by Jamie Brisick
It’s depicted beautifully in the movie Big Wednesday. The surf shop as community outpost, local hang, stopover between swells.
Out front, a kid tic tacs on a primitive-looking skateboard. Behind him, bold graphics on the signage, surfboards gleaming in the front window. Inside, more gleaming surfboards, racks of T-shirts and boardshorts, a row of wetsuits. There’s the quintessential tow-headed gremmie. There’s a dude pawing the boards, maybe pulling one out from the rack and holding it underarm. There’s Bear, the sage, the mentor, the soothsayer, getting measured up for a suit. And then there’s Matt Johnson, hottest surfer at The Point. The air in the room shifts just a little when he walks in. The kids look at him with awe and respect. A hierarchy, a code, a set of customs and mores—it all happens at the surf shop.
The above scene takes place in the sixties, but it hasn’t changed much. The local surf shop is still a great hang. Swells are discussed. Board design is bandied. Owen Wright’s standup barrel at Cloudbreak is parsed. The smell of fiberglass, wetsuit, and wax. You inevitably stay for much longer than planned. For surfers, the local surf shop has a welcoming, homey vibe.
Then there are the photos on the walls. Not Dane, not Kelly, but (insert hot local’s name), dropping into the wave of the year at a spot you know, a spot that you may have even surfed that morning. And such-and-such pulling into a barrel at that mysto wave you drive by everyday, but that breaks only three or four times a year. The surf shop is a microcosm of the surf mags, it’s a little shrine to the surfing dream, decorated in people, places, and things that are close to the heart.
And the staff? Friendly, cordial, customer-is-always right, but also skeptical in a healthy way. They can sniff out the phony.
A story from a surf shop in Santa Monica, circa mid-sixties: Gidget has exploded, surf fever has struck Southern California, once locals-only spots are packed with hodads and valley cowboys. A sandy blond-haired fellow in an Aloha shirt peruses the boards. He brings a ten-foot noserider up to the counter. “I’d like to buy this,” he says. “And I’m in the Beach Boys. How about giving me a deal?”
The kid behind the counter sniggers. “How about I just not sell it you at all.”
We are very pleased to announce the opening of Birdwell's first ever retail shop, in Manhattan Beach, CA. Come visit. We have boardshorts, wax, and nothing but good vibes.
The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow and Becoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.