Corky Carroll

Sport isn't just business, it's a way of life.

Lately I have written a lot about surf shops and surf companies, mostly mentioning that I tend to feel that too much of the surfing industry has fallen into the hands of non-surfers. My belief is that a surfing business should be owned and run by people who surf and know what the whole vibe and lifestyle is about.

The other day I was sitting in the lineup waiting for a wave and a guy asked me what I thought was, or would be, the ultimate surf shop.  

I had to think for a few minutes on that one. It would have to be owned and run by surfers, have to be in a surf zone, have to be dedicated to not only cashing in on the sport but also being a contributing part of the local surf community and offer a full spectrum of surf goods. After pondering several choices I had to say that in my experience I would have to pick Huntington Surf 'n Sport as the ultimate surf shop of today.

I have worked in surf shops and in the surfing industry, one way or another, for my whole life. HSS was the last one that I worked in and it was a very good experience. The following are a few of the reasons why this is my personal pick:

The owner of HSS is a fully stoked local surfer named Aaron Pai. Aaron was born in Hawaii and learned to surf at Waikiki before moving to Huntington Beach and becoming a hard-core local pier rat. That was the roots and motivation for him to get into the surf shop business. 

He loves to surf. The business is a totally family-run operation. His wife, Sher, and kids Trevor, Taylor, Lindsay and Ashlyn all surf and all work in the store. Taylor is one of the hottest up-and-coming chargers on the coast and Aaron himself still rips big time. Every time I talk to him he has just returned from a surf trip to Tavarua or to the Mentawais with Bob Hurley or some other exotic surf-packed destination.

He is not just a guy who surfs, he is a SURFER. I respect that.

Pai owns four Huntington Surf & Sport stores at this time. But it's the one on the corner of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, directly across from the famed Huntington Beach Pier, that matters most. While it's arguably the busiest shop in the world, it's undoubtedly the most influential. This is because every industry leader considers Pai's Surf City outlet as the showroom floor of our entire industry. Every surf brand wants to be in that shop.  

Huntington Beach sees some 15 million beach visitors every year. According to the H.B. Chamber of Commerce, the intersection of Main and PCH is one of the busiest in Southern California: some 50,000 cars pass by HSS each day, and pedestrian traffic nearly equals that.

So you cannot only say that this is in the "surf zone," but in the most intense surf zone there is. Industry heavyweights have compared this surf-biz epicenter to everything from the Vatican in Rome to the Mann Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I like to refer to this spot on the planet as the "heartbeat" of the surfing world. 

It's no wonder the floor space in his shop, let alone the windows, is the most prized in the industry. For start-up companies, be they in clothing or hard goods, nabbing space in Pai's store marks the arrival of your brand. Shop owners from around the world make pilgrimages to Pai's store for inspiration.

While there's no shortage of established competitors nearby, it's HSS that captures the essence of the surfing culture at its retail best. Pai and his family remain surfers, first and foremost -- authenticity can't be ordered with the spring line. 

The Main Street Sidewalk in front of the shop is pocked with handprints and footprints of the most famous Surfers in the world in the "Surfers' Hall of Fame". This is one of Aaron Pai's most heartfelt projects. They have a great variety of the top surfboards available on the sales floor.  There's even a coffee shop called Java Point, which is adorned with historical photos from, eras gone by, roots mixing easily with fashion. 

And great coffee, I can verify that having downed gallons and gallons if it myself on cold mornings making my way down to surf. 

This will be the 31st year in business. HSS not only sponsors the Surfers Hall of Fame but also gives back locally by sponsoring the Huntington Beach High School surf team. This is the real deal, not only owned and run by surfers but also voted "Retailer of the Year" by SIMA. 

It's a business, yes, and run like one. A SURF business.