Good surf shops are hard to find. This is a hard truth that grows steadily every day. Fashion, that old and formidable enemy of the environment, has slung its stinking hook in the ocean right next to each and everyone of us while we mind our own business waiting for waves. Distracting, ego-slashing and serving no real function to our benefit, we find our very own shops balancing on the fulcrum of perpetual ruin, bending under the stress of the once foreign but now all too familiar beast.
Okay, so maybe a bit over the top, but you get the idea. The definition of a surf shop has changed over the decades and as some of the major ‘surf brands’ went down a route that has headed to the high street as appose to the waters edge so, what it meant to be a ‘surf shop’ changed.
There really is no secret that there is not much cash to be made in surfboards, not many are sold and the mark up on ‘good’ surfboards is relatively low. Surf accessories such as leashes, wax, earplugs, board bags, fins, wetsuits etc and other ‘smaller ticket items’ offer a bit more financial gain to our local waterside stoke supporters. Enter the fashion brands, the endless flip-flops, t-shirts, shorts that used be aside from the norm. Surf fashion was expensive, good quality and just a little bit different, one might say, daring. It set us apart from the rest of society, but times change and we have to roll with the punches. Time to get up to date with this. Why am I telling you something you already know? The coolest surf shop I know just closed down. Sad face.
Without naming names and places so as to avoid upsetting any applecarts, I will remain vague as to the identity and location of said shop.
The shop in question is not the closest to me, it’s about a twenty-minute drive. To get there I have motor past bigger, better and possibly cheaper shops of stoke. Places with more assistants, more boards, better and bigger surf porn (2nd hand board) sections. But I don’t stop, not really ever.
I have what is called a ‘tight wallet’, which means I was born with an inability to gladly pay for things. There are, however, weaknesses in my psyche, and one of those is surf stuff. Most notably of these are surfboards, what can I say. As a shaper friend once explained to my wife, “Everyone has to have a vice, you should be thankful your husbands is something healthy like surfing and surfboards.”
In the interest of fairness, that phrase has been called upon many times since then to get me out of a ‘hot spot’ after purchasing a board I shouldn’t have. No more I say. But we digress, I want talk to you about my favourite surf shop, what makes it so cool and why it’s closing.
I have bought a grand total of two surfboards from … shall we call the shop ‘Kookbox Fannyglove’ for the sake of naming names and its owner, maybe ‘Monty von Quirk’. So two boards from there, both secondhand and beautiful, cheap and one off, hand shaped unusual boards. I did not snap them up on impulse, there was no big sell, but like a courting gentleman, I paid them a few visits preferring to think things over and purchase when the time and feeling were right.
I might pop in and do the usual things that made me look like a kook, hand along rails, looking down the length of the stringer, running my hands along the belly contours etc. ‘Monty’ was more than happy to let me make a twat of myself, nodding and agreeing with my summaries of how we both thought it would perform on the slide. Knowledgeable, unhurried and genuinely interested with the patience of a saint, ‘Monty’ and I stood talking about surf, family and other things. A feeling of community was felt. I ended up popping in when I was over that way, sometimes buying things other times just so have a ‘chin wag’ and each and every time I was greeted with the same warm welcome.
The shop itself was stocked with different and unusual brands, most of actual hardware and wetsuits with occasional pair of boardies or t-shirts from non mainstream companies. You got the feeling it was where the soul of surfing resided in that particular location. Guys and girls far more local than my good self adorned the place and life was good.
That was a while ago, and as time has elapsed, the area has grown, now it has more of a ‘surfcamp’ vibe, more shops, bigger, better and more steamlined, all designed to get customers in, make the sale, then get them out feeling good. The inevitable has happened. The surf industry of nowadays has arrived, the cash cow of people paying to learn to surf on holiday. Folk being sold ‘pointy’ boards they can’t surf, but now they look like ‘proper’ surfers. Locals moved away to make way for the masses, renting out their homes and choosing to move up or down the coast, and who can blame them.
‘Monty and ‘Kookbox Fannyglove’ carried on, fought the good fight but the end was inevitable. And now it has come. With no regrets, ‘Monty’ has closed down, citing that the soul had gone in the business. The enjoyment for him had gone as the clientele changed, but he’s not harbouring ill feelings and instead looks back on times of difference and thoughts of days gone by.
Last time I went over that direction for a surf I got told to get out of the water by a surf instructor as I was surfing the same peak as his school and they demanded the whole peak. “What’s Surf Bunker?” he said (I have a sticker on my board) as if it was a rival surf school, angry wanting to pick a fight. I got out feeling dejected and a little sad, thought I would pop in and see ‘Monty’, ask what was going on and maybe look for some sympathy. I suddenly remembered with a shock that my corner of stoke, ‘Kookbox Fannyglove’ no longer existed.
I decided to be brave, step out of my comfort zone and try one of the newfangled mega surf shops. Mistake.
“Hello Sir? (never a good start as I have never considered myself a sir, especially in a surf shop) can I help you with anything?”
Bearing in mind I had one foot in the door, I kind of took that as a ‘buy something or get out’. I decided to be brave and talk about a board I saw they had that looked nice. I was recited specs, how it would make my surfing better, how good the (Made in China) surfboard was made with the finest materials and finally asked if wanted to buy it. He stood too close, I felt pressure to make a decision, buy it or get out was the body language. Store credit was offered, he needed to make a sale, boss looking on. Buy it or get out was the look. I got the heck out of dodge.
Driving home I often find is a time of reflection on the surf or day and I could not help feeling an inner sadness for the place that had gone. My place and so many others, and that this same thing was probably happening in surf spots all over the world. Our places of stoke were being trampled flat by the Juggernaut with SURF INDUSTRY blazoned down the side.
Now we have online, tap and pay, monthly payment schemes and two for one deals. The outside world has officially entered us, infiltrated and reeled in the surfers with price cuts and convenience. This has been a sad tale I know, but as one thing ends so another is born. It just so happens that a local shaper has just opened a shop, it has mouthwatering boards, surf apparel and a few tees. I thought I would pop in to say hi and got offered a beer! Immediately I asked if they would do credit or had some kind of payment plan, the guy smiled, knew I was taking the piss. I was back. Back home in another place of stoke. Viva la revolution.