Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Costco Board

[ From: "Costco Sparks a Surfing Revolution?" By Steve Casimiro, The Adventure Life, August 5, 2009 ]

Every day at Doheny State Beach, there’s a blue flotilla—dozens upon dozens of surfers bobbing in the lineup just outside the Dana Point harbor at the southern end of Orange County, California, all on blue foam boards purchased for $100 at Costco. Most of the surfers are half the height of the eight-foot board, but there are tweens and teens and 50-somethings on them, too. The boards are soft and slightly squishy and perfect for beginners—this isn’t a lineup of Kelly Slaters—and when a wave rolls through it brings mayhem. There are collisions and flying boards. Every wave is a party wave, with five, six, seven people all on the same mushburger, all struggling to balance atop the foamy surge. On any given summer afternoon, there will be 60 or 70 surfers in the lineup, and from the right angle it looks like D-Day.

It’s a beautiful sight.

Surfing is exploding in popularity and at this local break it’s directly connected to the introduction of the hundred dollar soft board at Costco. Until the arrival of foam boards, which are much less likely to injure and far more durable, a grom had little choice but to buy a fiberglass board, which can easily set you back a grand. Even when the first foam learner boards started showing up, they still cost into the hundreds and were typically found at surf shops, which for the uninitiated can be as intimidating as a hard-core bike shop. As a result, the kids who surfed generally came from parents who surfed and they learned on hand-me-down boards. Everyone else, well, they had to plunk down a big cash outlay–risky, given the fickleness of children–or stick to cheap boogie boards and body surfing.

The blue bombers from Costco changed all that. Now, for a fraction of what you’d spend sending your kid to a surfing camp, you can have a board on call. Because they’re cheap and ultra-durable, you don’t have to worry about them getting lost, stolen, or damaged (my sister in law lost hers off the roof of her car on the freeway—it didn’t get a scratch). Even for adults, too, the Costco board is a great option for learning–though not a true longboard, it’s plenty long enough to get you in and on a wave. And if you discover surfing isn’t your thing, so what–it’s only a hundred bucks.

On our street, almost every kid has one. The girl next door started surfing with hers at age seven. Five people have already learned to surf on ours. It’s a safe bet this is happening wherever there are Costcos and waves—the big box store is regularly sold out of the boards. A flyby last weekend turned up just one, which had been returned to customer service; a worker urged me to grab it fast before it was snatched up. It’s a full fledged phenomenon.

A light day at Doheny.

And quite possibly a revolution. Surfing is one of the most difficult sports to learn. Just balancing on the board is a challenge, let alone paddling through the breakers, figuring out where to wait for waves, how to paddle into a wave, and when to stand up. And that’s all before you actually surf. By putting a board in every garage, Costco has dramatically lowered the first barrier to learning. Indeed, my 11-year-old took lessons every summer for three years, but it wasn’t until he had his own board and the repetition of time in the water that things clicked. Now he’s hooked. Everywhere, I look, I see the same thing happening.

Cotstco has been criticized for importing cheap high performance epoxy boards from China. Ever since Grubby Clark shut down Clark Foam, the main supplier to the raw blanks used to make fiberglass boards, the industry has been turbulent. Companies like Surftech mass produce boards, many overseas, and the lament that hand shaping is dying is common.

Ironically enough, my son and I surfed in the middle of the blue flotilla last Saturday and later that night I went to the world premier of the ragged but very cool documentary on surfboard shapers called Shaped. It’s an oral history from the shapers themselves—there’s no narration—and though there are the inevitable complaints about industrial board-building, legendary shape and surfer Mickey Muñoz seemed the most pragmatic and insightful of all. Look, he said, I design one great shape that works for a lot of people, it gets manufactured in mass by Surftech, and then I have the freedom to practice my art on boards for people who want that level of craftmanship. Everyone wins, he seemed to be saying.

Well, that’s a slightly different issue than with Costco learner boards. The spongy boards are really only a threat to other mass-produced sponge boards. Nobody seems too up in arms, unless they’re beefing about more people in the lineup. But the underlying sentiment is what’s to be celebrated: Surfing is…surfing is unlike any other sport. You come out of the water rinsed, clean, fresh, and connected. Getting people on boards, on the right boards, is good for them and great for surfing. How funny that Costco would be the one behind the celebration that is the chaos of Doheny on a summer afternoon.


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Costco Sparks a Surfing Revolution? | the adventure life

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