February 19, 2014

Surf N Sea Surf Shop

In December 2013, I traveled to the North Shore Oahu to watch the Billabong Pipe Masters, the final event of both the 2013 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and the ASP World Championship Tour. The setup was dramatic, with Mick Fanning needing to advance to the semi-finals to secure the 2013 ASP World Title.  If he failed to advance that far, Kelly Slater could have snatched the title away from him by winning the Pipe Masters.  In the end, both surfers accomplished what they needed to do, but Fanning's advancement to the semis trumped Slater's Pipe Masters win, earning Fanning his 3rd World Title.  Even though fans of the legendary Slater were disappointed to see him fall short of his 12th World Title, they were consoled by not only getting to witness him win his seventh Pipe Masters, but also doing it in an epic final showdown with young superstar and future legend John John Florence.

It truly was awesome to witness that entire event.  Although technically it wasn't part of a "road trip," my visit to the surfing mecca of the North Shore Oahu also gave me the chance to check out some of its surf shops and their original shop t-shirts.  The first shop I paid a visit to was the iconic Surf N Sea Surf Shop in the surfing village of Haleiwa.

Housed in an historic two-story building built in 1921 as a train station and military boardinghouse, Surf N Sea Surf Shop was originally established in 1965 as a general store that sold miscellaneous items, including guns and ammunition.  Influenced by the booming popularity of surfing in the 60s and 70s, it gradually morphed into a full-blown surf shop.  Following the long, rectangular shape of the building, the downstairs retail section of the shop is about 2500 square feet in size with about a 12-foot ceiling and a mixed flooring of hardwood and carpet.  The shop is packed with merchandise, featuring surfwear and surfwear accessories mainly to the right of the entrance, surfboards and surfboard accessories in the middle, and miscellaneous items to the left.  If the store is crowded, you may need to slide past people with the grace of a bullfighter, but you can rest assured that if you went into the shop looking for something in particular, you're likely to find it.

Joe Green
While I was there, I was lucky to run into the current owner, Joe Green.  He was gracious enough to give me about an hour of his time as he filled me in on his personal story, the history of the shop, and what the shop offers today.

Joe is a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy, and he was involved in a couple of different endeavors before becoming a surf shop owner.  One endeavor was a used surfboard business that he ran at the Aloha Swap Meet in Honolulu.  He initially began selling used surfboards just to make some pocket money for an adventure he was planning to Australia and New Zealand, but the business did so well that when he got back from his trip he continued it.

Joe also was a skilled mechanic, and he had a used car repair and resale business. In fact, that's how he met one of the original partner-owners of the shop, selling him a used Volvo he had fixed up in 1982.  They got to talking about Joe's used surfboard business, and ultimately Joe was given a section of the shop for him to set up shop.  Joe enjoyed his work so much that he eventually bought out all the other owners and became the sole owner of Surf N Sea Surf Shop.

He didn't remain the sole owner for long, though.  He actually met his future wife right outside the doors of the shop.  From Japan, she was in Oahu visiting a mutual friend.  They hit it off so well that she broke off an engagement back home, soon becoming not only the most important part of Joe's life but his co-owner as well.

As far as surf merchandise goes, Surf N Sea Surf Shop just about has it all.  In terms of surfwear, it sells most of the major brands, including Hurley, Quiksilver, Billabong, O'Neill, Rip Curl, Rusty, RVCA, Reef, and Vans.  It also stocks a massive inventory of surfwear accessories.  It has footwear from major brands such as Vans, Rainbow, Havaianas, Rip Curl, and Reef as well as the hard-to-find brand Pyrameds.  Its sunglasses brand selection includes Spy, Kaenon, VonZipper, Oakley, Dragon, and Arnette.

If you're looking for surfboards and surfboard accessories, you also won't be disappointed by the shop's selection.  The shop carries all kinds of surfboard models from brands such as Channel Islands, Lost, SurfTech, Pyzel, Bushman, Brewer, Stewart, and Schaper.  What's also cool is that the shop sells surfboards on consignment, some of which come from well-known, ASP-ranked surfers.  In addition to typical board accessories like leashes, trackpads, and fins, the shop sells rashguards and wetsuits, mainly by Billabong, O'Neill, and Rip Curl.

As massive as its surf merchandise selection is, Surf N Sea Surf Shop also impresses with its rentals and services.  Besides surfboards and wetsuits, you can rent SUPs (stand up paddleboards), beach equipment, snorkeling equipment, diving equipment, and kayaks for an hour or up to a week.  The shop also has in-house instructors for surf lessons, SUP lessons, and diving certification.

As a matter of fact, the upstairs of the two-story building housing the shop is devoted to the rental and service side of the business.  Half of the upstairs area contains a room for the rental surfboards and SUPs while the other half is a spacious deck where novices can get some hands-on instruction.  Conveniently, right behind the shop is a little bay area where aspiring surfers and paddleboarders can get their sea legs in the calm waters of Haleiwa harbor before hitting the more challenging ocean.

With so much to offer, it wasn't a surprise to learn that Surf N Sea Surf Shop has a good selection of shop t-shirts.  Although there are a few Coastal Classics t-shirts (template surf shop t-shirts that aren't original) in the mix, the shop has about 20 original designs, many of which carry variations of the official shop logo on the front.  The official shop logo has an Hawaiian look to it, with a stylish font for the shop name and a floral arrangement underneath, both overlaid on a diamond-like symbol.  Though it appears that way on the shop building, it takes various forms on t-shirts.

Interestingly, the shop has an unofficial logo of sorts, which is one of its original t-shirt designs.  It's known as the "Surfer X-ing" design.  Because it's such a popular design, it's sometimes used to represent the shop in media stories as well as promotional materials published by the shop itself.  Joe himself created the design after he was inspired by the concept of a "surfer crossing" he had seen on a sticker from another surf shop.  He made the concept his own by envisioning a lanky, bushy-haired surfer who was flashing a shaka sign, carrying a surfboard, and racing to the beach.  In fact, the design is literally big in Japan. Ever since a Japanese travel blogger posted the design on his blog, the shop has been inundated with wholesale orders from Japan for t-shirts sporting the design.

Jumping on the bandwagon a bit, I decided to go with the "Surfer X-ing" t-shirt.  Although the design looks best in yellow-and-black (like most other crossing signs), I went with a navy blue and transparent background version on an orange Hanes Tagless blank t-shirt (the blank t-shirt brands for other t-shirts vary.)  Screen printed on the t-shirt, the design has a relatively soft hand (the feel of the design in contrast to the t-shirt) mostly due to the absence of a white base (dark, opaque colors like navy don't require a white base) and the transparent background (thus less ink.)  Other screen printed dark t-shirts with bright color backgrounds will likely have a heavier hand due to the necessary white bases, but that's the price you pay for color-vibrant and affordable t-shirts.

As iconic as the "Surfer X-ing" t-shirt is, I want to underscore the fact that Surf N Sea Surf Shop has a wide selection of t-shirts with original designs, as is evident in the photos below.

I also want to point out another unique item carried by the shop: ukeleles.  As I noted earlier, Joe is a jack-of-all-trades, and another one of his trades is making ukeleles.  His ukelele brand is Haleiwa Ukeleles.  So if you play the ukelele, wish to take up the ukelele, or want a unique Hawaiian souvenir to take back home, you can purchase one of Joe's hand-crafted creations.  Of course, being a jack-of-all-trades, Joe doesn't just make ukeleles, he also plays them.  If you're lucky enough, you might be able to catch one of his gigs in a nearby North Shore night spot.  If not, you can still purchase CDs of Joe's ukelele songs in the shop.

So if you happen to be touring the North Shore as part of your Oahu vacation and pass through Haleiwa, consider making a stop at Surf N Sea Surf Shop.  You might end up spending an afternoon on a surfboard or paddleboard.  Or you might decide to upgrade your surf wardrobe with some major brand name surfwear.  Or you might just pick up a nice souvenir in the form of either an original shop t-shirt or ukelele.  The shop is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m., 7 days a week.  It also has an online store at surfnsea.com with a secure shopping cart where you can purchase items.  If there's some surf merchandise that you might be interested in, including an original shop t-shirt you saw in this article, that's not visible in the online store, just give the shop a call and they probably can work something out with you (1-800-899-SURF/7873).

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