Legendary craftsman Pat Rawson is one of the most sought-after shapers in the world. A Rawson gun is synonymous with the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaiian winters, and big-wave performance surfing. We caught up with the master craftsman while he was here in Southern California during a shaping tour de force.
Give us some background information. Where did you get your start?
Well, I was lucky I grew up in a surf town, Playa Del Rey, California. In 1968 I was really starting to make custom boards with mentoring from some great shapers, Phil Becker of Becker Surf ‘n Sport, he got me started along with Tom Overland. California in the late ’60s was great. Longboards were starting to go short. It was good because I caught the tail end of the longboard era. Having good teachers was a big plus and really helped me along.
Phil Becker is a legend, it’s been said that nobody has shaped more hand-crafted boards than Becker.
Yeah, Phil Becker is a real machine. You know, these days we talk about shaping machines. Phil Becker was a real shaping machine. Becker, Dan Bendicksen and Mike Eaton, these were guys that I looked up to, these guys were the machines back then. They had a bunch of really good guys riding their boards. It was truly a golden era of surfboard design. I probably would have stayed in the South Bay, but when I graduated high school I wanted to go to college so I moved to Hawaii in the early ’70s. I basically just surfed, shaped and played music. Over there I had another great teacher in Dick Brewer. He was very instrumental in how I learned to make bigger boards. Brewer has probably taught more shapers how to make big wave boards than anybody. And the guys he’s taught, many of them have gone on to be some of the best shapers in the industry. So I had Brewer and another guy, Jim Richardson, helping me along.
Brewer, Becker, and Mike Eaton. That’s quite a lineage. Those guys had some style back then too. Eaton was driving around in a Mercedes.
Yeah, there were a lot of great styles back then. Phil Becker would show up on his derailleur eating pomegranate. That guy had real estate and…I don’t think he would mind me saying this – Phil Becker is the most successful surfboard shaper in the world. He was really smart with his money. He put his money to use. As retailers they are doing a great job too.
You really hit your stride in the 80s. You had a lot of world champions searching you out for boards. Tell us about that era for you as a shaper on the North Shore.
We had a lot of luck… I don’t believe in luck, but we’ll just call it that… Local Motion came along in 1977 and Larry Bertlemann, Mark Liddel, Michael Ho and Buttons, and Buzzy Kerbox: those are the guys that really helped me get my name out there in Hawaii. Then the Bustin’ Down the Door era came along. Then shapers, guys like Tom Parrish, who was doing a great job and Bill Barnfield…and then when the three fin came along I sort jumped in there somehow. I’m not sure how it happened. Mark Richards kind of opened the door wider for me and then Tom Carroll came along. So I had a great run for about 12 years. I got to work with everybody. The only thing that changed, in my mind, was that back in ’94 & ‘95 most of us in Hawaii were selling boards to Japan, no where else, so we had one island economy selling to another island economy. I started traveling more and that’s what I’ve been doing the last 15 years is getting out there. My boards are now available in over 18 countries. The type of boards we’re doing is 80% custom, 20% shop boards. With the economy the way it is, Surfshops are struggling. I’ve just been plugging along at 45 mph, the same pace, while others were going 90mph. Now everyone else is coming back to 45mph, it’s all coming back to soul shaping and working with your customers. It’s kind of been a cool thing for me that it’s coming back to customs.
The classic snap of Tom Carroll’s at Pipeline; It had a Byrne logo on it, but it was actually a Rawson, one of your boards!
I’ve always sort of been another logo along with the board label. Whether it be a Channel Islands or whatever, back then you were allowed to do that. If you’re a surfer going to Hawaii it was okay to get a board from Erik Arakawa or Rawson or whoever. There are all these great shapers over in Hawaii. So anyway, I had all this momentum and it allowed me to travel. Not a lot of shapers do travel, and you learn so much, just as a person. I really love traveling. I take my wife, Carmen when I can. It’s great.
Well, I know your prize possession Skil 100 planer was stolen recently on one of your travels to Europe. Any luck getting that back?
Well I don’t want to mention the air carrier, but it probably happened in transit from Spain to Paris, so it probably happened in Paris. We’ll see what happens. I’ve got other planers, I’m not without a Skil, but that one was special because it was given to me by my mom for my 14th birthday in 1968. I’ve probably done close to or over 100K boards with it. Even with the shaping machines I’ve always used it. Even if it’s just for a minute-and-a-half, because I want it to be a part of my shaping experience, so there is a sentimental loss. Maybe it will turn up. I should probably lose my planer every three years. I’ve had more emails from people offering up their planer. You guys have been great with the postings. It may turn up, if not, it was probably time to let go of it. I just hope, if it turns up in Poland or wherever, that it finds its way into the hands of a craftsman woodworker, somebody who will really puts it to good use.
Well what a great attitude Pat. Many can speak of how special a Pat Rawson surfboard is, especially when you get one into a great wave like Pipeline or Sunset. I urge everyone out there to get themselves a Rawson. It is a special surfboard and everyone should have a Rawson in their quiver. Pat, thanks for the time.
Thank you Scott. I appreciate the interview