Pablo Smith rides his bike to work, located a few blocks from his home in Pacific Beach, only stopping to check the surf before he opens his skate shop.
It’s the lifestyle that many dream about: living by the beach and having the good fortune to make a career out of your passions. But there was a time when life wasn’t so easy and the dream was yet to reveal itself to Smith.
Now in his 60s, Smith recalls how following his big brother to the swap meet in 1973 changed his path in life.
“My brother was darn near a larcenist when it came to buying and selling at the swap meet. Somehow he talked me into to driving him to Oceanside, buying him a booth space and then loaning him money,” Smith said with a laugh. “That was the first time I saw how people were making a living buying and selling stuff at the swap meet; it really opened up my eyes.”
A twist of fate moved Smith along his path when Larry Gordon gave him a job at G&S (Gordon & Smith was a huge global skateboard and surfboard company based in San Diego at the time, and is still in business).
Smith started by doing odd jobs in the warehouse and one day when he came across a bunch of used team skateboards and accessories, he had an idea.
Soul Grind Skate Shop
Address: 4645 Cass St., Pacific Beach
Phone: (858) 581-2486
He mentioned to Gordon that they should sell the gear at the swap meet, and Gordon said if Smith wanted to do that he could keep 50 percent of whatever he sold. That weekend Smith took home $300 cash, which was three times what he made every week. That’s when the lightbulb turned on.
Soon after, Smith bought his own booth space at the Spring Valley and Kobey’s swap meets, and with his connections in the skate and surf world he built up a business that helped buy a house and raise his three daughters while still finding time to surf before work.
To say Smith is a passionate surfer is an understatement. He surfed with his youngest daughter so much that she became a two-time world champion. In 1993 he decided to move away from the swap meet so he could be closer to home and the beach, and he opened Soul Grind skate shop just a few steps from the sand at Crystal Pier.
Now 23 years later, Soul Grind has just moved into a location on Cass and Emerald streets, across from the post office. The small shop has built a solid following of locals and tourists because of Smith’s easygoing nature and his diverse selection.
While Smith may have stopped going to the swap meet long ago, his connections with board suppliers remain intact and he has access to boards that other retailers can’t get. Because of those relationships, at his place you can find the lowest priced “blank” skateboard decks in the city.
While the small shop sells all types of skateboards, Smith was one of the first to embrace the longboard or “cruiser” type boards like Sector 9 and Carver.
His selection is second-to-none and his knowledge of all things skateboarding runs deep. It’s refreshing to see a San Diego native still in business in Pacific Beach. That’s a rare breed indeed.
Soul Grind will be having its grand opening from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday .
As a lifelong San Diegan, Ken Lewis has surfing and ocean life in his DNA. A 30-year surfer himself, 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.