Bird’s Surf Shed. A throwback shop you have to visit when in San Diego. Photo: Ken Lewis

The Inertia

Your local surf shop, if you’re lucky enough to still have one, is something to behold. These local bastions of knowledge and good vibes have been among surfings most important assets. It was where local rippers, heroes, legends- both famous and infamous, would gather to share stories and share intimate knowledge of the area’s coastline. Unfortunately, great surf shops are a little harder to come by in 2017, so if you do come across a good surf retailer do your best to support them in anyway possible.

For the uninitiated, surf shops can be a bit intimidating. When I was a kid in the early 1980’s, surf shops were filled with the best local surfers, maniacs, surf hobos and some serious assholes. Customer service was an unfamiliar term and if you didn’t know your place, you were quickly sorted out. One time I witnessed the local shop owner’s son, a dear friend of mine, get forced into a full-suit (it was summer with no AC) and hung on the rack for talking back to the manager. He begged and pleaded with us to help him but the large, intimidating silver-back who was running the shop snarled at us, making it clear that if we helped in anyway we would join him. Poor Phil stayed on the rack for over an hour.

The Basics

Lucky for you, these days shops are filled with smiling girls and harmless local college students ready to assist you with kindness and respect. Sure you can buy your essentials all day long on the web, but why do that when your local shop needs your support now more than ever? Find a shop close by and wander in, take a look around. If the shop is worth its salt, there will be someone behind the counter from the area who has spent years surfing the local beaches and reefs. They will know what the tide is doing and which spots will be good for that day’s swell. The owner of the store will most likely be there because they never leave. They work seven days a week and live and die by the slim profit margins on the goods they sell. Be forewarned: they can be a little grumpy at first but they will warm up eventually. You will know its the owner because they will have a dazed look of stress radiating from their eyes and their premature receding hairline.

Everything you need under one roof. Clairemont Surf Shop, San Diego,Ca. Photo: Ken Lewis

Reality Check

A good staff will point you in the right direction for the equipment you need, not what you want. You may want the latest Tomo creation, but after some questions and background about your ability the staff will tell you why you shouldn’t be riding what the pros ride, because despite what you think, you don’t surf like Slater. Don’t be offended, use their knowledge to help you navigate your next step from your Costco Wavestorm.

Talking Story

Reading something in an internet chat room is not the same as hearing a surf story from a guy who just lived it. While the face of surf retailing has cleaned up and focused more on profit margins than hanging out, everyone has a few minutes to chop it up and talk about that morning’s session or share a great tale from some recent travels. It’s how we used to learn before the web stole our social skills. If your local shop is more of a “boardstroms” than a real shop, you may be more likely to hear about last night’s rager from the local 20-something behind the counter.

Joe Roper and family circa 2000 hanging in my old skate shop. Photo: Ken Lewis

When you do find your people, you will make friends fast and many will become extended family. Many of us started surfing because our family units were screwed up or we didn’t like a coach telling us what to do. It’s a very personal and individual passion, it drives us to travel the world in search of new experiences, new people and of course, amazing stories. The surf shop is where you can find like-minded people who see the world through the same set of filters.  Beware though, The BS detector is very finely tuned and the shop owners can smell a fraud a mile away. Be yourself and be real, it will serve you much better in the long run. Don’t come in slinging tales of grandeur because you will quickly be disregarded to the barney zone.

Giving Back

Another reason your local shop is better than Amazon or an internet site is because they are the ones who will organize a beach clean up, movie premieres, surfboard clinics and sponsor your son or daughter. They enhance your community by being active and supportive to your schools and events and lord knows the people who own shops do it for the love, not the money. Remember that the next time you are grinding them for an extra discount. Remember you don’t ask for a bro-deal at the supermarket so don’t ask at the surf shop. If you are loyal, over time they will know you and the discounts will follow.

As a former shop owner myself, I urge you to support these stores as best you can, not only for yourself, but for what the shop brings to your whole community. Find a good one, tuck in for a while, you’ll see what I mean.


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