October 24, 2013

17th Street Surf Shop



Located at the corner of 17th Street and Pacific Avenue in the heart of the Virginia Beach, VA Oceanfront area, 17th Street Surf Shop is the flagship shop of a skate and surf shop retail chain serving Virginia Beach surfers, skaters, locals, and tourists since 1970.  Though the original shop was located half-a-block away, the current shop is a spacious hangar-like building around 2500 square feet in size.  Filled with natural light from a ring of windows, air-conditioned, and cement-floored, the shop is so well-organized that it seems to be overflowing with merchandise but still very easy to move around.  And even though it has gone corporate, it still retains its skate, surf, and beach cultural identity.  You can't go out in public in Virginia Beach without seeing at least one person wearing a 17th Street Surf Shop t-shirt.

17th Street Surf Shop takes pride in its own line of shop t-shirts.  It sells t-shirts with dozens of original designs, which should make any surf shop t-shirt fan's heart race.  Having lived in Virginia Beach and often visiting family still there, I have been buying t-shirts from 17th Street (though mostly at its other Virginia Beach locations) for years.

But 17th Street is a full-fledged skate and surf shop, and surfers, skaters, locals, and tourists can find lots of merchandise other than shop t-shirts at its flagship shop or its other locations.  It carries most of the major surfwear brands, including Volcom, Hurley, O'Neill, RVCA, Quiksilver, Rip Curl, and Billabong.  It also stocks a wide range of surfwear accessories from various brands.  It has shoes (Vans, Emerica, Globe, Fallen, Nike, Converse, DC), flip-flops (Reef, O'Neill, Sanuk), hats (Element, OBEY, Oakley, Volcom, Hurley), sunglasses (Dragon, VonZipper, Electri, Arnette, Oakley, Toms), watches (Nixon, Rip Curl), and belts (Volcom, Vans, Hurley.)
(Credit: Mark Fuentez)

For skaterboarders and surfers, boards are a necessity, and 17th Street has a good selection.  For skateboarders, it offers Element, Sector 9, and Santa Cruz skateboards.  For surfers, it has Lost, Channel Islands, and 7S surfboards, but in addition it carries its own line of surfboards branded as Pride.  They are shaped by a Florida-based shaper named Greg Geiselman.  If a surfer needs a custom surfboard made, the shop will submit his or her specs to Geiselman.

For surf lessons, 17th Street partners with Billabong Surf Camp and the Jason Borte Surf School to offer 3-4 day summer camp sessions, though mainly for youths.  If you walk into any of the different shops looking for a surf lesson, they will probably refer you to the Jason Borte Surf School, which offers 1-on-1 or group lessons year-round.

Getting back to 17th Street's own line of shop t-shirts, every t-shirt will be double-sided with one of the many different shop logos printed on the front.  The official shop logo is a lightning bolt-shaped number 17 inside a circle border.  You'll find it on the website, promotional items, and even a few t-shirts.  But 17th Street shows a lot of creativity with its logo, not just varying its official logo but actually printing unique logos just for its t-shirts.


With rare exception, the blank t-shirt brand for original short-sleeve shop t-shirts is AAA (Alstyle Apparel & Activewear.)  The label is tear-off, so it's unclear exactly what AAA style is used, but it's probably 1301, a 100% cotton 6.0 oz/per square yard blank t-shirt.  Because of its corportate structure, it was hard to pin down the printing method used, but most likely dark t-shirts are printed by heat transfer and white t-shirts are screen-printed.

Because of the incredible selection offered by 17th Street and a constant turnover of designs, I didn't want to highlight just one t-shirt.  Below are some photos of the variety of t-shirt designs currently to be found at 17th Street (these photos taken at Lynnhaven location.)





(Credit: Mark Fuentez)
Surprisingly, the 17th Street Surf Shop website appears to be out-of-date, and even if it is up-to-date there isn't much of a selection.  You can't call to order by phone, so if you want to get your hands on one of the t-shirts you see in the above photos, you'll have to visit one of the shop locations.  There are 4 locations in Virginia Beach, 2 in Chesapeake, VA, 1 in Wilmington, NC, and 1 in Kill Devil Hills, NC.  You can find their exact addresses at the 17th Street website.  Store hours vary.

Here's a look inside the flagship shop:




Written by Anthony Fuentez.  You can follow Anthony on Google+.

23 comments:

  1. Since you say you did live in VB and had been buying their shirts since long ago, you may remember the cartoonish characters that use to be the mascots of their brand. One guy was always turned around, another was picking his nose, and none of them had a mouth. I know they havent sold that style in years (probably decades) but that was what me and everyone I remember grew up on in the 80's. What are the possibilities you have any pictures of those shirts?? Ive looked all over the net and havent located a single one which is hard to believe because they were EVERYWHERE back then! If you have any pics of those (even old photos), that would be great! :-)

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    1. Greg,

      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you lived in Va. Beach a little before my time. I was there in the mid to late 90s, so I don't remember those 17th Street mascots. Unfortunately, I didn't get any info on them either when I did my visit and interviews for my article. I tend to focus on Mom & Pop surf shops because it gives me the chance to interview the owners. They are usually in the shops when I visit, and they tend to give me the full history of the shop, its logos, and it t-shirts. As you know, 17th Street has gone kind of corporate, so it was hard to find someone working in the shop at the time I visited who knew all the details of its history. Even though 17th Street has multiple shop locations in Va. Beach and North Carolina, I still thought it worthy to write about the flagship shop. Moreover, 17th Street has a great selection of shop t-shirts. If I ever come across some photos of those older t-shirts, I'll be sure to post them as an update to my article. Or if you come across some, feel free to email them to me and I'll post them. Thanks again for reading. Now I got to get back to watching the Fiji Pro online, despite the disappointing swells.

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    2. Im surprised that the interviews you had there didnt bring up anything about their younger days. It was just a major part of their brand, much like Mickey Mouse was to Disney. You could buy someones school lunch for a week with one of those shirts! Also after returning from Christmas break, everyone would be wearing their 17th shirts that they got as presents, too funny!! I moved out of the area in 1988 right when I started high school and came to Richmond (where we had a couple smaller stores here also) and you would see them almost as much here also. But I do agree, they are definitely a store or brand worthy of your fascination with surf shops even though its so much different today. I use to make it a point to go by there every time me and some friends would come down to VB for the day but ever since they rebuilt into this football stadium thing, it just hasent felt the same. It was so much more unique being crammed into a small shopping center type place where you couldnt move without knocking shirts off of a rack :-).

      Every now and then I search for those old images with no luck. Soon after posting on your site, I did find this shirt on ebay and HAD to get it! It was a modernized version of one of their biggest classic shirts! I was told they sold it in the early 2000's, somehow I had missed it. Did get one shirt about that same time with only the nose picker guy who is one of the guys from that group but it was nice to get one too. Still hoping to find the originals somewhere!

      Would be glad to send you images of them since you are a bit of a surf shirt aficionado :-) I do have one similar one that was from the 80's that I will never get rid of! :-)

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    3. Thanks Greg. My email is on my contacts page. I'll probably add the images as an update to my article.

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    4. You guys are on target with the characters of the 17th street shirts - They were an icon, I think a lot of people would be interested in finding. If you have ANY luck keep me posted on email.. jlcj77@yahoo.com

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    5. Greg, I got your message through my Contacts page about the images you have, but you didn't leave your email address. Unfortunately, the Google form I use doesn't show me an email address. I followed your Blogger link, but that took me to your Google+ page, which doesn't seem active lately. Hopefully, this message will send you an alert and you can send me your email address through the Contacts page, then I'll send you my email address (don't want to post that publicly here.) Thanks.

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    6. I called and ordered that shirt a few years ago. They have it. Shippedcto Houston

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  2. Greg. I've been searching for the exact same thing. I'm from richmond but went to vb every summer. we had the shirts and stickers everywhere. The classic neon red S logo. I would pay good money for one of those shirts now.

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    1. Lol, so you can vouch for me when I say these shirts were crazy popular right? :-) if you find any pics of any of the classics, please let me know!

      I did buy a shirt off ebay recently that was a modern remake from maybe 10 years ago of the 5 or so guys leaning againt the wall. Not quite the same but good enough for now. Had one person comment to me on it already!

      That reminds me, I need to send this post creator the pics of the couple shirts I do have, forgot all about it!

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    2. i made the shirt 10 years ago. but we can not find it. if i do i will scan it.....

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  3. 17th St. Just started to print the surf naked shirt again. It's only in one print with the 5 guys but still it's old school & awesome.

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  4. I lived in Norfolk from 1985-1989 and I remember those shirts fondly. Greg F is right, EVERYONE wore them.

    I made a trip back to VA a few years ago and stopped in the flagship store and asked around and they looked at me like I was crazy, guy picking his nose??? Rat tail??? But those were the hottest things back in the day.

    Another thing we would always do is wear the long sleeve under the short sleeve shirts, the long sleeve had "17th Street (S) Surf Shop" text down both sides of the arms with the signature S in the middle, so everyone knew you were doubled up on shirts. I think Mom still has one or two that she saved, I'm about to ask her to pull those out from deep in her cedar chest. curtO,

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  5. Google brought me in search of the same thing. I had this amazing pink long sleeve shirt back in the late 80s... I just wanted to see it again. I grew up in Richmond and everyone wore these shirts -- I had no idea that 17th street was so isolated to Virginia Beach back then.

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  6. Their 17th street brand slip on shoes for females were also awesome I had every color and wore them until they couldn't be worn anymore they are kinda like Toms but way better looking!!!!

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  7. You can see pictures of the 80's shirts if you have instagram and follow 17th street

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  8. Wow, thanks for the tip! Their Instagram does has a very small handful of the original shirts including the nose picker and the other characters...yes! Even better, one post there from the 17th Street staff says "Stay tuned for the Since 1970 limited collection coming June 1, 2015!" Of course its early August and I dont know if this means recreations of the originals or what, Im guessing yes? Their website is under construction also so I dont know if these are still around or what. Will keep an eye out!

    Its great seeing so many posts on those shirt pics on their page with other people that want those shirts to come back also. I think I saw your post also about the shoes that are like Toms too :-)

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  9. To save you guys some time digging through their Instragram:

    https://instagram.com/p/4Fy78DBCTs/
    https://instagram.com/p/0tJKTSBCSN/
    https://instagram.com/p/pbf3UfBCdz/
    https://instagram.com/p/pMo7kYBCal/
    https://instagram.com/p/pJ9IgYBCdD/

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  10. Hey guys, I came here looking for those same vintage 80s characters. I am from the southern US, but I visited Virginia a couple of times in the 80s and those t-shirts made an impression I remember to this day. Thanks for the instagram links.

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  11. A reader sent in a pic of a classic 17th Street t-shirt. Here is a link.

    https://twitter.com/surfshoptshirts/status/745782923639521280

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    1. Ah, didnt realize that was your twitter account! Still hope to find a good quality image of that photo :-)

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  12. I still have a couple of these shirts from the years that I lived in vb. Remember saving up my money as a kid to buy them. I have a "Life's a Betty" from 86.

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