Dustin Relethford, a surfer living in San Diego, realized a problem — a very expensive problem.
During the height of the Covid pandemic, he wanted a new surfboard. Before he shelled out a thousand dollars, he wanted to try a few different shapes and sizes.
But he couldn’t — it was either place an order and hope the board had the magic touch, or don’t place the order at all.
Dustin’s entrepreneurial gears began to turn, and today, not only is the solution to his problem alive and well in San Diego; it allows any surfer the ability to demo an incredible quiver of boards for a cheap price. Above all, it serves as a bridge connecting shapers and surfers.
What's so great about Surfer's Guild's incredible range of boards is that you can demo any one you like. Sounds like a deal to us! Photo courtesy Surfer's Guild
Although Dustin grew up in wave-rich San Diego, he admits didn’t spend much time in the water.
“I wasn’t the wealthiest kid; we lived in low-income housing out East,” he told me. “I didn’t get the chance to surf, and even if I did, I didn’t have the money for a wetsuit or a surfboard.”
In one of the wildest stories I’ve heard, Dustin said that when he was 16, he found a beat-up surfboard in a dumpster, rode with a friend to Torrey Pines and paddled out.
“It was the first time I touched a surfboard,” he said. “I stood up, instantly pearled over the nose, and bounced off the bottom of the sand. It was the gnarliest fall, and when I got home, I was itching and burning, just covered in fiberglass from the used board! "
The combination of finances and his wipeout resulted in him not touching a surfboard for more than a decade.
After high school, he worked in finance in the Bay area — cubicles, commuting, what Dustin calls “a soul-crushing experience” — and spent his free time snowboarding.
He and his wife moved back to San Diego, and instead of snowboarding, Dustin wanted to try surfing again. But this time, without the whole dumpster surfboard and fiberglass all over his body deal.
On a perfect 4-foot offshore day, Dustin paddled out on a 6’4” epoxy board — for only the second session of his life — to try and see if surfing could deliver him to the promised land of stoke and yewwww! that he so often found with snowboarding.
Unfortunately, things did not go his way.
While seasoned surfers dream of clean, offshore and pitchy surf, it can be torturous for someone just starting. A grueling 30-minute paddle out, followed by a couple of sets straight on the head were quite enough for Dustin to realize just how challenging and dynamic surfing is.
But he respected the struggle of it all, and committed to it, paddling out day after day, month after month, tallying each surf session on a calendar to better keep track of what he calls “the addiction”.
Now, 10 years on and countless sessions and wipeouts later, Dustin finally feels at home in the water, and knowledgeable enough to help spread the stoke to fellow surfers.
While there's no such thing as a PhD in board shaping, Dustin certainly has the hard work and skills to qualify. If you're looking to talk all things surfboard design, he's the guy to chat with. Photo courtesy Dustin Relethford
Plus, by developing his surfing skills later in life, Dustin feels more recently connected to the aspects of surfing and board design that intermediate riders have questions about.
He noted that most surf shop employees have been surfing since before they could walk, and having an intermediate rider asking them what is great about a certain board is like asking a rocket scientist what is great about their spaceship. They’ll tell you a bunch of technical aspects that will probably go right over your head.
As surfing became an integral part of Dustin and his wife’s lives, they decided to make the big leap and start a business.
Instead of the “soul crushing” experience of corporate life, Dustin and his wife founded West Path, a company that makes sustainable gear for getting out there, from Mexican blankets to beach and camping accessories, the most comfortable surf poncho on the market today and more.
West Path had embedded entrepreneurial traits in Dustin. During the pandemic, he was shopping for a new 6'0 high-performance shortboard; his only two options were a 5’8 and a 6’6.
He wanted to demo one to dial in his size, but discovered there was no place that offered rentals of actually "nice" surfboards.
“Shapers are making thousands of surfboards, but you couldn’t demo one before making a big purchase,” Dustin said. “It just seemed broken to me.”
That’s how Surfer’s Guild Surf Shop was formed.
Step into Surfer's Guild Surf Shop, and you can meet Dustin and hear more about his wild surfing life yourself. Photo courtesy Dustin Relethford
Located a few minutes off the beach in Carlsbad, Surfer’s Guild isn’t your average surf shop. The difference starts with the name itself.
Dustin envisioned a shop that isn’t so much about a customer buying a product as it is empowering surfers to discover the best in the industry. That’s exactly what a “guild” is — by definition, an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.
“We do really value our name being a guild. We’re not out to sell stuff to people,” Dustin said. “We’re trying to create a community as well as a shared experience. Our whole goal is to show surfers what they love, and we do that by partnering with shapers, allowing them to show their stuff in here so people can demo them.”
Step inside the Surfer’s Guild Surf Shop, and you’ll find the latest clothes, swimwear, accessories, but what really caught our eye was Dustin’s quiver that you can demo for yourself.
Without a doubt, Surfer's Guild is one of the coolest surf shops in San Diego. Photo courtesy Surfer's Guild
Dustin showed us an incredible quiver, from shortboards to fishes, longboards, and everything in between.
The quiver includes the boards you’ve always dreamed of riding: A classic 80’s Skip Frye, a full range of Andreinis, a Donald Takayama with an original signature; a dozen or so Mandalas; not to mention the usual SoCal faves such as Kookapinto, Alex Knost, CJ Nelson, Christenson, Zach Flores, Kurtis Woodin, Mitsven, Hayden, and many more. Even his Foamies for beginners are high quality, with Surfers Guild stocking the full selection of Almond R-Series.
In all, Surfer’s Guild has about 100 boards on display.
The best part? You can rent any of these boards for an affordable price — $20 to $30 a day.
Or, if you want to christen a brand new surfboard and take it on its maiden voyage, that price is $200 for 2 days, or a long weekend (for example, picking up Friday, dropping off Monday).
Even better, the rental price comes off the cost of the board if you buy it.
“I’ve had people try and do trade-ins with some beat up boards,” Dustin told me. “But I always send them to someone else down the road who accepts those. The only boards in here are ones that I wouldn’t mind keeping for myself.”
The latest gear, community, and boards to demo: Surfer's Guild is a one-stop shop for everything you need in San Diego. Photo courtesy Surfer's Guild
Surfer’s Guild is not your average surf shop.
Far from it.
And what makes it so unique — aside from its custom gear inside, its Guild mantra, and the ability to demo boards — is that it’s a connecting two integral parts of surfing together: shapers and surfers.
In the end, the product is a community of people sharing the same goal and spreading the stoke.
Learn more about the Surfer’s Guild by visiting their website.