How to Score Gear on the Cheap

A surfer's guide to the shopping season

The Rose Bowl Flea: mecca for vintage surf paraphernalia, and a nice way to spend the second Sunday of every month. Photo: Macs Butterz/Flickr Commons

The Rose Bowl Flea: mecca for vintage surf paraphernalia, and a nice way to spend the second Sunday of every month. Photo: Macs Butterz/Flickr Commons

With shopping season hot upon us (how was your Black Friday, suckers?), here's an unorthodox guide to scooping deals and scouring for unique gifts this holiday season.

Flea Markets

In California we have the big ones — the Rose Bowl and Alameda Flea Markets — but most every small coastal town has one regularly, and damn if Flea Markets aren't venerable treasure troves for cheap and vintage shit.

Perusing the Rose Bowl's vast, sprawling rows of tents earlier this month, I had to restrain myself from literally dozens of epic purchases: a cherry Gordon & Smith Mike Hynson triple stringer, red fin and all; countless pairs of vintage Hawaiian trunks, Birdwells, Kanvas by Katin, et al; no less than a dozen '80s thrusters (some beaters, some beauties, but none of them more than $100); and so much random surfing paraphernalia it made my head spin, from mags to neon stickers to vintage surf movie posters.

Caption Goes Here.

Peruse the racks and find a steal.

Surf Swaps

Surf swaps are the best. Load up all your old gear, head on down and see what you can find. A lot of community-minded surf shops will host surf swaps, especially during the holidays. Though you can nab a wettie if you’re desperate and broke, surf swaps are gold mines for loose fins, random accessories, boardbags, and of course, used boards. Though clunkers abound, I’ve snatched up a few of my most precious boards at swaps, including a cherry, logo-less twin keel kneeboard from, presumably, the early ’70s.

If you're quick, this beauty is waiting for ya.

If you’re quick, this beauty is waiting for ya.


In addition to being the actual center of the "Democratic" Internet everyone was always talking about, Craigslist is an absolute goldmine for used, rare, and long-forgotten equipment. Know your keywords and where to look and your quiver will grow exponentially, with little burden on the old wallet.

Use an app like CPro and set up alerts for what you're hunting. Still haven't found a rider-quality Nuuhiwa noserider? Been regretting selling that 5'5" 19 ¼ …Lost? Don't worry, they'll pop up. Interested in trying out a slightly unfamiliar design? There's always some guy hocking barely used equipment that "just didn't come alive" or that they didn't end up using for pennies on the dollar.

And don't even get me started on hardgoods. Just yesterday I woke up realizing my Hawaii guns won't fit in my boardbag. A quick browse for "boardbag," and forty minutes later I had my big boards snuggled nicely into a spanking new Da Kine World Traveler. And for less than half of what I'd pay online or, if I was lucky, at a shop that stocks coffin bags.

Another thing to consider: if you see a posting for a $100 "Velsy Surfboar" that doesn't have a photo, get on it. You never know until you know.

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Get ‘er while it’s hot!


Ebay may have fallen off in recent years, but there's still a massive marketplace for vintage everything. Sure, you can probably grab last year's wetsuits at a decent discount, but this world is all about the wild, weird world of historical artifacts.

Looking for a gift for your old man/lady? You say their love for Tom Curren runs deep? Blow his mind with an original VHS copy of Searching for Tom Curren:

Or how about this bizarre airbrushed OP ad from 1987?

Or a Curren flick I've never even heard of!

Oh, Curren's not their trip? They're the dark, brooding type? Cheer them up with this odd '80s Miki Dora trading card!

But perhaps Ebay's greatest offerings: most every copy of SURFER ever published!

You never know until you go.

You never know until you go.

Thrift Stores

There's a thrift store near where I live. It's a little charity thrift shop, the proceeds benefit an animal shelter nearby, and with some regularity I find myself scoring remarkable gems. Thrifting coastside can yield ripe fruit for the penny-pinching shredder, or it can deliver some vintage scores that'll have your heart in your throat, thinking, What the hell is this doing here?

See, Californians love the Next Best Thing, leaving the Last Best Things to pile up virtually unused until they declare, Enough, and bag it up, drop it out front of my little thrift store gem. Boardshorts, swim fins, boardbags, wetsuits, '80s thrusters, '70s pintails, I've found it all, and for cheap as chips. Last week I found a Woody Woodruff aerial shot of Rincon, framed beautifully, for $10. I wrapped it in newspaper and blew my younger brother's mind.

The secret to solid thrifting? Regular visits and disciplined rummaging. Trust your instincts, learn to scan the aisles for hints of something special. Don't be scared of the miscellany, embrace the chaos, and start digging. But don't get discouraged if you leave empty-handed — thrifting requires a long-view, an acceptance of randomness.


Um, no clue. You’re on your own with this one.