Everyone on the North Shore knows the iconic yellow building neighboring Haleiwa’s “Rainbow Bridge.” And for good reason. Originally a 1920’s general store stocked with dry goods and fishing supplies, the Surf N Sea officially earned its stripes as a sporting goods store in the mid-1960s. After surviving a few tsunamis, and a couple rounds changing hands, the Surf N Sea found its lifetime partner and current owner, Joe Green.
Joe had moved from Florida to chase Oahu’s best waves, picking up odd jobs and selling surfboards at swap meets to keep the dream alive. When his path crossed with the owners of the old yellow building, his swap meet sales transformed into a full-time business.
Fast forward 50 years, and the Surf N Sea is a ripping family business, offering tourists and locals alike everything from surfboards and beach gear to surf lessons, SUP rentals, fishing charters and scuba trips. We sat down with Mari Green, a manager at Surf N Sea, and one of the daughters of its legendary owner, to talk about the company’s history, it’s challenges and well, lunch. You can’t beat a suggestion from a local.
As it turns out, operating out of a historic building like the Surf N Sea can really transform the game. Mari admits some of their biggest challenges are simply the upkeep of the building and maintaining the business’ authentic feel, “not turning it into something that it’s not.” Especially in the ever evolving surf industry, there’s always the pressure to modernize. They do their best to both keep up with trends and stick to their roots.
And they’ve done an incredible job with it. The shop carries more than just the latest in neoprene and board design. All the modern surf gear sits side-by-side with Joe’s collection of antique surfboards, a nod to the days when he was just a swap meet salesmen. He even has Duke Kahanamoku’s last ridden surfboard, still fitted with the original wax.
Balancing heritage with business is no simple task, but for the Greens, it’s been a long perfected art. In fact, the shop just hit the coveted milestone of 50 years in continual business, being recognized by SIMA as Hawaii’s longest running surf shop. Which is a huge honor, considering it’s the shops and surfers of the time that pioneered the thriving surf culture of today.
So besides the passionate team and iconic history, what’s their secret sauce? Surf N Sea doesn’t settle for anything less than perfect when it comes to customer service. They’ve built top-notch service into their personal sales system, even going to the extent of giving all new hires a 134-question test about their selling model. No pressure sales, a laid back atmosphere and knowledgeable guidance are all part of the master plan. We’re impressed.
If you’re ever on the North Shore, make a point to stop by and check out the gear, the history and the good vibes at the Surf N Sea. Whether you pop in to scope Joe’s antiques or join them for a surf lesson, it’s a Haleiwa must-do. And when you’re done, be sure to give Waialua Bakery, Mari’s favorite lunch spot, a try. We can attest, it’s the recipe for an epic day.