With coronavirus-induced limitations on reopening still in effect, many small businesses in Santa Barbara that have survived the public health and economic crisis continue to face financial challenges — but for the iconic family-owned and -operated surf supply store Surf N’ Wear’s Beach House, business is booming.
As an essential business, the new and used water sports store — located at 10 State St. across from the beach and Stearns Wharf — has been able to keep its doors open and, with support from a new wave of surfers, it is more than treading water.
“As much as we can get in here, we can sell,” store manager Grayson Nance told Noozhawk.
Nance, the son of owner Roger Nance, has been helping customer after customer get matched up with the right surfboard, boogie board, wetsuit and any other cold-water surf gear. He said he has seen a notable increase since the start of the pandemic.
Despite the uptick in sales, the goods the store carries have not always been able to keep pace.
“There are a lot of new surfers,” Nance said. “(And), obviously, there are a lot of people who are getting in the water again who haven’t for a long time.”
As gyms shuttered and people shifted their workout routines, the interest in surfing has been reignited in some and is new to others. Paddle out to the lineup on a day with a decent swell and the population growth is evident.
“It seems like the biggest shift has just been toward new surfers, which caters to the softboard crowd,” Nance said of the beginner-friendly soft foam, made-in-China boards.
“We’ve been selling so many of those, and even right at the beginning of the pandemic, we couldn’t get enough boogie boards just because so many people were going to the beach every day. We would get, you know, 200 boogie boards and they’d be gone in a week!”
The problem? The supply chain can’t keep pace with the quick growth.
“All the manufacturers were out of boogie boards,” Nance said of those earlier days. “It was just chaotic.”
With production in China affected by limited manpower because of safety precautions implemented globally, some manufacturers struggled to keep up with the spurt in demand.
In Nance’s experience, the slowed supply was not limited to boogie boards.
“I think that all the shapers are in a pretty similar boat at this point,” he said of surfboard shapers such as Santa Barbara’s famed longboard builder Renny Yater, who has had trouble sourcing enough blanks — the massive foam slabs that get sanded down to become surfboard bases — because of a shortage of raw materials. The same has been the case for the surfboard fins that Yater favors.
Demand remains high, and Nance acknowledges that he is lucky to be on that side of the pendulum for businesses.
“It’s a good problem to have for our industry, for sure, especially as a family-owned business,” he said. “But the shapers are having problems getting the material to shape their boards. They can shape them faster than they can get them glassed.
“So again, you know, it’s a good problem to have, but it’s just like everything else — they’re out of surfboards, blanks, and leashes and fins and everything else.”
However, the used board market can help. The Beach House and other local surf stores offer a selection of used boards. The inventory shifts as surfers perfect their craft, outgrow their boards or purchase new ones.
For the time being and beyond, Nance said he expects to see a positive trend for future sales.
“If that first-time surfer who just started surfing during the pandemic comes here to get their surfboard, then we help them get their wetsuit and, you know, they’re coming back to us when they need their next board or their next wetsuit or booties,” he said.
“We’ve only started to see that, but I think that we’re going to see a lot of that in just even coming months and in the coming years.”
— Mara Pyzel is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.