Renny Yater and Santa Barbara Surf Shop

Reynolds “Renny Yater” was one of the most important surfboard shapers of the 20th century. Born in 1932 in Los Angeles, Yater grew up surfing the waves of Southern California and was a pioneer of big-wave surfing. He eventually moved to Santa Barbara and with the development of Yater Surboards and Santa Barbara Surf Shop, he established himself as one of the most influential surfboard shapers of his time. 

Renny Yater Santa Barbara

Renny Yater and California Surfing History

Renny Yater surfing Dana Point

Renny Yater surfing Dana Point in the 1950's

Yater is recognized as one of the first commercial surfboard shapers of the 1950s. He began shaping his own surfboards as early as age 21.  Yater surfboards were known for their quality, durability, and attention to detail. He was a master craftsman who took great care in every aspect of the surfboard-making process. He worked with a variety of materials, including balsa wood and redwood in his early boards, and later foam and fiberglass. Renny Yater was always experimenting with new designs and shapes.

Yater learned his craft as an apprentice for Hobie Surfboards in Dana Point, where he worked as a laminator from 1955 to 1957, and then for Dale Velzy of Velzy Surfboards in San Clemente from 1957 to 1959 as a shaper making balsa boards.

Founding Santa Barbara Surf Shop

Yater Surfboards shop
Renny Yater Santa Barbara Surf Shop in Summerland 1961

In 1959, Yater moved north to Santa Barbara to work as a commercial fisherman. He realized there weren't many shapers shaping boards locally and began shaping on the weekends as a side gig. Soon after, he opened up his own surfboard shaping shop, Santa Barbara Surf Shop. The shop was originally located on Anacapa Street, and then relocated to Summerland in 1961.

Yater working as commercial fisherman

Yater working as a commercial abalone diver in the 1950's

In 1965, he moved the shop back to downtown Santa Barbara on Gutierrez street and opened a retail shop at 401 State street. He moved the shaping operation to Gray avenue in 1967 and closed the retail shop in 1971. In 1991, Yater partnered with surf shop Surf ‘n Wears Beach House to establish his Yater Surfboards retail showroom in the store at 10 State street, still the official location selling Yater Surfboards and Santa Barbara Surf Shop t-shirts and apparel.

The Yater Spoon

Renny Yater Shaping Surfboards

Yater developed two of his most famous surfboard designs during the mid-1960s: the Yater Spoon during 1965-66, and the Pocket Rocket during 1969-72. Fun fact: local surfboard shaper John Eichert  of Ike Surfboards shaped Yater Spoons for Santa Barbara Surf Shop during this period. The Yater Spoon was considered at the time to be one of the most innovative surfboard designs of its day. As styles of surfing shifted and longboard culture evolved, he created the Pocket Rocket to evolve with the development of short board surging.

To this day the Yater Spoon is considered a revolutionary design that allowed surfers to ride point break waves like Rincon with more control and stability. The board was characterized by its wide nose, concave bottom, and square tail, which made it easier to turn and maneuver in the water. The Yater Spoon became an instant classic and is still regarded as one of the most iconic surfboard designs of all time.

Throughout his career, Yater shaped surfboards for some of the most famous surfers in the world, including Mickey Dora, Joey Cabell, Kemp Augerg, Stew Fredericks, and Bob Cooper. Other surfing legends like surf movie producer Bruce Brown, Surfer Magazine founder John Severson, and Clark Foam creator Gordon Clark also surfed Yater boards. He also shaped boards for a number of Hollywood movies, including "The Endless Summer" and "Big Wednesday."

Yater Surfboards Bosch & Apocalypse Now

As an icon of Santa Barbara Surf Shop culture, Yater appeared in several surf movies, including  Surf Crazy (1959), Big Wednesday (1961), Surfing Hollow Days (1962), and Walk on the Wet Side (1963). But the most famous Yater film appearance was made by a classic army-green Santa Barbara Surf Shop t-shirt worn by Robert Duvall’s character Colonel Kilgore in the film Apocalypse Now. Duvall’s character also brought a 8’6”Yater Spoon with him on deployment in the movie.

Yater Surfboards collectibles

Late in his career, Yater dedicated himself to hand-shaping specialty decorative boards in balsa wood. These beautiful works of art, along with a wide range of vintage boards, are on display at the Surf ‘n Wears Beach House Yater Surfboards showroom.

Yater was a true master of his craft and his legacy lives on in the surfboards he created and the surfers he influenced. Yater surfboards are among the most sought after vintage surfboards. His boards continue to be sought after by surfers around the world, and his legacy lives on through the many shapers he inspired and mentored.

See Renny Yater commenting on the early surfing years in the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum documentary "The Deeper Diver Series: Renny Yater, Heritage 1885-1959."

Apocalypse Now by Yater T-Shirt