An Open Letter to Surf Shop Owners and Employees

Dear Surf Shop Owners and Employees:

I walked into a surf shop at a “village” corner in the heart of Waikiki the other day, and for the first time of having been in and out of hundreds and thousands of surf shops, I felt out of place. The surf store staff was not rude or snobby by any means … one guy actually asked me if I wanted anything. This particular surf shop was just, I don’t know quite how to put this kindly, very cold and impersonal.

As a surfer, I often visit surf stores to browse, chat, look at new videos and new technologies, and most of all, relate and connect with fellow surfers – reals surfers, you know? – kindred spirits on a quest for the ultimate “stoke”. So when I find that the people in these stores are not surfers nor even remotely interested in surfing (I apologize since I understand that some people are there to work at their jobs, and are not actually surfers), I feel a small disconnect in the grand scheme of the surfing community.

Most surfers establish their favorite surf stores much in the same way … they have their favorite shops where they find advice, solace, and comfort as surfers and kindred spirits … and then there are the stores they visit strictly for supplies and products that are not found in their regular surf shops. The surf store is more than just a shop where one shuffles in like a nameless, faceless customer in a big box store, randomly wandering and meandering through non-descript aisles – often in confused and pointless agony – filling plastic hand baskets with mass-produced dieties, and eventually passing through the parade of cash registers like cattle, all with much sound and fury, amounting to nothing. No, dear purveyors of products and merchants of mass-production, the surf store is the equivalent of a spiritual journey for almost all surfers.

If the ocean and the waves are indeed our church, our place of worship on this journey of life … then your place of business, the ever so prominent surf shop with signs aglow like spires in the night, is our confessional, and our sanctuary from daily living. Your shop is where we find ourselves looking to open our souls, our pains, our needs, our greatest successes, and our most horrifying failures – in grand conversation and storytelling – as we prepare for the religious journey into the great green room out in the ocean. This is not a mere trip to some shiny and homogenous franchise chain where we are mere fodder for their daily bread. No sir.

Our sojourn into a surf shop is about as sacred as our paddle out into the surf. Perhaps this is a fact that you sometimes forget, as the day fills with countless questions about cheap surfboards and fin types to use on each side of the island. Perhaps you have started to see surfers as a carousel of “cattle-customers” making your turnstiles ring with much glee like the ka-ching echoes of a cash register. But don’t forget that we are kindred spirits … brothers an sisters from different mothers … we are simpatico.

We share that ever elusive love of the “stoke” and the search for that “soul surfing” experience. Often, we walk into your store humbled by the ocean, seeking solace in your expertise in the only tools that separates us from the ocean : our surfboards. At times, we seek comraderie in an unbelievable session recently experienced … to create further mystery in this elusive search for the stoke by telling and retelling our surfing “religiosity” like fishing stories that have been told and retold so much that the story itself has become secondary to the ritual of actually telling the story itself.

And so here we stand, dear surf shop owners and employees … looking out into the great vast ocean, and all you have to do is actually not make it any colder. Look us in the eyes, ask us questions and actually listen, be more than just a store … be a story.

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