July 10, 2014

Maui and Sons Surf Shop

In my last post, I explained why I usually don't write about t-shirts from surfwear brands and prefer to focus instead on t-shirts from local beach town surf shops.  In my opinion, surf shop t-shirts are the best kinds of surf t-shirts because they are almost always original, unique, and infused with the history of a local surf scene.  I rarely stray from this focus, but I did so in my last post, writing about the resurrected Lightning Bolt brand.  I justified it by pointing out the brand's fascinating history, its distinctive style separating it from today's major surfwear brands, and, most significantly, its lone U.S. physical presence as a surf shop in Venice Beach, CA.  Though Lightning Bolt t-shirts could be found in various retail outlets around the world, they were still original, unique, and connected enough to a local surf scene through a local surf shop.

For a second consecutive post, I'm going to make another exception for the Maui and Sons brand for pretty much the same reasons.  A major international surf apparel and equipment brand that can be found in retail store chains, local surf shops, and online retailers around the world, Maui and Sons has an interesting brand history and a distinctive style.  Most relevantly, it offers a local retail experience through a surf shop located, curiously enough, just like Lightning Bolt, in Venice Beach, CA (there must be something about Venice Beach.)

Maui and Sons Surf Shop is located on prime real estate on the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk, not too far away from the iconic Muscle Beach gym, right across from the Venice Skate Park, and, of course, just yards away from the beach.  To understand how the surf shop came into existence, however, you have to know something about the history of the Maui and Sons brand.

Source: Maui and Sons Facebook Page
Founded in 1980, Maui and Sons actually began, funny enough, as a cookie company.  Originally called Maui's Chocolate Chip Cookies, it was started by Jeff Yokoyama, Steve Prested, and Rick Rietveld, three high school friends and surfing buddies from Corona del Mar, CA who were infected with an entrepreneurial spirit.  That venture failed, but it inspired the name (derived from Yokoyama's Hawaiian heritage) and logo (a cookie dotted with the symbols for earth, sea, sky, and fire, representing the power of nature and creativity) for a new surfwear business.  Designing a pair of drawstring, madras print board shorts with the Maui and Sons logo featured prominently on the back pocket, the three friends furiously marketed it door-to-door to local Southern California surf shops.  Where they managed to get them on the shelves, they sold very well (for budding surfwear entrepreneurs, this is a great example of one way to get your brand off the ground.)

Source: www.clubofthewaves.com
With that initial success, Maui and Sons branched out into other lines of apparel.  Sporting a fresh look and hip brand logo that appealed strongly to young Southern California surfers, the brand continued to find success.  This success was also fueled by the creative artwork of founding partner Rick Rietveld.  Working with an acrylic airbrush, Rietveld created symbolically-rich, pop culture-infused, graphically-sharp surf paintings that were converted into popular t-shirt designs.  His paintings looked like they could have been created with a computer graphics program, and as computer technology improved over the years, he began working in that medium as well.

Modern Sharkman
Rietveld also came up with the official mascot for the brand: Arnold Sharkley AKA Sharkman.  In his original inception, Sharkman was a surf-loving shark who wore a tank top, board shorts, and sunglasses, but who was also a cigar smoker and a bit formless.  Though he incrementally changed over the years, the cultural emphasis on health led to the elimination of his cigar smoking habit and a more ripped, muscle-bound body.

While the founding partners of the brand were long on enthusiasm, they came up a little short on business-savvy.  By the late 1980s, they ran into financial difficulties.  Ultimately, the company was bought out by Richard Harrington, a successful businessman who had owned the international licensing rights to the brand since 1985, and he managed to put the brand back on the road to financial health.  Today Maui and Sons is both a national merchandise and international licensing brand with all kinds of surf merchandise ranging from surfwear, surfwear accessories, surfboards, and surfboard accessories as well as merchandise for other board sports.

Now while Maui and Sons owns the brand rights to the name and logo of Maui and Sons Surf Shop, the owner of the shop is actually Cheryl Johnson.  Once a trade show spokesmodel for Maui and Sons in the late 1980s and then an actress in the early 1990s, Johnson was looking for a different way to make a living following a personal tragedy in 2006.  With her marketing experience with the Maui and Sons brand and her friendly demeanor, she figured a surf shop might be worth a shot.  Thanks to her relationship with Harrington, her ex-boyfriend, the father to her son, and someone she considers family, she was given the opportunity to use the Maui and Sons name and logo for her surf shop.

Johnson opened the shop in April 2008, but she had a bit of a rough start.  The shop opened the same year that what we now call the Great Recession started.  Focusing mainly on surfwear in the beginning, the shop had enough foot traffic from the Venice Beach boardwalk to make just enough money to get through the slower winter, but the shop definitely needed to branch out to survive.  Johnson shifted the shop's focus from an apparel surf shop and made it more of a surfer's and surf tourist's surf shop, offering surfboards, surfboard accessories, and surf lessons.  A big break also came when the Venice Skate Park opened up right across from her shop in October 2009.  She transformed the shop further into a surf and skate shop, adding skatewear, skateboards, and skateboard accessories to her merchandise selection.

When you visit the shop today, you'll find a good selection of both surfwear and skatewear.  Besides Maui and Sons of course, you can buy surfwear from brands like JIMMY'Z and local brand Hecho en Venice.  Skatewear is available from brands such as Dogtown, Independent, Real, and Spitfire.  They also have accessories like hats, shoes and sunglasses from a wide range of brands.

In terms of surfboards and surfboard accessories, the shop mainly stocks merchandise from Maui and Sons, though it might soon carry Lost surfboards.  It also offers Maui and Sons merchandise for other board sports, including SUPs, boogieboards, and skimboards.  Its skateboard selection, however, is much vaster.  It carries skateboards from Powell Peralta, Landyachtz, Bustin, Kahuna Creations, Hamboards, Madrid, Penny, OG, and even stock boards painted with original designs created by the shop staff.

If you're a surf tourist, you can also get the basics you'll need to hit the water, including lessons if you're a beginner.  Surf lessons are available from in-house instructors, and one-on-one lessons lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes can be had for $75.  The shop rents Al Merrick surfboards and a mix of other boards, including Wave Storm foam surfboards.  Hard top surfboards are $10/hour, and the softboards are $7/hour.  Its wetsuit rentals are mostly Maui and Sons, and they go for $10/day.  If you get hit with a sudden urge to show off your skateboarding skills at Venice Skate Park or just cruise the boardwalk, the shop also offers trick skateboard rentals at $5/hour and longboards and cruisers at $7/hour.

Although it doesn't stock the entire Maui and Sons t-shirt catalog, Maui and Sons Surf Shop at least has access it, carrying both t-shirts from the latest season and vintage designs by Rietveld.  While the Maui and Sons logo appears frequently on Maui and Sons t-shirts as both a front chest design and a main back design, the brand sometimes uses unique front chest logos for its t-shirts.  Its blank t-shirts are custom made in Honduras, not from blank brands such as Gildan, Hanes, or AAA.  They appear to be the typical 6+oz/square yard jersey cotton used by most surf shops, but I could be wrong.  They are screen printed in the U.S.

For my t-shirt, I almost had to go with a vintage Rietveld Sharkman design.  The t-shirt is soft and comfortable, and the print had a soft hand for a screen print.

The shop hours are a little fluid.  On its website, the hours are 8:30 a.m.-ish-8:30 p.m.-ish (sundown) in the summer and 9:30 a.m.-ish-6 p.m.-ish in the winter.  When I was there, I was told 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m. in the summer and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the winter.  Basically, don't show up exactly at opening time, and if you rent something, ask what time the equipment has to be back.  The website itself is also in flux.  Some of the information is outdated, and some links don't work, including the online store.  But if you call the store at 310-392-6284, you should be able to get the information or help you need.

If you check the shop's reviews on Yelp, you'll see a lot of people remark on how nice and helpful Johnson is.  Clearly her years as a spokesmodel and actress have come in handy.  She was very friendly to me when I was there, and very honest about the differences in the merchandise she has available.  She is usually in the store on a daily basis.  When she's not there, there is a young but well-informed staff on hand to help you select merchandise or pick out a rental.

1 comment:

  1. wow thanks for the great review of our shop. We just opened a new maui and sons store (march 22, 2015) at the venice pier 23 washington blvd. it is a true maui and sons store and carries all our maui products. so far a success. hope you can make another trip to check it out. oh and we fixed our website so you can shop online now. again thank you! xoxo cheryl