Sitting on a stool behind the scuffed front counter, a wall of gear with leashes, tail pads and wax arrayed behind him, Encinitas Surfboards’ co-owner and Retail Manager Marc Adam sits back and laughs a little as he recalls the day he decided to open a surf shop. “I guess it was late 1974 when Koast Surfboards got foreclosed on,” he says in a low even tone, eyes fogging over with recollection. “They had a lot of debt that the owner wasn’t paying back, so the marshal showed up to shut its doors. I was across the street cooking at this old restaurant at the time, and I saw the owner and one of his employees just take off out the back door. They must have seen him coming, because they shined it down into the lagoon and split. And that was it; that was the end of Koast.”
A former Koast employee, Marc already had a nose for the surf retail business, so as he watched his ex-boss hightail it through the lagoon with the feds in hot pursuit, he smelled opportunity in the air. “I called John Kies, who was in Hawaii at the time,” he says. “He was an ex-Koast guy too, and I said, ‘Hey man, there’s a void in the market for a good shop in town. What do you think?’ And he just said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’”
A few months later John was back from the islands, and he and Marc, after taking out small personal loans and completing the necessary paperwork, opened the doors of Encinitas Surfboards for the first time in early 1975. They started small: a pair of owner/operators, with Marc handling retail and John concentrating on hand-shaping the boards their label would come to be built around. “John had a shaping room in the back, so I would be up front solo a lot of the time,” recalls Marc. “Back then it was pretty darn quiet. Encinitas was just a sleepy little town, so some days we would just skate out front for hours. It definitely took awhile for us to grow with the area. But if we would get a rush when John was doing his thing, I had a buzzer under the counter that rang in the back. So I’d hit that and he would clean off the dust and come out to back me up.”
In those early days, the shop was run with the lighthearted approach you would expect in a surfy operation owned by a couple of guys in their twenties. Customers became more than just potential buyers, they became friends, and tales of coffee-spewing laughing fits, well-endowed females, a “Wax 15” roadside sign that was constantly being demolished by trucks, and general high-jinx abound. Marc even recalls the time someone came in with the first leash he had ever laid eyes on. “They were basically leather straps and bungee cords. We took one look at them and had a good laugh. I guess we were both pretty anti that sort of equipment at the time.”
Marc also poignantly remembers another innovation that had him and John cracking up. “One morning Tom Morey came in and showed us this Boogie Board kit. You could take this foam block he had and shape it. I just asked Tom, ‘What do you do with it after that?’ So he said, ‘Well, you lay on your stomach and you ride waves.’ After he split, me and Kies died laughing. We couldn’t picture anything but stand-up surfing at the time. Maybe some bodysurfing, but well, little did we know, huh?”
Thirty years later, not much has changed with regard to the lighthearted atmosphere, or how the shop is run. Both Marc and John are still laughing, and the place is perpetually permeated by an easygoing, fun vibe. A gloomy Sunday morning finds Marc behind the counter smiling and joking good-naturedly, a pile of peanut shells and sand at his feet. Beer cans in the trash under the counter are evidence of a small after-hours gathering the evening before.
John can still be found covered in foam dust, no longer in the back room, but at his factory constantly cranking out quality shapes. On Saturdays, he comes in and helps prospective board buyers pick sticks. Expert guidance provided by a master craftsman.
The division of management and responsibility is a relationship that allows each partner to concentrate on his particular strengths, and according to Marc, is a major factor that has contributed to the shop’s longevity. “Each of us can do what we do best and make sure things don’t get overlooked,” he says. “That’s so huge, because in the end, it all boils down to the details.”
Other aspects of the biz that Marc feels have contributed to Encinitas Surfboards’ staying power are a well rounded, diverse, and knowledgeable staff; consistency with regard to operating hours; and an ability to adjust to fluctuations in the surf market through smart and conservative buying. He also says, for them, customer service is priority number one, and proves it as an entire family comes in to buy wetsuits. After letting them browse and determining if they need help, he and the staff immediately spring into action and manage to size and fit the whole crew, from the dad in an XXXL, to the teetering 3-year-old son, in a matter on minutes. It’s a good example of the staff’s expertise and product knowledge, and the size range addressed is indicative of the high variety of hardgoods the shop constantly keeps in stock. O’Neill Wetsuits has been doing business with Encinitas Surf for more than 25 years, and according to Mike Burns, O’Neill’s sales rep for the San Diego area, in the hardgoods department Encinitas is one of the best. “They really specialize in the stuff you need to go surf, and their sales volume in products like wetsuits and boardshorts surpasses stores twice their size. Based purely on square footage,” he says, “they’re definitely one of our premier dealers.”
And while moving brand name items is a key player in the formula, the main product that Marc Adam comes back to is the work of John Kies. He says “John is Encinitas Surfboards,” and calls hand-shaped and custom Kies boards “our forte.”
An emphasis on hardgoods, especially boards, is an approach seen less and less in shops these days, but for Marc and John it seems like a no-brainer. This core approach speaks volumes of their rooted and traditional origins and is something that sets them apart from many of their competitors. “That stuff just never goes away,” says Marc. “People need it, so you never want to turn your back on it. The bottom line is hardgoods are the essentials.”
And what about the future? With big name stores like Macy’s pushing the image, and companies like Quiksilver and Billabong opening their own outlets, how does Encinitas Surfboards plan on staying in the game as the surf world goes corporate? Marc doesn’t seem worried in the least. “We make it fun,” he says. “We have a strong relationship with our customer base, we know how to take care of them, and in the end we’re authentic. The guys who work here are out in the water every day. Half the time they’re still wet when they’re behind the counter. Plus, you can come in and get feedback on our boards right from the shaper. People want authenticity. People like the smell of resin and wax and wetsuits, and here, that’s what you get.”
Check ’em out at Encinitas Surfboards – 760.753.0506