When I was a kid in the early ‘60s, surf shops smelled like resin and rang with the sounds of power tools. Surfboards were often the only item featured in the showroom. In the back room, you could watch as your blank and resin were transformed into a dream machine. These were not department stores, but destinations that provided necessary goods and useful information about what boards worked where and when the next swell was arriving.
About a year ago, I walked into one of those “surf shops” that have sprung up in malls all over the nation. I was surprised to see real surfboards and was eying the clean rail of a 6 foot 4 inches Thruster when a salesperson approached.
Just for fun, I asked him why the board had three fins. When he couldn’t answer, I asked him who glassed it. It became quickly apparent that the poser knew nothing about surfboards and there was nobody in the shop to help him out. Despite what the sign says, this is not a surf shop.
Real surf shops no longer have boards built on site, but real surfers staff them. In 1970 the main shops in town were Sunset and Hansen’s. Real surfers and board makers founded both shops and while Hansen’s board building facility had moved away from the showroom, the boards were all handcrafted and some of the biggest names from that era, including Margo Godfrey, Mike Doyle and Gerry Lopez rode them.
Working in a surf shop in those days was nearly akin to being a pro surfer today. You were considered some sort of an aquatic guru in the eyes of groupies and gremmies that patronized the place.
I had always wanted to work in a surf shop and finally got the opportunity to run the cash register for Koast, which was located across from George’s Restaurant, where the Chart House now stands. The sales manager at Koast was Mark Adam. Local shapers Steve Clark and John Kies made most of the boards.
Up in Leucadia, Hank Byzak had established Pure Fun Surfboards. But most surf shops didn’t have a showroom and Bain, Channin and MTB built many of the boards in the area on “the hill.”
Many boards were also made in less sophisticated facilities, including the Hanger, a house so named because it literally hung over the cliff at D Street where lam master Gary Stuber and others created underground masterpieces under the Black Dot label.
By the late ‘70s Koast shut down and Kies and Adam moved their shop to its enduring location on Coast Highway. It’s called Encinitas Surfboards. Bain’s Peter “Pinline” St. Pierre along with Stuber, Mark Donnellan and Kenny Mann opened Moonlight Glassing in San Marcos.
Peter and Sally St Pierre had a son who grew up to do many things, including write surf stories, build surfboards and open a surf shop called Surfy Surfy, a cool venue filling the gap of the legendary Longboard Grotto.
The newest shop in the neighborhood is Iron Cross Surfboards, where the father/son team of Jeff and Jay Grygera run a corner store in Cardiff after hand building the boards in San Marcos.
On the other end of the size spectrum is Surf Ride, which began as a single store in Oceanside. Founded by twin brothers Bill and Richard Bernard, Surf Ride now has two mega stores with every surf accessory imaginable. Up the street from Surf Ride, Mitch’s provides a full surf shop experience, including inexpensive board building supplies.
Winter is coming and the tourists (thank goodness) will be gone for the season. In order to hang on, our local surf shops need us. If you don’t support your local surf shop, you’ll be buying your boards from some mall rat that thinks a glass job is something you do to your windshield.
Filed Under: Sea Notes