October 23, 2014

El Porto Surf Shop

Located in Manhattan Beach, CA, El Porto Surf Shop is primarily a convenience and board shop for local surfers and a rental shop for surf tourists.  About 800 square foot in size, the shop lacks the polish of some upscale surf shops with their hardwood floors, wood display racks, and crisp A/C.  It also seems a little out of place in that it is stashed above a liquor store and accessed by stairs along the side of the building,  But El Porto Surf Shop isn't really trying to sell an image of surfing.  Without much pomp, it is simply trying to sell surfboards and board accessories and rent surf equipment.

As I do with most of the surf shops I visit on my weekend beach town road trips, I try to do a little research beforehand.  After reading some reviews on Yelp, I got a little nervous because the customer service, especially from the owner, was described by some reviewers as somewhat shaky.  When I got there, I looked around a bit, then I approached the man behind the sales counter, a short, stocky, older gentleman with a moustache who I pegged for the owner.  As I was introducing myself, he looked over my shoulder at another person in the shop who was looking at some surfboards and snapped in a husky voice, "Please don't touch the boards, sir!"  Just as I was starting to think it wasn't such a good idea to stop by, he slapped me on the back and said, "I'm just kidding around.  That guy is a friend of mine."

It turns out that Mike Baran, the owner of El Porto Surf Shop, is a pretty friendly guy once you get to know him.  Sure, it's easy to see how his gruff persona initially could be off-putting to some, but if you get the chance to talk with him, especially about local surfing, you realize you can't always judge a person just by what you read.  Part of Baran's persona becomes understandable when you learn that he spent 19 years in a high-stress job as a manufacturing coordinator for an aerospace company.  Charged with making sure aerospace parts got to where they were supposed to be and on time, he wasn't paid to sweet talk people.

After leaving the manufacturing industry, he turned in his middle age years to the much more laid back surf industry, starting a surfboard business with some friends in 1996.  A surfer from Hermosa Beach, CA who has surfed many surf spots up and down the coast of CA since 1972, Baran and his friends first set up shop in a corner of the liquor store downstairs from where it currently resides.  Since the liquor store, in which one of his friends had a stake, was called Player's Liquor, Baran and his friends decided to call their surfboard business Player's Surfboards.  Six months later, the space in the building above the store became available, and it moved up upstairs.

Over time, the business underwent several changes.  For one, it became more of a surf shop than just as surfboard brand by offering a wider range of surf merchandise and rentals.  Second, Baran bought out his partners over the years, becoming the sole owner of the business.  Finally, in 2007, the name of the business changed to El Porto Surfboards in reference to the surfboard brand and El Porto Surf Shop in reference to the surf shop (the name of the neighborhood in which the shop is located, El Porto was once its own town until it was swallowed up by Manhattan Beach in 1986.)

To this day, the main merchandise sold in El Porto Surf Shop remains surfboards.  The shop basically sells two brands: Lost Surfboards and its own brand, El Porto Surfboards.  The latter are made for the shop by a shaper named Rodrigo Orozco working out of San Diego.  In addition to its ready-for-sale surfboards, the shop accepts requests for custom boards, which are shaped by Orozco.  It also accepts trade-ins, sells used boards, and sells on consignment.

To complement its board selection, the shop exclusively sells Rip Curl wetsuits.  It also carries board accessories such as wax, leashes, fins, and trackpads, many of which are from an Oceanside, CA-based brand called Stay Covered.

El Porto Surf Shop also does a heavy rental business.  It rents both soft and hard surfboards, mainly from NSP, BIC, and Surftech.  And it rents wetsuits, exclusively by Rip Curl.  A board will cost you $30 for the day, and a wetsuit $10.  Boogie boards are also available at $15 for the day.  If lessons are desired, it can book them with an outside surf instructor.

Beyond these two aspects of the business, however, El Porto Surf Shop doesn't offer much else.  It doesn't have a vast inventory of surfwear from the major surfwear brands, though it usually has a few miscellaneous items in stock, mostly from Rip Curl.  Neither does it have much of a selection of original shop t-shirts.  However, it usually has shop logo t-shirts in stock.

The original shop logo, which represented Player's Surfboards, displayed a cresting wave over the name of the business (a transitional logo based on the original logo is shown to the right.)  When Baran changed the name to El Porto Surfboards, or El Porto Surf Shop, in 2007, he came up with a new logo that paid homage to a local El Porto landmark, the Chevron refinery (which supplies the jet fuel for the nearby LAX airport.)  It's basically two red chevron stripes with the name of the surfboard brand (the logo doesn't infringe on Chevron's logo because chevron stripes are a generic pattern.)

On the t-shirt I bought, the shop logo is printed on the front left pocket.  On the back is a simple design with the red chevron stripes, the name of the surfboard brand, and a side view of a surfboard encased in a rectangular border.  The blank t-shirt brand is Gildan, and the brand line is Gildan Ultra Cotton, a 6.1 oz, 100% jersey cotton t-shirt.  Occassionally, original shop t-shirts will be printed on Hanes Beefy Ts, a blank similar to Gildan Ultra Cotton.

With the beach straight downhill from its spot on Highland Ave. between 38th and 39th Street, El Porto Surf Shop is conveniently located.  Its hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. in the summer and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in the winter.

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