Surf Summit Check In: Huntington Surf & Sport’s Aaron Pai

As Surf Summit 15 quickly approaches, TransWorld Business is checking in with brand and retail executives in the industry to find out why they attend, tips for key takeaways,  and their fondest Cabo memories from years past.

We recently sat down with Huntington Surf & Sport Owner Aaron Pai to pick his brain about the annual event that aims to unite the tribe, to get a retailer’s perspective on the value of an event such as Surf Summit--besides, of course, getting in some much needed R&R, camaraderie, and surf sessions.

First of all, how long have you been going down to Cabo for Surf Summit?
Since the beginning--whenever that was, I don’t even know. But I can remember Dick Baker and Mike Kingsbury needed a ride to the hotel and I gave them a ride in our rental car--I think  that was the first or second one.

What do you focus on getting out of an event like this?

We have absolutely no agenda. Actually to us, it’s another form of a surf trip. We love surf trips and it’s like going on a surf trip with the entire industry. All the key players are there and it’s so much fun. It’s all about having fun and seeing everybody and catching up with everybody, too. And some of our best memories are being out in the water at Nine Palms or Shipwrecks, and the people-- whtether it’s John Gothard from Sanuk or Bobby Lockhart from Billabong-- it’s pretty insane going to Cabo with all these guys in the surf industry.

What is your favorite memory from a Surf Summit past?

It was the year we won men’s retailer of the year, I think 2004, and the Lakers were playing a playoff game so after the SIMA Awards were done we all went across the street to a bar that had a little golf course and watching the Lakers play – all the heavy hitters, Woolcot, Tom Holbrook, Tom Ruiz, Sean Collins--they were all there.

What advice would you have for some who are going down to the conference for the first time?

Just to make sure you are going over the agenda ahead of time and planning accordingly. They have a lot of really interesting speakers and topics planned so plan accordingly. We like to go and surf, so we’ll be checking out Surfline for the forecast and planning our surf trips around the seminars. And at the end of the day, it sure is fun to crack a beer open while saying hello and catching up with everybody.

 What’s been your favorite part about the actual Summit?

I’m always interested in hearing the state of the surf industry from other people, whether it be keynote speakers, like in the past with Bob McKnight and Bob Hurley. It’s just interesting to hear what people are thinking about the surf industry as it is now and what it’s going to be in the future. I think that’s pretty important and very interesting.

 What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the surf industry today?

I think just working together. The past two and a half years have been the toughest because of the recession. Working together and navigating through the economic downturn are important. It’s getting better though, and I think the whole industry has learned a lot of lessons on how to run stronger, more vibrant businesses because of the recession. I know the industry – including retail shops like ours – have been working together more than anytime I know of in the last thirty years because of the recession. We are all in this together and working to help each other out.

 How can an event like Surf Summit act as a tool towards finding solutions for those type of challenges?

The roundtables are good, and I like the keynote speakers keying in on the shape and future of the industry. Focusing in on that kind of sets the tone for the whole event. Maybe somehow talking and keying in on how to benefit the surf industry presently and in the future a little bit more [would be helpful].

What are you looking forward to most about Surf Summit this year? 

It’s like a high school reunion to me. There are so many friends made throughout the years, and they are more friends than anything else. It’s cool to get away from the working, corporate environment of a brand or retail store and just going some place that’s relaxing, beautiful-- great weather, great waves, and a great place to catch up with everybody.

How does this event strengthen your business?

It’s not really about strengthening our retail store, but getting together a lot of CEOs and top reps in the industry. I think it strengthens our surf industry as a whole by bonding us together, and if it strengthens the industry it’s good for us retailers whether its us, or Surfride in San Diego, or any other store.