It all started back in 1996 when I was waaaaay into surfing. Being the determined Aries that I am, I was president of the Association of Women Surfers (AWS), a non-profit organization of over 170 female surfers as part of WISA (Women’s International Surfing Association). (Oh, and did I mention I was 19 at the time?). I loved surfing so much that it was all I could think about and all I wanted to do. I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, but my mornings and evenings were dedicated to surfing. I couldn’t get enough.
Then, through the AWS and volunteering through the Surfrider Foundation, I met a handful of other determined women who were committed to getting the female presence celebrated in the water. Now, remember, this was 1996 and, though there were a lot of female surfers, every surfing magazine had a Reef advertisement with a half-naked women next to a man surfing on it and the 1960’s Gidget stereotype continued to be what us women surfers were up against.
One thing led to another and I eventually teamed up with 3 other wonderful women and decided to open up Paradise Surf Shop, LLC: Northern California’s First Women’s Surf Shop. We were determined to get gear, clothing, and accessories made for the “real” woman surfer. It was crazy, hectic, and truly stressful. Yet, Paradise was 1/4th my baby and I loved it.
We had a great logo which helped us sell a ton of our branded wearables. To establish street cred among the conglomeration of male-dominated surf shops surrounding us and the product lines with whom we had no credit with, we held contests, sponsored events, took out ads, and really created a buzz the way that people did before many were online. Even little ol’ me was featured on both CNN and NPR, and got to help Patagonia’s Watergirl line with some ideas, which helped us get national recognition.
Overall, it was a great experience that taught me more about business, budgets, relationships, lawyers, and economics than any college course could have. But, through those two years where I postponed college to run this business with 3 other women business partners, I realized it wasn’t part of my path to stay with the business, so I left.
After I got out of the business, I went back to school and got my B.A. in Environmental Studies. I started surfing less due to lack of waves and started climbing at the local gym, where I ultimately met my incredible husband. We eventually moved to the mountains to pursue climbing and I said farewell to my surfing days.
Though my life changed in some incredible ways, I continue to apply my lessons from the surf shop to each experience. I regularly refer to some of the things I learned from the Small Business Development Center when I was creating a business plan for Paradise Surf Shop as well as what things to include in a legal contract from the time when I signed my operating agreement. I learned about the true cost of overhead and how to appropriately budget when there are dynamic variables. I regularly create spreadsheets to account for my time for non-paying items and events to balance whether or not the investment of time is worthwhile. I learned about marketing, press releases, industry connections, sponsorships, and how to build a community based around a brand. Mostly, I learned to follow my heart and to speak my truths.
I regularly refer to so many things that I learned from running the shop in almost every job and business venture since then. The more I list, the more grateful I am for each and every experience I had during this time. No, not all of the memories are wonderful and yes, I had some tough times. But each of these situations and lessons helped me learn so much. These are not things I would have learned in college; these are things that I could only truly learn from an experience. This surf shop experience was one of the best educations I could have ever had and I am so grateful for it.
Questions for business owners:
- What experience helped pave the way towards your current position?
- What lessons can you extract from those experiences and how did it shape your life today?