April 27, 2014

North Shore Surf Shop

Located outside of any particular beach town and smack in the middle of Oahu's fabled North Shore (in the country, so to speak), North Shore Surf Shop lays claim to prized territory and a magnetic name.  On Kamehameha Highway halfway between Haleiwa and Turtle Bay Resort, it is the closest surf shop to the North Shore's most famous surf beaches--Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline), and Sunset Beach--and other amazing surf spots familiar to those in the surf know.  Primarily offering surfboards, surfboard accessories, and equipment for various beach activities, North Shore Surf Shop is part surf purist, part convenience, and part tourist surf shop all rolled into one.  Although its surf merchandise inventory (with the exception of surfboards) is not particularly wide or deep, and its original shop t-shirt selection is small, it's still a surf shop you probably can't avoid entering while visiting much less living on the North Shore.

The owners of North Shore Surf Shop are husband-and-wife Liam and Brandee McNamara.  Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to meet them personally, but I did manage to piece together some biographical background and shop history with the help of some shop employees and the internet.  Brandee was actually the first to become involved in the surf retail industry by starting a custom women's swim and surfwear business in 1991 at the age of 21.  Under the brand name Seamaids, Brandee spent several years filling orders for surf shops, boutiques, and local clients.  For his part, Liam brings to their business partnership his long experience with surfing and surf culture.  Having surfed the North Shore since he was 9, he lived the dream of many surfers by surfing professionally, though he never really cracked the top ranks.  A somewhat polarizing figure, McNamara was known for his aggressiveness in contests, toughness after returning from injury, and fearlessness in attacking waves.

In 2001, Brandee and Liam chose to invest their experience and knowledge in a surf shop, and North Shore Surf Shop was born.  Eventually, the McNamaras separated the women's apparel from the men's, including the surf equipment, and opened a women's boutique, Seamaids, right next door.  Seamaids was actually the setting for an early scene in the 2011 movie Soul Surfer about the life of shark attack victim and professional women's surfer Bethany Hamilton.  If you watch closely, you'll see North Shore Surf Shop in the background as a couple of the characters walk out of Seamaids.

Because of its proximity to some of the best surfing in the world, North Shore Surf Shop is a convenient place for surfers to quickly replace or restock vital surfboard accessories from its small but sufficient selection of leashes, fins, trackpads, and wax.  But if surfers are looking to make a bigger, longer-term investment in a surfboard, then they're in luck.  North Shore Surf Shop has a nice selection of new surfboards that include Lost, Channel Islands, DHD, and Town & Country.  It also carries surfboards from local board companies/shapers like Bretboards (Bret Marumoto), HIC (Eric Arakawa), and Tokoro Surfboards (Wade Tokoro), from whom surfers can also order custom-made boards.

An even wider selection of used surfboards is also available.  The shop accepts trade-ins, buys and resells used boards, and sells on consignment.  Some of the boards that end up in the shop's inventory come from professional, ASP-ranked surfers.

In addition to surfboards, a real strength of North Shore Surf Shop is its shop services, especially rentals.  Although surfing most spots on the North Shore is not recommended for novice surfers, especially in the winter months, there are a few spots where they can make an attempt, with proper oversight.  For them, and for more experienced surfers who want to surf the North Shore at least once in their lifetime, the shop rents mainly Firewire shortboards and NSP longboards.

If you pass on the surfing, the shop has a great selection of rentals for other beach activities.  Boogie boards and SUPs are available for rent, though you should also be careful boogie boarding because the shore breaks can be downright vicious.  Bikes are also for rent, which can be ridden on a mostly tree-shaded bike path running along Kamehameha Highway, with the great surfing beaches as stops along the way.

But the rental I recommend the most is the snorkeling mask and fins.  Right across the street from North Shore Surf Shop is Shark's Cove and the Shark's Cove tide pool, two of the best spots in Oahu to go snorkeling.  So named for looking like a shark took a bite out of the coastline, Shark's Cove has an abundance of colorful marine life, which can be easily seen while swimming in clear and warm tropical waters.  Although the waves sweeping into Shark's Cove can get a little rough at times, the tide pool right next to it is a lot calmer, so one way or another you're going to get your money's worth from your rental.

There's just two quick tips you should find useful if you're going to snorkel Shark's Cove and/or its tide pool.  First of all, invest in a pair of reef shoes.  The cove and pool are very rocky, so getting out into the water or standing up on a rock if you momentarily panic can be painful.  The shop rents and sells reef shoes, if you don't bring a pair of your own.  Second, bring an underwater camera, either disposable or regular, for taking lots of underwater pictures because you're going to see a lot of fish.  The shop also sells underwater disposables.

The surfwear selection at North Shore Surf Shop is a little light due to its focus on activities rather than apparel.  Still, you might find a couple of shirts or boardshorts from major surfwear brands like Billabong, Quiksilver, RVCA, and Eidon.  The shop also carries just a few shop logo t-shirts.  The one I bought had the name of the shop and the Hawaiian islands on a circle background (the islands are also printed on the lower back of the shirt.)  Nothing spectacular, but the power of the t-shirt is in the shop name, which should prompt people who know anything about surfing to ask you if you went to the North Shore and how it was.  The t-shirt was screen printed in black ink on a Canvas blank.

The building housing North Shore Surf Shop has a real surf ethos in that it is basically a small, wooden, bifurcated surf shack.  With a wooden ramp in the middle, each side of the shack is about 150 square feet in size, has wood paneled walls and floors, and is filled with fresh beach air rather than A/C.  Surfboards and surfboard accessories are stocked on one side, surfwear is on the other, and more surfboards are in a small third section on the side of the shack.

A couple of years back, the McNamaras opened a second storefront bearing the North Shore Surf Shop name in Haleiwa.  The second shop is focused more on surfwear than surf equipment, carrying a wider and deeper selection of major surfwear brands.  But for a more authentic surf shop experience, you should visit the original shop across from Shark's Cove. The hours of the shop are 8 a.m.-8 p.m.  For more information about the shop's merchandise and services, you can call the shop at (808)-638-0390.

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