You’ll find everything you need to live the wave-rider lifestyle right here in Laguna Beach.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
When the first surfers took to the waves on longboards for the inaugural Brooks Street Surfing Classic in 1955, a sea change was coming for surfboards. The following decade would see boards begin to transition from wood to polyurethane foam, and in the late 1960s, shortboards would gain immense popularity.
Today, shortboards, longboards, paddleboards and skimboards all share Laguna’s waves. The unending quest by surfers to build a better device for riding waves has transformed board-building from a garage endeavor to a multibillion-dollar industry and Laguna’s surfers, shapers and crafters have always been on its cutting edge.
“Building surfboards is a creative endeavor,” says Laguna native Rod Greenup, owner of CA Surf N Paddle. “I feel lucky to do it in a place like Laguna Beach. An art colony is the perfect place to be creative.”
Indeed, Laguna’s rich history as a surfing mecca often intertwines with its artistic roots. For years, surfer artists have designed T-shirts for the Brooks Street contest, and some surf shops in town have looked to local artistic talent to decorate their walls and design their products.
“Local artists do art for our T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts,” says Nick Cocores, owner of Thalia Surf Shop. “We sometimes work with [Laguna College of Art & Design] in the canyon to design T-shirts, and a small percentage of the proceeds go back to the school. We opened to be a specialty shop, so we have a lot of private label and we really focus on trying to tell our own story.”
Laguna’s surf shops all have different stories to tell. Below, we’ve rounded them up, from A to Z. Of course, they all have a shared goal of helping people get into the water and connect with the ocean, as do the surfing instructors in town.
Billy Fried, founder of La Vida Laguna, which offers a wide variety of watersport lessons and tours, says the experience of surfing, paddleboarding or kayaking off Laguna’s coast is different every time because conditions including the light—and how it plays on the water—changes from day to day. “It’s just so stimulating and so beautiful,” he says. “… It makes you feel alive.”
Founded in the 1970s, Australia-based Billabong now has hundreds of stores and dealers throughout the world. Its Laguna Beach location, previously known as Second Reef Surf Shop, was recently remodeled. It showcases Billabong’s diverse Lab collection, which brings together inspirations of modern surf culture: artists, designers, musicians, surf icons and more. Lab curates and collaborates to create premium collections; the first highlighted renowned artist Andy Warhol. (949-715-7732; billabong.com)
Brawner Boards brings a long heritage of board building to Laguna Beach. Brawner is owned by Damian Brawner, who makes and sells a variety of boards for riding the waves. Board-building is in Damian’s blood—his father, Danny Brawner, began shaping boards in the 1950s and crafted them for the Hobie Alter brand for more than four decades. Brawner Boards also sells T-shirts and accessories, and offers rentals, and surf and stand-up paddleboarding lessons at Thalia Street Beach. Its Laguna Beach showroom is by appointment. There is also a shop in San Clemente. (949-480-7649; brawnerboards.com)
CA Surf N Paddle
At CA Surf N Paddle, Greenup builds custom surfboards and paddleboards, does repairs and provides board rentals and lessons. The full-service store, which opened in 1991, moved to its current location approximately five years ago. Greenup began shaping boards as a teenager in the 1980s and opened his first shop at the tip of Baja California in 1985. In addition to selling surfboards, paddleboards and skimboards, the store also provides apparel and accessories. Items like trucker hats, T-shirts, boardshorts and sunglasses round out the shop’s offerings.
When Greenup isn’t helping others choose their perfect board, his favorite place to hit the waves is Rockpile Beach. “That’s my home base, where I kind of grew up surfing,” he says. (949-497-1423; casurfnpaddle.com)
Catch Surf opened its doors in north Laguna earlier this year, selling surfboards, accessories and apparel. The company was founded as a surfboard manufacturer in 2007 by George Arzente, a transplant from New York who moved to Laguna to pursue the surf lifestyle. The company’s first boards were designed by industry legend Tom Morey, who grew up in Laguna Beach and invented the bodyboard in the early 1970s, and the surfboard line has grown from there. Catch Surf also sells its own men’s apparel line that includes hoodies, boardshorts, T-shirts, hats and more. (949-715-7828; catchsurf.com)
Hobie Surf Shop
Hobie Alter made his name in the industry as an inventor and entrepreneur. He started out making balsa wood boards in his garage and opened his first shop, Hobie Surfboards, in 1954 in Dana Point, later opening a store in Laguna Beach. Often credited for inventing polyurethane foam surfboards in the late 1950s, he later created Hobie Cat catamarans. He died in 2014 at the age of 80, but his surf shops still carry on the legacy of a man who was an integral part of the surf industry for decades. Hobie Surf Shop sells boards, accessories and men’s, women’s and kids’ clothes that highlight the surf lifestyle. (949-497-3304; hobiesurfshop.com)
Laguna Surf & Sport
The city’s oldest surf shop, Laguna Surf & Sport opened as a small, independent store in 1982, located in what was previously the Oak Street Surf Shop building. But then, in 2008, the landmark shop was purchased by Volcom, which owned it until last year, when shop founder Eric John came together with the manager and another partner to buy it back, bringing it under local ownership once again. The store sells surfboards, skateboards, accessories and a variety of surf-inspired clothing, including Volcom products. Throughout its history, it has been a strong sponsor of some of the world’s best surfers, and also offers surfing lessons. (949-497-7000; surfandsport.com)
Landmark Surf Co.
Landmark Surf Co. opened under its name in 2016. Previously a Rusty surfboard brand flagship store, Landmark calls itself a “contemporary surf shop that fuses our love for surf, music and fashion.” It carries a variety of men’s and women’s clothing brands to help dress and accessorize every surf aficionado. Its own brand includes T-shirts, flannels, boardshorts and more. You’ll also find organic skin care products for men and women, eco-friendly candles and watches at this shop. (949-494-8585; landmarksurf.com)
Founded as a boardshort-maker in Australia in 1969, Quiksilver grew exponentially over the years into the multibillion-dollar company it is today. In addition to its still-popular boardshorts, the brand offers everything from surfboards and snowboards to clothing, accessories and more. It sponsors surfers and other board-riding athletes, and is a major name on the professional surfing circuit. Quiksilver has hundreds of stores throughout the world, including its local Laguna Beach location. (949-376-0245; quiksilver.com)
RWorld Surf & Skate
Enter RWorld Surf & Skate and you’ll see a great example of a store where art and the surfing vibe meet. Founded by Clay Huntington, who owns and runs a surfboard manufacturing factory in San Clemente, the shop features a mural made from a photo of the factory floor. RWorld sells surfboards, skateboards, clothing, ocean-inspired art and exclusive jewelry designed by Huntington’s wife, Kristen. In fact, the entire family is involved with the business. In addition to Clay and Kristen, the Huntington children work in designing products and managing the board-riding teams. (949-715-8953; rworldsurfing.com)
Australian company Rip Curl started as a surfboard-maker in 1969. Shortly after, it began making wetsuits. Today the company, which is a major sponsor of athletes and surfing competitions, sells a large variety of wetsuits for men, women and kids. Its clothing line includes everything from boardshorts to bikinis and fleece to flip-flops. Rip Curl also specializes in waterproof watches that seamlessly go from sand to sea. (949-715-4885; ripcurl.com)
Thalia Surf Shop
Founded in 2001, Thalia Surf Shop specializes in offering small and independent brands to the surfing community. It carries hard-to-find surfboards, vintage clothing, Japanese wetsuits and other unique items. Artwork—including from local artists—music, books, magazines and vintage pieces that fit the flavor of the store, can also be found. Thalia also offers private and group surfing lessons. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cocores’ favorite surf spot is his store’s namesake, Thalia Street Beach. (949-497-3292; thaliasurf.com)
Toes on the Nose
Toes on the Nose began its story with clothes designed by surfers for surfers. Today, it is still honors its surfing roots, but also carries clothing that nods to the overall casual Southern California lifestyle. It features a men’s collection that includes hats, boardshorts, walk shorts, performance wear, outerwear and accessories. Women will find a variety of apparel like hoodies, T-shirts, tank tops, shorts and more. The kids’ collection includes hats, T-shirts and boardshorts. (949-494-4988; toesonthenose.com)
Founded in 1976, Victoria Skimboards, located in Laguna Canyon, manufactures and sells boards suitable for everyone from beginners to pros. Victoria sponsors a team of some of the world’s best skimboarders and this year will hold its 41st annual skimboarding contest, The Vic, which happens at Aliso Beach. In addition to its well-known skimboards, Victoria sells logo tees and accessories like travel bags and wax. To help ensure future generations of skimboarders, Victoria offers private and group lessons. Skimboarding summer camps for kids will be taught by professional and amateur riders this summer. (949-494-0059; ocean.victoriaskimboards.com)
• Editor’s note: This story has been edited from the print version, updating with the fact that Laguna Surf & Sport is now under local ownership once again, after founder Eric John and his partners bought the shop back from Volcom last year.
More Resources for Laguna Watersports
Bliss Paddle Yoga: paddleboard rentals as well as lessons and tours, including yoga atop a paddleboard (949-529-4242; blisspaddleyoga.com)
SUP to You: paddleboard rentals delivered to you (949-715-7300; suptoyou.com)
California Surf Experience (949-532- 7277; californiasurfexperience.com)
Dan Surf (949-395-8517; dansurf.com)
Soul Surf (949-637-0463; soulsurfingschool.com)
Goff Tours: rentals, surf lessons, standup paddleboard lessons and tours (949- 715-4120; gofftours.com)