Whitlock and RW Surfboards, Carlsbad, California: Inspiring new surfers through unique partnerships with local businesses
Location: 605 Mission Ave., Oceanside California
Owner: Rusty Whitlock
# of storefronts: 1
Whitlock and their RW Surfboards brand have become an institution in San Diego's surf culture. From 1976, until 2015, RW Surfboards had a shop in a quiet neighborhood close to the beach in Carlsbad, CA. The shop was a place for locals to hang out, pick up gear, get boards fixed, and order a custom shape. There was even a small wooden skate park for the groms. Unfortunately, due to skyrocketing property values, the old shop and many neighboring businesses were demolished in order to build townhouses.
Fortunately, Whitlock’s was able to settle into a nearby neighborhood and keep its doors open. We caught up with Rusty Whitlock at their new location along Oceanside's newly re-designed Mission Avenue to see what life and business is like there, and how a small, family-run surf shop keeps their community happy.
How did you choose this location? You were at another site in Oceanside for a short period after moving from Carlsbad.
The city came in and said we couldn't do a retail store out of the place, so it forced us to find this place. The silver lining is we have it now while its affordable, not in two years when the price has skyrocketed after the new hotels go in. Its nice to be a part of the growth of the city as things progress, being the voice of the surf community through doing different events we can be down there as a positive influence.
Can you explain your partnership with the local hotels?
We're working with the Wyndham, Southern Californian beach club and the Mariot right here. We're catering to their clients. When people come out here, they come to California, and what do they want to do? They want to surf and go to Disney Land. We would rather have them surf than spend money at Disney. 99% of the time after they go surf, it’s better than Disney Land. That's our stoke, we like to be the highlight of their vacation and send them home as surfers. Right now we have a family from Michigan, earlier this week we had people from New York, Pittsburgh, and Canada. When they're done they're all surf buddies and ready to go home and share some shakkas.
This place is designed to be our headquarters so people can come in and see the latest T-shirt brands like the premium cottons and blends that we use. This is were they touch, feel, and see it and if they want to order shirts for their own company or brand, that's what we're here to do. We're here to help them with designs, printing, graphics, decals, and stickers. You name it; we do it.
Most of the soft goods you carry are under one of your private label brands, can you explain those?
We have the Whitlock surf experience, which is our newest brand, which is about the surf lessons and the surf school. The Whitlock surf experience is the surf school, the good times, shakkas, the good times. RW (surfboards) is the leader of the pack because that's been around since 1963. Whitlock Industries is now the alternative type logo designs, so that way we're not strictly surf. We can branch out into skate and music and all the other different avenues, so we're not locked into one category.
In addition to doing your own design work and screen printing, you do apparel for other companies as well?
We do, that's Whitlock Ink, with a "k." We did the RIP TransWorld Surf shirts when the mag “passed away.” We do a lot of events stuff for people like Monster, Kawasaki, Sticky Bumps, Pandora. We work with all the schools, all the different businesses, soccer teams, softball leagues, we do it all.
Do you do any business online?
We're starting to. The website will definitely be our Fall/Winter work because surf lessons start to slow down and we can use our energy for that. I found that between Facebook and Instagram, we can reach more people more quickly with just a quick social blast.
More than anything, we are stoked seeing the young guys coming in and wanting to start shaping, and the new technologies that are coming through. With the epoxy resins and the boards that we are making we're able to use state of the art materials. The old polyester, that was what they used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Now we use Epoxy and that's going to put people on Mars.
Do you have any big concerns about the industry or surfing in general?
More than anything, we are stoked seeing the young guys coming in and wanting to start shaping, and the new technologies that are coming through. With the epoxy resins and the boards that we are making we're able to use state of the art materials. The old polyester, that was what they used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Now we use Epoxy and that's going to put people on Mars. Concerns? Crowd factor is always going to be a main concern, but mother nature kind of has a way to thin out the crowd when the waves get big. That's why, as a surf school, we try to teach people where to go, respect, etiquette—the rules of the water are really important. We take it on ourselves that if we are going to put surfers in the water, they will have respect and enjoy it for others. My next dream is to put lights on the pier and surf at night. That will help the crowd factor out.
Do you partner with any brands?
We do with Body Glove. We've been going since 63, they've been going sine 53, and the product is a nice name brand that you know. We partnered up with them for their surf-kinis, their trunks, and come winter, all their rubber. That way we'll be carrying all the Body Glove wetsuits and accessories. It's a nice family brand and you know you're going to get a quality product and it's a name that's been out there for a long time.
Do you have any new projects going on?
The SWAT (Surf Wake And Tow) board is a bio-directional twin tip. It’s designed to surf forward or back, side to side. We're trying to figure out a way to have less drag with all the fins because we're going to be putting quite a few in. The fins in the middle are designed to give you a little more turning area. You won't have to move and adjust your weight so much. You can just lean on your heel edge and that should allow you to bring the board around. It’s theory right now, but we're looking forward to getting it glassed and in the water. That other board that's laying down right there, the first SWAT series, that's one we made for the Built to Shred show. That board is actually carbon fiber with a titanium inlay that's called texalium. That actually held together when it hit the metal, the only thing that didn't was the fins.
We want to be a part of the community. We don't want to be exclusive. We want to work with everybody. It's a small industry and a small community, so you want to make sure you know you're friends and co-workers. We've all bounced around the industry.
How do you connect with the local community?
The first Friday of next month is the Oceanside Art walk and we're going to get together with all the other local shapers here that aren't the big name brand guys and we're going to have a little “Meet Your Shaper” night—a meet and greet to get to know the faces of the brands, the guys who make the boards, the unknown guys who don't get the praise. We want to be a part of the community. We don't want to be exclusive. We want to work with everybody. It's a small industry and a small community, so you want to make sure you know you're friends and co-workers. We've all bounced around the industry. In my youth I worked for Life's a Beach, the Bad Boy Club, and DC shoes, before it was even DC. I like doing my own thing now, though. I can surf when I want to.
Any big predictions for the next two or three years?
Stay open! Keep the doors open, keep it growing organically, and be part of the Oceanside growth at the same time. We want to see ourselves having more than one local shop around that can cater to the needs of the community. Start here, and I wouldn't mind having a shop in Hawaii or Mexico, and have an excuse to go there. We just want to see it grow, get the name and the brand out there, and continue to work with the graphics and the designs on the apparel side, too.
How do you want customers to view your shop?
We want to be a full service surf shop. Ding repairs, custom boards, T-shirt printing, surf lessons, the knowledge of the boards, and the product when people that come in have questions. Teaching not just the guys who already know how to surf, but the general populous who comes in and has never seen a surfboard before. We explain what a fin is, what a leash is, what the function of different parts of the board are. We want to be a place where people want to come in and say hi.