Now caught in the rip-current and being pulled out to sea, once again he’s hammered by the unforgiving Pacific when suddenly there was a massive blast.

“It sounded like a dragon roaring and I shot out the other side; just like Owl had said. I just paddled like my life depended on it.”

After more than thirty minutes  in the clutches of Mother Ocean, Rusty landed back on the beach -exhausted but alive.

Three Of Rusty’s San Diego Favorites

There SD: What’s your favorite SD beach?

RW:  Warm Water Power-plant -Carlsbad

There SD: Favorite SD grub spot?

RW: Angelo’s burgers in Oceanside

There SD: Favorite thing(s) about living in SD?

RW: How the surfing culture is integrated into the community and the broad exposure to music of all kinds/unique venues

Check Out This Clip On The Whitlocks From The Documentary ’50 Years of Shaping’.

video clip by Board Warrior