As a 23-year-old shop grom at my local surf shop, I’m often the one who answers the phone. “Hello, _____ Surf Shop!” being my usual, cheery greeting (significantly less cheery by 6 p.m. on a Sunday).
Sometimes, it’s a fun puzzle. (“I just bought this board on Craigslist. It needs fins, but I don’t know what fins they are… there’s a zig-zag shaped box on the bottom, and the fins screw through the top of the board…”) And sometimes I hang up the phone and burst out laughing to my coworkers or even the customer I was checking out while answering the phone. “Hi there, do you sell surfboards?” Really? What kind of a “surf shop” would we be if we didn’t? As of late, though, I’ve been getting the same three questions over, and over, and over again.
“Hi, do you rent surfboards/wetsuits?”
“No, sorry, due to pandemic regulations we’ve had to temporarily suspend rentals.”
“Ohhhh, ok, do you know somewhere that does?”
“Yeah, ____ Surf Shop still does.” I’ve got the script for this one down pat. Sometimes I even get two or more calls in a row where all I have to do is repeat those same two lines followed by “Have a good one!” Click.
“Do you sell boogie/skim boards?”
To which I have two responses. Either: “Yes, we just got some in and are fully stocked!” Or: “Sorry, it looks like all 50 boogie boards we got last week sold over the weekend.” According to shop records, we’ve sold more boogie boards during the pandemic than were sold in the first 20 years of the shop’s existence combined. And as if the increased and vastly different demand wasn’t enough to deal with, COVID has changed the supply side as well.
Suddenly, the dependability of large brands has evaporated. We haven’t been able to get Carver skateboards in the shop in months despite the multiple daily requests for them, and we currently have maybe five sets of fins, FCS and Futures combined, on the shelves. That being said, accusing manufacturers of screwing us just pushes the blame further up the supply chain. The reality is that they have as little control as we do over the convoluted supply lines that used to reliably pump out fins and soft tops from overseas to the U.S.
And finally, the most dreaded question of them all. “I’m looking for a foam board/eight-foot fun board/epoxy surfboard. What do you have in stock?”
“Ummmm, honestly nothing really. We sold out weeks ago and haven’t received a shipment since.”
It used to be that we simply didn’t carry foam boards. Maybe a couple of boogie boards for kids, but that was it. This year, the normally slow end-of-summer flatness turned into a slammed month and a half of heat waves and holiday weekends where it felt more like working at a beach boutique than a surf shop. Instead of the normal flow of chargers looking for a new step up for fall, we had moms, groms, and a whole bunch of new surfers rolling through for wetsuits, boogie boards, and every ‘fun shape’ board we had in the store.
The board repair business has also shot through the roof. Our board repair guy who used to work for the shop and now runs his own repair/glassing business has been swamped with relics taken down from the rafters after not being surfed for years, wrecked finboxes and rail slices that look suspiciously like they were caused by someone else’s fin, despite the customer’s claims that he “has no idea how it happened.”
I’ve learned a lot by working in this shop. There are more types of fin boxes than FCS and Futures, a nine-foot leash is actually more like 9’6,” and the waves are usually the best right when the shop opens at 10 a.m. The biggest takeaway I’ve had though is that people want to get outdoors. They’re feeling cooped up by pandemic regulations and surfing is a way to get outside and exercise without getting too close to others (most of the time). Just like bike shops and other outdoor sports retailers, surf shops are experiencing their own pandemic boom. We’ll see if the winter swells don’t clear the waters somewhat.
Editor’s Note: Surf shop names removed to protect the innocent.