Dread or Dead: Serving Barbados’ One-Percent

A tiny shack on the South Coast of Barbados houses the island’s only surf shop that sells hardgoods. Dread or Dead, a name that encompasses both its laidback Rasta attitude and eminent hardcore surf style, opened in 1994 and according to owner Russell Garrett, sales have been going strong ever since.

When planning a surf trip, Barbados isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Visions of epic barrels in consistent spots like the North Shore and Indonesia tend to dominate surf travel. While this easternmost island of the West Indies may be a second-tier surf destination, it’s home to a first class wave. Soup Bowl is the island’s most well-known break, and has head-high or bigger waves three hundred days out of the year.


“We’ve got really good waves here so a lot of stuff breaks — boards, leashes — and people come here to replace it, says Garrett, who looks like a middle-aged version of Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Garrett also embodies the fun-loving attitude of Spicoli, for he is just as well known for getting rowdy at bars as he is for owning a surf shop.

But all debauchery aside, Russell Garrett is a salt-water expert, and one of the most respected surfers on the island. He drinks his morning Heineken and reveals that the majority of his sales aren’t from locals, but from tourists visiting the island.


“A lot of Bajans {natives} are afraid of the water, Garrett admits. “We probably only have about 100 active surfers on the island.

When the combination of surf-seeking tourists and local surfers only amounts to one percent of the island’s population, it’s no wonder why so many people are heading over to this Eastern Caribbean surf destination. Russell has also noticed new trends in the types of people who visit his store. “We used to only get British tourists and Americans from the East Coast, says Garrett. “But now we are getting a lot of Europeans — especially Germans, French, and Italians.

Many are now coming to the island looking for a one-week vacation in the warm weather and wanting to learn to surf. “We started off the surf school thing here in Barbados, says Garrett proudly. “A lot of people from overseas come here to learn to surf because of the warm water. We can accomplish in one day what it takes other schools many days because the water is warm and people are willing to stay out longer.


With such a small percentage of island surfers, Garrett has no use in shaping his own boards. “We sell Ricky Carroll, Local Motion, and Stretch Santa Cruz {boards} in our shop, says Garrett. “The hot-seller is Local Motion, but any board featured in advertisements or articles in a magazine basically sells itself.

Other than hardgoods, the shop does well in accessories and apparel. Because importing fees into the island are extremely high, a T-shirt at Dread or Dead can be 25 U.S. dollars, and higher-end boardshorts can be as much as 75 dollars. But this high price doesn’t affect the shop’s sales, for everything on the island is sold at an inflated price.

“Baggies {boardshorts} are a hot seller here. O’Neil is the strongest, and so is Fox. Local Motion and Rusty also sell really well, says Garrett.

One difference between Dread or Dead and surf shops in the U.S. is the lack of women’s surf apparel in the store. When asked about the female surf market, Garrett replies: “I used to sell women’s clothing, but I find women to be a blasted headache. Guys are easy, they come in and say they need a pair of baggies, size 32, thank you, goodbye. But girls are more difficult. I’d rather have someone else do the boutique stuff.

Russell also reveals another reason why he doesn’t sell girl’s items in his shop: shoplifting. “If a guy comes in here and steals a shirt or a pair of baggies, then I ring his neck. But if a girl comes in here, what am I supposed to do with a girl who shoves a bikini in her pants, Garrett sayys.


Overall, Russell Garrett is happy with his store’s sales and is stoked on the state of surfing right now. “It has become a lot stronger, and there has been a lot of revival in the sport, he says. Garrett attributes this strength in numbers to all of the surf films and extensive marketing done within the sport in the last couple of years. Given the rate of tourists that are flowing into Barbados at this time, the store’s sales can only grow stronger as more people from overseas get hooked on the surfing lifestyle and come to surf in the warm Caribbean sea. -Lindsay Tredent