The first time I entered the hallowed doors of my local surf shop – Mitch’s on La Jolla’s Pearl Street – it felt like a rite of passage.
As a 10-year-old grommet, I was in awe of all the cool surf and skate gear crammed on the store’s narrow, cluttered walls. I stood there, paralyzed, imagining what it would be like to ride one of the shiny new Puringtons, Bessells, Craigs or Staples surfboards lined up along the back room. I eventually gazed toward the glass counter, and drooled over all the Gullwing trucks, riser pads, O.J. wheels, Powell decks, stickers and grip tape that I would later nag my folks to buy me for upcoming birthdays.
Throughout my early teens, I spent countless hours asking the sun-bleached crew at “my shop” absurd questions about things I’d never be able to buy – and they were always cool about it. I didn’t need to be a card-carrying member to hang there, and it didn’t matter whether I was a persistent kid, a “kook” beginner or a standout local. I was always made to feel welcome. Mitch and his team of passionate surfers grew to know me and what I liked in my surfing. Their knowledge and guidance was invaluable to my development as a surfer.
Years later, when Fletcher Chouinard, the Malloy brothers and others from Patagonia were looking to create the first Patagonia surf shops, the days we spent at places like Mitch’s – open since 1967 – guided the way. Those early surf shops, like the ones opened in the ’50s by shapers like Dale Velzy, Jack O’Neill and Hobie Alter, had all the basic equipment needs covered – crucial items like wetsuit cement, fiberglass and resin, and screw tabs for your fin box. But they also had selection, quality goods, integrity and a way of engaging us as members of their unique community and culture.
As a result, those stores evolved into iconic establishments that helped shape part of our collective waveriding experience. Surf journalist Craig Stecyk aptly wrote that the stores functioned “as the sport’s information centers, supply depots, halfway houses, classrooms, libraries, churches, banks and museums.”
We eventually rolled out the location for the first U.S. Patagonia surf store at the old Mercantile Building – just a few blocks from my local break – in Cardiff by the Sea, California. It cleanly featured an eclectic array of hand-built wave-riding toys, wool-lined wetsuits, organic tees by local artists, interesting books, contemporary surf film classics and our bomber gear. More importantly, we assembled a crew of surfers who were excited about riding waves and sharing that passion with others.
Patagonia Cardiff’s 100-year-old building soon morphed into more than just a place housing cool stuff. It fast became a cultural hub for some of surfing’s greatest athletes and storytellers. They would frequently stop by just to share photos, wave travel tales, film clips and their battles to protect the environment. Wanting to share these experiences with our local community, we hosted events with top surfers, artists and filmmakers like Jock Sutherland, Jeff Johnson, Rob Machado, Mickey Muñoz, Steve Pezman, Nat Young, Thomas Campbell, Gerry Lopez, the Malloy brothers, Chris Del Moro, Tom Wegener and others. Crowds ranged from a few hundred to over a thousand at a time.
Patagonia has since opened other stores inspired by that space, some of which you will see featured in these pages: San Sebastián (Spain), Hale‘iwa (Hawai‘i), Chiba (Japan) and Torquay (Australia). Though they were built with the local surfers and community in mind, they all share some of Cardiff’s DNA – and the DNA of the great shops that came before.