Shaping a surfboard is more than just hacking away at a blank. In fact, it’s a skill like any art that takes years to master. Ask any veteran North Shore surfer who the big-wave board master is, and chances are, the name Pat Rawson will come flying out.
Pat’s an incredibly nice, humble man who lets his boards speak for him. There was a point years ago when any traveling pro would give a testicle to get a Rawson. Surfers all over California should cry tears of happiness because Pat’s bringing his art to the mainland. And if you don’t know, now you know.-A.C.
Why are you spending so much time in California now?
I’m just keeping up with all the work-I felt I wanted to expand my label because I’ve done really well in Hawai’i and the surrounding areas like Japan. Also to have a bigger world. I really enjoy coming back here California once a month, putting out quality stuff in the marketplace, and working on my small-wave designs-it’s been a good growing experience.
Practically every great surfer in the world has ridden your boards. Is there one thing you can say they all have in common that’s important when designing their boards?
A lot of times I only get one chance. I’ll get a call from somebody from Australia, and it’ll be like, “Hey, make me a great board for Pipe.” So I have to decipher what’s that great board. I have this one basic thing I always put out there, and I think it’s helped me more with the last fifteen years of top pros.
What you want to be is consistent-you need to make a board that does all the parameters well. The board may surf well, but maybe it doesn’t catch the wave and drop in properly or push out of the pit at Sunset-there’s a lot to it. A lot of the guys just come to me: “Oh, yeah. We’ve heard about you.” The guys on my boards are different because the design keeps evolving over the years of working with the same guy-basically, just listening to them.
Do you think young surfers could learn from riding your surfboards?
The remarks I get mostly from people started a year ago-before I started to really get my small-wave boards figured out. I always got the comment, “It’s always so consistent. I don’t like it the board that much in really small surf, but as soon as the surf is shoulder high and has some power-it’s great.”
I feel that’s sort of something in my back pocket-a feather in my hat. What’s been a true challenge for me is learning to make boards that go on zilch-mushy waves with dead sections. I want to perfect making boards that get going fast so they can get out of the water, because that’s what the photographers want to see-big moves. You gotta have a board that goes that way. That’s been a challenge, and some of the kids I’ve got are sort of showing that off, like Shaun Ward-he’s doing really well right now on the boards. It’s all aerial and getting over dead spots-being quick.
Is it a role reversal how you’re one of the most respected shapers going east to California instead of west to Hawai’i?
It’s a little bit foreign, but it was fun when I did it. I remember looking back with John Carper-who also moved to both coasts-and telling him that it was sort of a mistake trying to change your spots-I later apologized. He’s actually from here California, and he’s done really well by just being on top of it. It’s also been great for me. Living on an island, you’ve really got a limited marketplace. We do really good business with Japan, and we do really well in Hawai’i. I felt I wanted to broaden that base in order to compete in today’s surfing world, especially with all the materials and technology in California-that’s huge, and I’m into it.
If you compare a Rawson shape to a car, what kind of car would that be?
I’ve been told I’m like the BMW of surfing. I think the reason is because I’m a little pricier. What I like about the BMW marketing program is they’ve done the same thing for 25 years-they’re the ultimate driving machhine. It’s technology, quality, and design, which I feel I’m all three of those things.
It’s commitment, too-I’m involved with every board I make. I don’t have my boards made with somebody else signing it. I think that’s really important. There’s a lot of integrity-it’s got to be right spiritually for me. I don’t want to do something just for the money-it’s not worth the money. That’s probably the closest car my shapes compare to, I guess.