Ventura Regional Report: Life West Of The Canejo Grade

Popular wisdom places the dividing line between Northern and Southern California, us versus them, somewhere up between the pristine lineup of Cojo Point and the ICBM test pads of Vandenburg Air Force Base. For years, this Point Conception divide has painted the surfers of California into two distinct hues: the out-of-touch hippies of the north all covered in moss and bitterness, and the brodeo nabobs of plastic So Cal so accurately skewered in the film Orange County.

Or so the stereotypes insist.

But crawling along the coast past Point Magu on a foggy June morning, it seems Southern California’s real Brandenburg Gate can be found at the Canejo Grade, that steep stretch of Highway 101 leading out of the Santa Monica Mountains and down into the fertile Santa Clara River flood plain near Ventura. No way could this be Southern California. Moss Landing, perhaps.

[IMAGE 1]

One Ventura County surf-shop owner says that when you descend the grade, you go back in time a year. Another uncharitably dubs the stretch of coast near Oxnard, “Bakersfield By The Sea.” Both views are overly harsh, but they do contain a grain of truth. Ventura County clearly has a vibe distinct from the rest of Southern California. There are fewer shops, but they project larger spheres of influence than elsewhere. There are also rival shops that have peacefully coexisted within a stone’s throw of each other for years. It’s an area where the water’s usually cold and the specter of localism has achieved mythic proportions in some communities.

TransWorld SURF Business visited six Ventura County surf shops in June to try to pin down what sets Ventura apart. As usual, we weren’t able to visit every shop worthy of mention, but we hope this gives you a rough guide to that stretch of coast that’s neither north nor south, a terra incognito that defies easy classification.

[IMAGE 2]

Anacapa Surf N Sport
Port Hueneme
With all the talk of how lousy surfboard margins are, it’s not exactly surprising that most retailers opt for the apparel-and-shoe route these days, shunting surfboards back to the loss-leader corner of the store. But then you run across shops like Anacapa Surf N Sport, a humble shop that still specializes in hardgoods. “I’m as specialty as specialty gets,” says Ryan Imrie, who’s owned the store for the past seven years.

[IMAGE 3]

Anacapa carries a small selection of apparel, mostly T-shirts, hooded fleece, and shorts from Counter Culture, HIC, and Rip Curl — with some Billabong, Scorpion Bay, and private label thrown in. However, it’s clear that hardgoods are what really drives the store — and Imrie.

“It may sound corny,” he says, “but I think surfing is an extension of your soul. I look at what I do as giving people that stoke — it’s so much more important than just getting money from their wallet. Mickey Munoz said it well when he said surfing should be measured in increments of smile. I’m certainly not doing this to make a million bucks. I’m doing it because I have a cool lifestyle and I love spreading my love of surfing to other people.”

It seems to be working. During my visit, the shop had a steady flow of customers and Anacapa Surf N Sport stickers could be seen all around the Silver Strand-Oxnard area.

Imries says he carries more than 250 surfboards, both new and used, for sale at his shop: “I do really well with surfboards and rubber. I draw customers from Newbury Park to Ventura because they know I’m a hardgoods guy.”

However, he says his shop also has a strong local following: “It’s a quirky area. I think the surfers around here are a bit more informed about what’s going on than they are in the rest of the county.”

Anacapa carries an equal mix of longboards/funboards and shortboards, with Towers Surfboards, Pedro Vasquez, Max McDonald, and Wagner the most popular brands. The wetsuit racks are stacked deep with suits from Rip Curl, Body Glove, and Xcel, d near the front of the store is a display for a black Rip Curl Raptor. “We sell quite a few of those to the younger kids,” says Imrie.

“We’ve been really affected by what seems to be a twelve-month drought in surf,” he continues. “It’s been the windiest year I can remember.” Despite this, he says sales have been pretty steady through the spring.

Imrie says the first couple of years he owned the shop were brutal, and those times definitely taught him some important lessons: “It’s all about survival, I’ve got to bring in what sells.”

Pier Pressure Boardshop
Oxnard
Silver Strand, Oxnard, Hollywood By The Sea: few areas along the Californian coast have a harsher reputation for localism than this five-mile stretch between West Fifth Street and La Jannelle Park. And on the day of my visit, a huge brush fire in the Ventura mountains had cast a sepia tone over the entire area — the washed-out yellow of those old Wild West photos.

But according to Louie Pizzo, manager of the new Pier Pressure Boardshop in Oxnard, a lot of the stories about the area should be chalked up to myth and legend. “Sure, it can get aggressive in the water, but there are a lot of areas like that,” he says.

There are two Pier Pressure locations. The original is in Oakhurst, up in the Sierra Foothills just the south of Yosemite. The Oxnard location opened around Thanksgiving, and Pizzo’s son Michael says business was slow at first: “But then it started picking up around Christmas.”

[IMAGE 4]

According to Louie, “We brought down a lot of nice knits and polynosic shirts from the Oakhurst store, and we couldn’t give them away. All the guys wanted were T-shirts and boardshorts.”

Sales were brisk on the women’s side, however, with Roxy and Billabong Girls selling at a quick pace — along with the local brand Excess.

“Oxnard’s a funny retail area,” says Louie. “The homes are either rented by working families, or they’re second homes that are empty except on the weekends. But we think the area has a lot of potential. They’re expanding the marina, and the area is forecasted to really grow in the next five years.”

Louie says Pier Pressure is also expanding and is planning to make a late-summer move from its current nondescript strip-mall location to a store twice the size down in the thick of the action. “It’s like the old saying goes: location, location, location,” says Louie. “In Oakhurst, we moved the shop from one side of the street to the other and it made a huge impact on sales. We expect to see the same sort of change down here.”

The new location will emphasize the women’s lines. “That’s our competitive advantage,” says Louie. “Most of the shops in Ventura are really hardcore board retailers that don’t pay much attention to the women’s market. The fixtures will be really industrial looking and funky — we certainly won’t be confused with a big-box store. We’ll also be next door to a dive shop that also really caters to women.”

After being a general contractor for 25 years, Louie says his first year in the retail business has been quite an education. “It was rough at first, but now people are really understanding what we’re trying to do, and our vendors are really supporting us.”

Ventura Surf Shop
Ventura
You can feel the roll of years at Ventura Surf Shop.

Since it opened in 1961, it’s become a landmark in the Ventura surf community, and it’s not unusual to find employees whose parents also worked at the shop when they were a kid. A low-key family vibe permeates the sales floor, with employees heckling each other or rolling their eyes good-naturedly when a coworker throws out a dubious assertion.

Ventura Surf Shop also has the distinction of having the largest selection of boards in the county, with more than 150 new boards and 150 used boards on the racks and ready to roll.

According to employee Troy Gibson, “Most of the employees have been working here for two years or more. It’s a good job, and we’re paid pretty well.”

[IMAGE 5]

Gibson says that leashes and traction were the fast-moving items when I visited the store in mid June. “We offer lower prices on accessories,” he says. “We do only a 40-percent markup on leashes instead of the 50 percent, which is more typical at surf shops.” The shop’s sweatshirts also top the best-seller list.

Another employee, Micaela Kenny, says the shop caters to a variety of customers. “Shoppers in Ventura County are super picky,” she says, “and a bit on the cheap side. We certainly get a good number of tourists shopping here, but a lot of our customers have been coming around for years and really know what they need.”

The shop, which has been in its current location since 1991, is nearing its bursting point. “We’ve really grown out of this location,” says Gibson. “There used to be four shaping bays upstairs where Malcom Campbell and Stan Fujo used to shape. Now it’s full of surfboards and the shaping bays have had to move down the street past the Patagonia offices.”

The surfboard inventory isn’t the only category with wide and deep inventory level. Ventura Surf Shop also carries a huge range of wetsuits from O’Neill, with a few other brands like Quiksilver thrown into the mix. In fact, Gibson says one of the shop’s best reps is Lee Westfall, who handles the O’Neill line from L.A. to Santa Barbara. FCS’ Fred Villela, Billabong’s Kevin Via, Steve Mendelson from Reef, and Spy’s Nik Hennessee also all deserve a mention. “Really, they’re all good, but those guys stand out,” he says.

The hottest brands at Ventura Surf Shop are Hurley and the shop’s own private label. “The brand we do the most volume with is Quiksilver,” says Gibson. Reef, Koolaburra, Flojos, Billabong, Quiksilver, O’Neill, Hurley, Roxy, and Surf Chick are all brands displayed prominently at Ventura Surf Shop.

Waveline
Ventura
Just 50 yards down the street from Ventura Surf Shop is another mainstay of the Ventura County surf-shop scene. Like Jack’s and Huntington Surf & Sport in Orange County, Ventura Surf Shop and Waveline have found a way to peacefully coexist for years. Since it opened eleven years ago, Wavelines has focused on brands that aren’t represented up the street.

“We’re on friendly terms,”‘ says Manager Conner Robinson about Waveline’s relationship with Ventura Surf Shop. “We refer people to them all the time, and they do the same. It’s no big deal.”

Robinson, who’s been at the shop since the summer of 2000, says Waveline’s selection of wetsuits is a perfect example of how things work. “We do great with Rip Curl and Body Glove,” he says, “and you can’t find those brands elsewhere.”

[IMAGE 6]

Wavelines is primarily a hardgoods shop — don’t expect to find the latest skate-shoe styles here — and has a wide range of boards from Velzy, Jacobs, Surf Tech, and more. “We try to offer a lot of boards from lesser-known shapers — like Harbour.”

However, apparel is also important and the shop carries apparel from HIC, Lost, OAM, Billabong and Quiksilver. “Most of our customers are locals who’ve been coming here for years,” says Robinson, adding that the shop’s product selection and focus haveremained consistent since he started working there. “The owner, Paul Nielsen, has a pretty good idea of what works,” says Robinson. In fact, several other surf-shop owners in the area mention Nielsen as being friendly and open to giving advice. “He’s great,” says Anacapa’s Ryan Imrie.

Robinson says several reps are also a big help to the shop. “They’re all really friendly,” he says, “but the best ones are probably Steve Mendelson from Reef and Von Zipper, Brent Turner from HIC, Pat Murphy from Body Glove, and Andrew Jakubowski from Rip Curl.”

Revolution Surf Company
Camarillo
Now, this is hardly a slam on the other shops in Ventura County, but Revolution is the complete package.

Some Ventura shops r two years or more. It’s a good job, and we’re paid pretty well.”

[IMAGE 5]

Gibson says that leashes and traction were the fast-moving items when I visited the store in mid June. “We offer lower prices on accessories,” he says. “We do only a 40-percent markup on leashes instead of the 50 percent, which is more typical at surf shops.” The shop’s sweatshirts also top the best-seller list.

Another employee, Micaela Kenny, says the shop caters to a variety of customers. “Shoppers in Ventura County are super picky,” she says, “and a bit on the cheap side. We certainly get a good number of tourists shopping here, but a lot of our customers have been coming around for years and really know what they need.”

The shop, which has been in its current location since 1991, is nearing its bursting point. “We’ve really grown out of this location,” says Gibson. “There used to be four shaping bays upstairs where Malcom Campbell and Stan Fujo used to shape. Now it’s full of surfboards and the shaping bays have had to move down the street past the Patagonia offices.”

The surfboard inventory isn’t the only category with wide and deep inventory level. Ventura Surf Shop also carries a huge range of wetsuits from O’Neill, with a few other brands like Quiksilver thrown into the mix. In fact, Gibson says one of the shop’s best reps is Lee Westfall, who handles the O’Neill line from L.A. to Santa Barbara. FCS’ Fred Villela, Billabong’s Kevin Via, Steve Mendelson from Reef, and Spy’s Nik Hennessee also all deserve a mention. “Really, they’re all good, but those guys stand out,” he says.

The hottest brands at Ventura Surf Shop are Hurley and the shop’s own private label. “The brand we do the most volume with is Quiksilver,” says Gibson. Reef, Koolaburra, Flojos, Billabong, Quiksilver, O’Neill, Hurley, Roxy, and Surf Chick are all brands displayed prominently at Ventura Surf Shop.

Waveline
Ventura
Just 50 yards down the street from Ventura Surf Shop is another mainstay of the Ventura County surf-shop scene. Like Jack’s and Huntington Surf & Sport in Orange County, Ventura Surf Shop and Waveline have found a way to peacefully coexist for years. Since it opened eleven years ago, Wavelines has focused on brands that aren’t represented up the street.

“We’re on friendly terms,”‘ says Manager Conner Robinson about Waveline’s relationship with Ventura Surf Shop. “We refer people to them all the time, and they do the same. It’s no big deal.”

Robinson, who’s been at the shop since the summer of 2000, says Waveline’s selection of wetsuits is a perfect example of how things work. “We do great with Rip Curl and Body Glove,” he says, “and you can’t find those brands elsewhere.”

[IMAGE 6]

Wavelines is primarily a hardgoods shop — don’t expect to find the latest skate-shoe styles here — and has a wide range of boards from Velzy, Jacobs, Surf Tech, and more. “We try to offer a lot of boards from lesser-known shapers — like Harbour.”

However, apparel is also important and the shop carries apparel from HIC, Lost, OAM, Billabong and Quiksilver. “Most of our customers are locals who’ve been coming here for years,” says Robinson, adding that the shop’s product selection and focus haveremained consistent since he started working there. “The owner, Paul Nielsen, has a pretty good idea of what works,” says Robinson. In fact, several other surf-shop owners in the area mention Nielsen as being friendly and open to giving advice. “He’s great,” says Anacapa’s Ryan Imrie.

Robinson says several reps are also a big help to the shop. “They’re all really friendly,” he says, “but the best ones are probably Steve Mendelson from Reef and Von Zipper, Brent Turner from HIC, Pat Murphy from Body Glove, and Andrew Jakubowski from Rip Curl.”

Revolution Surf Company
Camarillo
Now, this is hardly a slam on the other shops in Ventura County, but Revolution is the complete package.

Some Ventura shops specialize in apparel, others in surfboards. But nearly every one of them is missing an element in its mix. Not so with Revolution. With a good selection of boards, a full skate and snowboard department, more shoes than Imelda Marcos, and a deep selection of the main apparel brands, Revolution is able to service just about any surfer’s need for apparel or gear.

[IMAGE 7]

The shop was opened six years ago by three friends — John Villela, Jesse Mota, and Jason Hoffman — and you’re likely to run into one of them if you visit the store on most days.

Like many surf-shop owners in Ventura, Villela says the first half of the year was slow. The weather was lousy, the economy was down, and the surf was usually flat. But Villela, who had worked at Val Surf for six year before starting Revolution, had seen it before and consolidated his lines and tightened up the shop’s offering. Now surfboards are the shop’s hottest-selling category, while men’s apparel (lead by hot-sellers Billabong and Volcom) still brings in the lion’s share of revenues. Wetsuits and footwear are also important to the shop.

The surfboard department is toward the back of the store on both the ground floor and a low riser against the wall. This gives the illusion of a huge wall of boards — an illusion not far from the truth. There are boards from Channel Islands, McCrystal, Lost, Roberts, JC, HIC, Moss Research, TDK, BYB, and more.

But the shop seems equally committed to the skate market. “We’re not right on the beach,” says Villela. “We’re seven miles in. But that’s not really a problem — we get the best of both worlds.” In fact, Villela says that with a 10,000-square-foot skatepark just down the street his shop sees as many skaters as surfers.

However, Villela sees surfing becoming more popular — poised to even eclipse skateboarding. “In the last few years or so, all the hype was on skate, but it seems like in the last six months surfing has really seen a resurgence. It’s starting to be cool again, and the kids see surfing as something different than skating.”

Villela also says that as longtime customers turn sixteen and get their driver’s licenses, they gravitate toward surfing because the coast has become more accessible to them.

Despite Revolution’s growth, Villela says there are no plans to open other locations of broaden out the product mix. “I know it sounds cliché, but we really want to keep it real and stay focused on what we’re excited about.” He says he’d be happy if this philosophy caught on a little bit more in the surf market. “A lot of the big companies are now public, and they need to show consistent growth to make their shareholders happy. If we keep giving distribution to the big-box stores, though, eventually the brands will be so over-saturated that they won’t be cool anymore. And since there aren’t a lot of new young brands waiting in the wings, that could be a real problem.”

Val Surf
Thousand Oaks
Thousand Oaks hugs the eastern border of Ventura County, but really doesn’t share many of characteristics of the county. Perched there at the top of the grade, the city is much more influenced by what’s to the East (Los Angeles and Simi Valley) than what’s to the west (Oxnard and Ventura). The pace seems faster and the congestion thicker.

So it’s not surprising that the Val Surf in Thousand Oaks has a lot in common with its three L.A. County sister stores. Like Revolution, Val Surf has a deep and wide selection of product that includes surfboards, skateboards, snowboards, wakeboards, and more.

“We have the same style as the other stores, but we do see a slightly different customer here than the other locations,” says Assistant Manager Norm Niegas. “A lot of people will drive down from as far as Santa Barbara because we have such a good selection.”

[IMAGE 8]

The store is scheduled for a major facelift this fall, says Owner Mark Richards: “We’ll be taking over two, maybe three vaccant spaces next door and will be completely revitalizing the store, from the carpet to the counters to knocking back a wall to give us more space.”

When completed, the store will grow from 4,400 square feet to 6,000 and will feature custom racks from eight vendors who Richards views as doing a good job keeping distribution reigned in.

“The racks will be going to those companies who have shown loyalty to specialty store,” he says. These brands include Stüssy, Fresh Jive, Powell, Volcom, O’Neill, HIC, and Matix. “Each vendor’s racks will have their own flavor, but everyone is working with our in-house fixture designer as well, so all the rack will fit in with the stores,” says Richards. “All the different renditions look great. The Stüssy rack, in particular, is going to revolutionize display systems.”

While the North Hollywood location — now in its fortieth year — remains the cornerstone of Val Surf, Richards says the Thousand Oaks and Valencia locations have really benefited from the growth of those suburbs. “I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they used to shop the North Hollywood location but now shop those other stores because they’re close to where they live.”

cialize in apparel, others in surfboards. But nearly every one of them is missing an element in its mix. Not so with Revolution. With a good selection of boards, a full skate and snowboard department, more shoes than Imelda Marcos, and a deep selection of the main apparel brands, Revolution is able to service just about any surfer’s need for apparel or gear.

[IMAGE 7]

The shop was opened six years ago by three friends — John Villela, Jesse Mota, and Jason Hoffman — and you’re likely to run into one of them if you visit the store on most days.

Like many surf-shop owners in Ventura, Villela says the first half of the year was slow. The weather was lousy, the economy was down, and the surf was usually flat. But Villela, who had worked at Val Surf for six year before starting Revolution, had seen it before and consolidated his lines and tightened up the shop’s offering. Now surfboards are the shop’s hottest-selling category, while men’s apparel (lead by hot-sellers Billabong and Volcom) still brings in the lion’s share of revenues. Wetsuits and footwear are also important to the shop.

The surfboard department is toward the back of the store on both the ground floor and a low riser against the wall. This gives the illusion of a huge wall of boards — an illusion not far from the truth. There are boards from Channel Islands, McCrystal, Lost, Roberts, JC, HIC, Moss Research, TDK, BYB, and more.

But the shop seems equally committed to the skate market. “We’re not right on the beach,” says Villela. “We’re seven miles in. But that’s not really a problem — we get the best of both worlds.” In fact, Villela says that with a 10,000-square-foot skatepark just down the street his shop sees as many skaters as surfers.

However, Villela sees surfing becoming more popular — poised to even eclipse skateboarding. “In the last few years or so, all the hype was on skate, but it seems like in the last six months surfing has really seen a resurgence. It’s starting to be cool again, and the kids see surfing as something different than skating.”

Villela also says that as longtime customers turn sixteen and get their driver’s licenses, they gravitate toward surfing because the coast has become more accessible to them.

Despite Revolution’s growth, Villela says there are no plans to open other locations of broaden out the product mix. “I know it sounds cliché, but we really want to keep it real and stay focused on what we’re excited about.” He says he’d be happy if this philosophy caught on a little bit more in the surf market. “A lot of the big companies are now public, and they need to show consistent growth to make their shareholders happy. If we keep giving distribution to the big-box stores, though, eventually the brands will be so over-saturated that they won’t be cool anymore. And since there aren’t a lot of new young brands waiting in the wings, that could be a real problem.”

Val Surf
Thousand Oaks
Thousand Oaks hugs the eastern border of Ventura County, but really doesn’t share many of characteristics of the county. Perched there at the top of the grade, the city is much more influenced by what’s to the East (Los Angeles and Simi Valley) than what’s to the west (Oxnard and Ventura). The pace seems faster and the congestion thicker.

So it’s not surprising that the Val Surf in Thousand Oaks has a lot in common with its three L.A. County sister stores. Like Revolution, Val Surf has a deep and wide selection of product that includes surfboards, skateboards, snowboards, wakeboards, and more.

“We have the same style as the other stores, but we do see a slightly different customer here than the other locations,” says Assistant Manager Norm Niegas. “A lot of people will drive down from as far as Santa Barbara because we have such a good selection.”

[IMAGE 8]

The store is scheduled for a major facelift this fall, says Owner Mark Richards: “We’ll be taking over two, maybe three vacant spaces next door and will be completely revitalizing the store, from the carpet to the counters to knocking back a wall to give us more space.”

When completed, the store will grow from 4,400 square feet to 6,000 and will feature custom racks from eight vendors who Richards views as doing a good job keeping distribution reigned in.

“The racks will be going to those companies who have shown loyalty to specialty store,” he says. These brands include Stüssy, Fresh Jive, Powell, Volcom, O’Neill, HIC, and Matix. “Each vendor’s racks will have their own flavor, but everyone is working with our in-house fixture designer as well, so all the rack will fit in with the stores,” says Richards. “All the different renditions look great. The Stüssy rack, in particular, is going to revolutionize display systems.”

While the North Hollywood location — now in its fortieth year — remains the cornerstone of Val Surf, Richards says the Thousand Oaks and Valencia locations have really benefited from the growth of those suburbs. “I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they used to shop the North Hollywood location but now shop those other stores because they’re close to where they live.”

hree vacant spaces next door and will be completely revitalizing the store, from the carpet to the counters to knocking back a wall to give us more space.”

When completed, the store will grow from 4,400 square feet to 6,000 and will feature custom racks from eight vendors who Richards views as doing a good job keeping distribution reigned in.

“The racks will be going to those companies who have shown loyalty to specialty store,” he says. These brands include Stüssy, Fresh Jive, Powell, Volcom, O’Neill, HIC, and Matix. “Each vendor’s racks will have their own flavor, but everyone is working with our in-house fixture designer as well, so all the rack will fit in with the stores,” says Richards. “All the different renditions look great. The Stüssy rack, in particular, is going to revolutionize display systems.”

While the North Hollywood location — now in its fortieth year — remains the cornerstone of Val Surf, Richards says the Thousand Oaks and Valencia locations have really benefited from the growth of those suburbs. “I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they used to shop the North Hollywood location but now shop those other stores because they’re close to where they live.”