Throw a rock in San Diego, and you're bound to hit a surf shop. While our city has no shortage of destinations to buy surf wear and surfboards, not many of those locations can honestly say they have stayed true to the roots of being a real surf shop.
Many shops at the beach have traded in their surfboard area for racks of trendy T-shirts and beach accessories that cater to the wandering tourist rather than the local beach enthusiast. The malls are filled with impostor shops that hire people who have no idea about the items they are selling or what kind of surfboard will work best for you. In many ways, the image has surpassed the substance of what makes surfing so special and unique.
But there are a few last bastions of surfer-owned shops that still smell of surf wax and have the latest surf movie playing on the TV behind the counter.
What has changed through the years is that these "hard-core" shops have learned that customer service is the pinnacle of success, and they have to put the "special" back into specialty retailing if they intend to gain and retain customers.
Clairemont Surf Shop is one of those special retailers that get it right every time. The small shop opened in 1976 in the heart of Clairemont on Balboa Avenue.
At the time, Clairemont seemed a long way from the beaches, and many locals thought the concept didn't make sense. Maybe those naysayers didn't understand that 90 percent of San Diegans can't afford to live on our gorgeous coastal strip and often choose to avoid the crowded beach areas when choosing a shopping destination.
Catering to this audience worked well for owner Steve O'Connell when he opened the store 40 years ago, and it works well now for his son, Dan O'Connell, who currently runs the shop alongside his father.
The store has a fresh remodel and looks as good as any surf shop operating in the city. It is packed with surfboards for people of any skill level, and the owners and staff members pride themselves on helping customers find the right board for their experience and ability.
Besides the surfboard area, the shop has departments featuring skateboards, women's and men's beach attire, and a wetsuit selection that will make your jaw drop.
"Our customers are as much a part of our success as our staff," Dan O'Connell said. "They've been very loyal to us, and that's what has kept us moving forward all these years."
It's refreshing to see a shop that puts the customer first in this day and age of employee turnover and fading customer service. If you have wanted to check out a real surf shop but were intimidated or didn't know where to start, discover Clairemont Surf Shop. You won't be disappointed.
As a lifelong San Diegan, Ken Lewis has surfing and ocean life in his DNA. A 30-year surfer, Lewis has worked in the surf and skate industry for most of his career. Send him thoughts about the surfing and fitness worlds to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Instagram @hanger18.