Best Surf Shops

Don’t be caught board short. Those lines on the horizon might be the next big swell

Photograph by flickr/satoru

Yeah, we know it was a crummy winter for waves, with a dearth of the usual storm-borne overhead sets. Get over it. You have plenty of time to scout boards and try out the newest open-front, liquid-seamed wet suits before the first pineapple express (hopefully) rolls in from the islands this fall. There are many surf shops out there, some good for a cheap leash or wax, others more skate than surf, some just a place for bikinis and trunks. Here are a select few that offer the whole package: great boards, wet suits, and gear.

Pacific Nation
The staff at ZJ Boarding House in Santa Monica is happy to brainstorm on how to procure a board with an eco-friendly laminate or customize a wet suit for insanely cold conditions—like the hooded five-millimeter number we saw leave the shop with a surfer headed for Norway. A passion for the ocean, a mere two blocks away, runs deep here. In addition to boards from Channel Islands (Santa Barbara), Lost (Irvine), and JS (Australia), there’s a profusion of Xcel and Quiksilver wet suits. As for clothing, one section is dedicated to dressing like SoCal’s own Dane Reynolds and another to the stylings of Volcom, now owned by the French design house behind Gucci and Bottega Veneta. Or you can stroll to the tried-and-true Billabong and Hurley outlets next door. » 2619 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-392-5646.

Shell Company
Between the exposed-wood interior and its location in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood, Mollusk Surf Shop looks like a Venice boutique. But the board selection is serious stuff, from the eggs by Gary Hanel to the pigs by Marc Andreini to the stokers by Bruce Fowler, with demo boards of Fowler’s latest designs available for daylong use. This is the only shop in L.A. County that sells the environmentally sensitive Patagonia wet suits—pricey but with ironclad warranties (we’re waiting for warmer weather to try the two-millimeter version). Mollusk also stocks the superflexible Nineplus wet suits, made from high-tech Japanese rubber and coated with a finish that acts like a windbreaker. This Southern California outpost of the San Francisco mothership carries the Mollusk line of tees, which sport graceful renderings of pelicans, sea urchins, and anemones. You can also feel the Bay Area influence in the wide array of surf books and DVDs. » 1600 Pacific Ave., Venice, 310-396-1969.

Wide Web
Go to the Pacific Coast Highway site of Spyderboards, the Hermosa Beach mainstay, for the equipment and to the pier spot, Spyder II, to acquire surfer ensembles. The pier location has the best range of beach footwear we’ve found, with textile-diverse slip-ons from Sanuk, Toms, and Reef in everything from poncho stripes to plaids. The mezzanine is awash in sandals, including the hard-to-find, impossible-to-destroy designs from Scott Hawaii, which invented rubber slippers in the 1930s. We also spied Volcom dresses and bags we saw nowhere else and a sweet selection of kids’ clothes. At Spyderboards the staff question you on where and how well you surf, data they enter on the custom-order form sent to the secret workshop where pioneer shaper Dennis Jarvis still makes his boards. » Spyderboards: 2461 Pacific Coast Hwy., Hermosa Beach, 310-374-8276 or Spyder II: 65 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, 310-374-2494.

Twin Peaks
The Becker empire is shrinking a smidge: The Encinitas store recently closed, and the inventory is on sale at a temporary annex next to the Malibu location. But both the Hermosa Beach and Malibu shops, named for the creations of master shaper Phil Becker, are going strong. The former favors the shortboards perfect for the crazy-fast South Bay waves, while the latter stocks plenty of longboards capable of maneuvering the Malibu point breaks. Each store has racks galore of the beach wear of choice: blouses, skirts, and hooded sweaters by RVCA, Element, Billabong, and Volcom. » 301 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, 310-372-6554 and 23755 W. Malibu Rd., Malibu, 310-456-7155.

Story Boards
You don’t drop into historic Zuma Jay for the boards—Jefferson “Jay” Wagner has been too busy running the City of Malibu, first as mayor and then as a city council member, to crank many out. You come for rock-bottom prices on the O’Neill wet suits that line two walls of the low-slung space. The inexpensive board and wet suit rentals also come in handy, should you have a cousin from Cincinnati eager to experience famed Surfrider Beach. You’ll also love getting the scoop, laced with Wagner’s salty critiques, on the latest Malibu controversy, which happens to be the dredging of the nearby lagoon. » 22775 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, 310-456-8044.