In surf, respect for the craft, the vessel, is paramount. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see folks nerding out in the water asking what’s under their friend’s feet, how they like it, etc., etc. And yet choosing your next craft is always a challenging enterprise. Consider this, the prevailing test of whether a surfboard feels right is the underarm test – carrying a board under your arm to determine if the weight, thickness, width, simply feel right. In other words, the main tool surfers have at their disposal before making a serious purchase (besides showing up at a board demo, or trying a friend’s board) is eyeballing and going by feel, not actually giving it a try.
Peter Belden, the man behind the Newport Board Club, recognized an opportunity to create a space where local surfers can try an array of shapes, checking them out as you’d check out a library book and returning them to try out something new.
Belden says the idea came from a life changing surf trip he had taken through Indo and Australia after quitting his job, and selling his car. “I was surfing this beach in Australia on the one board I had brought and just thought to myself, ‘Why couldn’t I have access to a whole bunch of different boards to try in different conditions.'”
The Newport Board Club is the result. For $90 per month (with a three month commitment) members have access to an array of surfboards, from traditional logs to fishes to high performance shortboards. They can keep a board for as long as 21 days, or exchange for a different board as often as they like.
But it’s not just about the boards. The Board Club also hosts events like movie nights, talks with local shapers, and beach cleanups, but also functions as a sort of clubhouse with a shower, beach parking, and the ability to check out Bocce Ball, chairs, and other family beach day essentials. It’s all in an effort to build a sense of community among surfers in Newport Beach and beyond.
“You know, what’s crazy is I did a little survey of our members a while back essentially asking what they liked most about the club, the boards or the events. I expected it to lean heavily toward the boards, but it was nearly a 50/50 split. I think our members really appreciate the sense of camaraderie being a part of the club.”
Belden says that it isn’t just surfers in Newport that have become members. “We have members from all over. We even have a kid who goes to school up in San Francisco and comes back every so often to switch out boards and surf up there.”
Another benefit of membership is the ability to come to club-organized surf days where photographers and videographers can capture each member surfing. Belden says the Newport Board Club has built a partnership with Hurley Surf Club so members can send in their footage and get feedback from surf coaches. It also helps when getting face time with shapers to give them feedback on how and why a board works or doesn’t work.
For now, all of the boards available to members are built by local shapers in the Newport/Orange County area. According to Belden, it’s part of the ethos of building community. “You know, for now we’re focused on local shapers because it’s great for both the shapers and members. Shapers can get feedback on their shapes from a diverse group of surfers, and members get access to the craftsmen that made a boards, especially the ones they really like. It offers an opportunity to build that relationship between local surfer and local shaper.”
In a time where the surf community in general is expressing more openness to alternative shapes and designs, places like the Board Club support this broadening of horizons. And in places like Southern California where it’s not uncommon to surf next to 100 people you’ve never seen before, the Board Club’s popularity seems to be striking a very human desire to have a place to come back to where everyone knows your name.