Aloha and welcome to the 11th episode of the podcast!
Today with us longtime surfer and shaper Stu Kenson has always been one of San Diego’s most respected custom surfboard builders.
The founder of Evening Glass, Stu has worked with Weber Surfboards, Rusty, and Joel Tudor and his own label Stu Kenson Surfboards.
You can find the episode in the best podcast platforms (Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and much more).
If you want to read the interview, please see below and allow us to make us some mistake in the transcribing.
TTOS : Aloha Stu and welcome to the show. Where are you today?
I’m doing well. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. I am at work. I just pulled up to my shaping Bay. I had some errands to run this morning and it’s time to get busy.
TTOS : How is San Diego nowadays? You know, the shops are starting to reopen everything is going back to normality?
Not quite yet ….. some shops are still closed, some of the bigger shops have all the regulations in place as far as how many people could be in the store and wearing protective masks, etc….
Everybody’s still trying to “feel it out” and you know, go day by day as to what’s happening.
TTOS : first question that I have for you is what is, in your opinion, the most important thing in surfing?
In surfing, I would say my feelings on it are that it is a very important part of our lives, especially those of us that have served for quite some time myself.
I started surfing in 1969 and I was completely drawn to it and it definitely shaped my life for very good reasons.
I think it’s great for a myriad of reasons, stress relief. Physical fitness, an activity.
In my place, in my way, it’s a 24 hour a day thing.
I’m constantly, if I can’t get in the water, thinking about it, or I’m thinking about boards I’m shaping and designs, especially.
TTOS : Yeah, it’s not a work at all, right? It’s just like a passion that ended up being also your main occupation, right?
Absolutely… if you want to look at it as a job, I have the best job in the world,
I also feel very very lucky and blessed…..in this stage of my career that I can do what I like to do, but yeah, call it a job is very tough.
TTOS : Do you remember your first surfboard?
Yes, I do. It was, it was a Greek Maui model by “Surfboards by the Greek” out of Huntington beach. And it was a triple stringer, a yellow tint pin tail, long board very heavy, you know, probably 25, 26 pounds somewhere in there. And that’s what I, I learned on then
My next board immediately after was David Nueva kind of mid link single fin. And those were my primary boards.
TTOS : And you still have those boards with you?
I wish I had the Maui model, cause it would be worth something. The Nueva lasted about two weeks and we were coming home from the beach in my, my friend’s father’s car and the racks broke and my board flew off on the highway and was destroyed.
TTOS : Oh my God.
Well, I’ll never forget that one.
TTOS : Do you collect surfboards?
I collect boards that have meaning to me.
I worked for “Infinity Surfboards” in 1976 and I rode stings, the Aipa Style stings ….I was lucky enough to find one of those boards, I had it restored by a friend of mine, a beautiful canope glass polished.
Most of the other boards I collect are from my friends, other shapers that I, that I really respect.
I have a little starfish from Hank Warner (Hank and I worked together) and then I have a couple boards from Skip Frye, which I’m very lucky to have, Skip works in the same complex that we do.
It was a very unexpected to get the first one and really stoked to get the second one. Also they’re both fishes. One’s a smaller VH fish and the other, one’s a kind of, a little bit of a mid-length ‘71 bigger fish.
those things are really special. They live in board bags in my garage where they’re nice and safe.
TTOS : Is there a particular surfboard that you particularly like in your collection? Let’s say that as a very special meaning for you?
I would have to say the infinity sting that board was from 1975, 76 era, at the time we rode pretty much everything, you know, we didn’t have a quiver of boards , but only one board that was for everything.
In my case, I rode boards that were like seven foot, seven/two, seven/four….that was my do everything board.
I went to Hawaii in 1975 for the U S championships…..the level of surfing that the Hawaiians were doing on the Aipa stings was phenomenal, no one else could even play on the same playing field.
They were that good and that was a huge influence!
That was one of the reasons why, when I was able to find that sting after looking for it for a while, that board has a lot of special meaning to me.
TTOS : When did you start shaping?
I shaped my first board in 1972.
We had a mentor, he was a lifeguard and he asked myself and some of my friends : “Hey, would you guys like to build a surfboard, you know, for yourself?”
I think there were like three of us that did it and it was really fun.
There was a surf shop, not too far away, about a 20 minutes drive from where we live….
There they sold all the materials…..you could buy a blank and fiberglass cloth, champ pigment or opaque pigment, because everything was those colors in that period of time.
It was before airbrushing really and he showed us how to do everything.
It was a great experience that stayed with me, you know, many, many, many years.
We shaped the boards and I’m sure they were horrible, but at the time it was really exciting.
We laid up a panel for the fin cause they were single fins…..that was really cool….a red tint fin that I put on that board and we cut them out and you’d glass them on and then you would foil them on the board itself.
Is pretty, pretty archaic, but that’s the way it was done in that period of time.
TTOS : 48 years ago…. it’s an impressive career. Congratulations!
In your opinion, what was your greatest achievement? The one that you are the most proud of?
Well…there’s been a lot of highlights….I have to say that
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very, very good surfers and continue to
I’ve worked for Joel tutor personally for about 26 years now and still make boards for him mostly for North shore. He and his son Tosh.
I have a pretty good group of guys that I remain fairly quiet about that I make boards for up in Northern California that are Mavericks surfers, and I’ve got about 16, 18 guys that ride my board’s up there.
That’s kind of been my private deal, you know….I don’t talk about it too much.
It’s really exciting to work with athletes of that caliber.
I make boards for everybody from lower-intermediate to pro-level surfers and I make all kinds of different stuff from performance short boards to the board I specialized in right now are my twinzers, I make those in performance style and eggs, mid-length and they’re extremely popular.
TTOS : In your opinion, what is key in shaping?
I would say your boards have to work
The theories behind, “what I like to do”, they have to also work.
I don’t believe in gimmicks.
I do like to take things to the limit as far as design and design of surfboards.
I’m never static…..I’m always thinking about what’s the next thing I want to build, you know : “constant refinement” is another way to look at it.
TTOS : I like what you’re saying, constant refinement is like, basically there is never like a perfect surfboard, you know, you can always improve some little things, right?
Yeah. It’s almost, you could liken it to the aerodynamics on a car, you know, where you can come up with a design, a body design and there’s little tweaks you can make.
That’s kind of the way that I look at it.
TTOS : I guess in your career, you received a lot of requests from a lot of surfers/customers , do you remember any crazy request?
I got a request, not that long ago, it was for a board I’d built, I think almost a year and a half ago.
It was a North shore board and the customer wanted a lot of stringers.
He wanted to basically two inches worth of stringers in a laminated T-band.
It was extremely heavy and I tried to talk them out of it, but that’s what he wanted.
I built it and the board came out, it was a nine foot big wave gun for sunset beach, it came out to about 29 pounds.
TTOS : Oh my God.
Which was unacceptable…..he took the board and he actually rode it a few times.
He said it went pretty good and some of the outer reef, but he’s a smaller guy, very fit and very good surfer, but just too much, you know…
I have other customers that will look to all this data, so to speak…..you have the volume of a board and you have the leaders and you have all this junk, as far as I’m concerned…
it’s only a tool…..I mean, don’t get me wrong on that, but it’s more important, especially in my generation of shapers that are making custom surfboards for so long, when a customer is honest with us, as far as their ability…..
We can build them a board, almost a hundred percent of the time, that’s going to be just about perfect for them, not only that, but make exceed their expectations even better than they had imagined.
And that’s, that is really satisfying.
TTOS : tell us about your future plans…are you working on something in particular?
I always have some different things that I’m doing, as I said.
I don’t like things to stay static and, and just do the same board time after time.
The boards I’m specializing in are the Twinzers, which is a twin fin that has a front last smaller front canard fin, which directs the water on to the fin.
Very efficient, more efficient than a twin fin, more versatile.
I’m working on all kinds of new stuff for that.
I also have a lot of other things it would take us days to talk about… but that’s primarily, that’s the board.
If people look on my Instagram site, that’s what they’re going to see the most of.
I’ve always loved the colors from the mid-seventies into the eighties.
I embraced that…anything that’s neon or bright.
I do a lot of stuff like that….I do a lot of tints a lot of channel bottoms, you know, that’s something that I’ve been doing for years and years and they still sell really well
Those are my main areas of focus
It is custom.
I don’t sell my boards in big surf shops, after so many years, I’ve got a pretty, a big clientele.
A lot of people in the continental United States, Hawaii made in Europe and in Japan,
You go through the family generations…you could break it down to grandchild and son and then, you know, the parents.
TTOS : We’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session. So please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind…..
TTOS : The best surfboard that you ever ridden
I got about, about 20 of them, but yeah, that being said …my favorite board that I recently have been riding is one of my rocket fish channel bottom Twinzers.
I’had boards from various shapers through the years, the Rusty Preisendorfer in the early eighties made me boards that were really good.
A local guy here in town,David Craig, he’s a San Diego shaper.
He’s very unknown, but it makes great surf boards…. he made me a lot of good boards.
I have to put it on that….I’ve always had a lot of boards. I’ve gone through quite a few and generally the best ones are the ones that don’t last very long. You just want to ride them every day
TTOS : And the best shaper of all time, in your opinion….
There’s a shaper…..He shaped my boards in the seventies at Infinity surfboard. His name’s Max MacDonald.
And he’s very under appreciated.
He left Infinity and went on to be a hand shaper at Channel Islands…it was one of their lead shapers, along with him, Wayne Rich, it was a very good friend of mine….he also worked at Channel Islands.
He was originally from the Los Angeles South Bay area. Excellent, excellent craftsmen.
I would put him in my top, top three guys that I could think of.
As far as surfboards that for me are a piece of art….functional art those are the Skip Frye’s….
He’s 78 years old and I’m looking at him, right now, he is outside and he is getting these blanks out of the truck.
He still surfs you know, when it’s good, which is, you know, three to five days a week here and is an incredible shaper for what he builds.
He builds fishes and gliders and that type of stuff and no one can imitate him… there are guys that try to copy them or emulate them…..And they’re not even close.
I would say….put it this way, he would be the Ferrari of surfboards.
TTOS : A young shaper that deserves to be in in every surfboard collection
Ryan Burch from North County, he is a great surfer….he was he was a pro-level short boarder and he decided to go down a different path and learned how to shape.
He’s very good and makes really unique surfboards. He’s known for doing asymmetric and little side cut fishes. he’s very impressive.
TTOS : Your favorite surf spot.
My favorite surf spot in the world, it would be Cloudbreak in Fiji,
TTOS : Your favorite surfer or the best surfer of all time.
I’m going to date myself and I’m going to say it was max MacDonald, really good style. Really good surfer. There’s plenty of guys…..that’s such a, it’s such an open question. You know, you could name the people all the way through the years, but I mean, if I’m going to say, you know, in my mind and in my heart, it’s him.
TTOS : And the last question is a little bit unusual, has nothing to do with surf, but we want to know your best relationship advice….
Well, I’ve been married going on 36 years….maybe I would say try to behave yourself and “bite your lip” before you speak
TTOS : Thanks a lot for being on the show with us today. And I look forward to talk to you very soon.
thank you for having me on and best wishes to everybody around the world. Stay safe and go surfing.
Recorded in May 2020