Shop: Buell Surf Shop
Location: Santa Cruz
Years in business: 2.5
Interviewee: Duke Brouwer
Job Title: VP Sales & Marketing
BTR: What are some of your earliest memories of surf shops?
DB: We’ll I grew up a “valley”, living on the border of Oakland and had to drive an hour to Santa Cruz to surf the Point as a kid. I got my first board from the nice folks at Freeline Surf Shop when I was 15 years-old which was owned (and still is) by the Mel family. They were super nice and were very helpful in guiding me in the right direction whether it was where to surf or the ideal board for me. But to me the coolest surf shop back then was Portola Surf Shop which was owned by Mike Locotelli. Mike was both the coolest person that I’d ever met and one of the most intimidating. I think he heckled every grom who walked through the door. Me being from “over the hill” I was an easy target for Loco’s sharp wit. Ironically much later in life Loco opened the door to my career on the wholesale side of the Action Sports industry. He contacted Cindi (Ferreira) Busenhart and Joel Gomez at Sessions and suggested they hire me as their Nor Cal sales rep. I’m forever indebted to Loco for believing in me and using his influence to get me a job in the industry.
BTR: You worked for Gordon & Smith, Local Motion (Maui), Truckee Boardworks, and Sessions Skate Shop, then owned Momentum Board Shop from 1999 – 03. What did you learn from all those retailers that still holds true today?
DB: I learned the value of authenticity and credibility. And how valuable those traits are to customers. At all of the shops named above, every employee on staff lived it! We all surfed, skated and/or snowboarded. Every day! Before and after work. On our days off all we did was surf, skate or snowboard! And if we weren’t actively doing it we were pouring through magazines reading articles and checking out the latest photos (which were released to the public roughly 30-45 days after the photos were taken) or watching surf/skate/snow videos, because we loved what we did and had a deep passion for riding waves, ramps and slopes! So if someone came into one of those shops interested in the latest surfboard design, wanted to know the difference between the ABEC ratings on bearings or wanted to know why their snowboard pulled hard to the left in the flats, we had the answers they were looking for.
At Momentum Board Shop, my wife & I owned that shop for three years until we folded not long after 911. Our shop was pretty much a community rec center! There was a middle school right around the corner and the groms would come over and hang at the shop every day after school. More often than not, I’d load a bunch of them up in my truck and we’d go for a surf before they had to go home and do homework. Or they’d knock out their homework in the shop then we’d go surf. We helped launch the Santa Cruz Scholastic Surf League as well. Momentum Board Shop was super involved with the local surf and skate scene. We had a pretty sick skate team! On any given day, one of our pro skaters would be in the shop putting together skate set-ups for the local helgies! The groms were always amped to talk skating with those guys.
Surf, Skate and Snow shops are the backbone of their local communities. The families in those communities need to recognize their extreme value and support those core shops! Even if they have to pay a little more or get off their couch to shop there!
BTR: Besides product, what makes the Buell Surf Shop different from the other surf shops in Santa Cruz?
DB: We are THE grom shop in Santa Cruz! Not only do we carry more grom gear than any other shop, we host lots of events for groms (JOB nite, Volcom Movie Night, Saturday With Jadson Andre, junior guard camps…). Plus we’ve created a really clean and warm surf shop environment. The store is spacious and we have a killer little “chill zone” where people can chill and watch live surf contests, JOB’s Vlog, or WSL re-plays. Not to mention that you never know who you’ll run into at Buell Surf Shop! On any given day you could cross paths with local legends like Tazzy, Ratboy, Nelly, or Austin Smith-Ford or bump into world-class surfers such as Jamie O’Brien, Jaddy, Keely Andrew, Nate Yeomans, or Sage Erickson. And Buell himself is always around to entertain whoever is hanging out in the shop or answer any burning wetsuit questions…
BTR: The last year for Buell has been amazing. You signed, Sage Erickson, Kalani David, Ratboy, and Travis Payne, to join J.O.B on the Buell team. You gave lucky winners wetsuits for life and Buell is more visible in the stores then ever. What made 2019 the year Buell hit the world stage?
DB: I think our 2019 success has been due to the collaborative efforts of our sales team working along side our marketing guys. Signing Jamie O’Brien was crazy! JOB and Ryan Buell were made for each other! They both look at life from the fun side. Buell tries to make everything fun and doesn’t take himself or our brand too seriously. JOB has obviously taken the same approach to his career. While Jamie has helped us get the word out about Buell Wetsuits and Surf through his VLOG and social media, our over-all team, which includes WSL pros as well as local regional rippers all over the globe, has really helped us grow along the beaches of every surf town on the planet! And surf shops really appreciate our “direct to surf shop” sales strategy! We have an online store but we don’t push it or offer any online discounts or annual sales promotions. We let our surf shop partners handle that stuff for us. We really appreciate the surf shops who have made space in their wetsuit rooms for Buell and don’t want to burn them by offering discounts or online promo codes etc. Buell is only as good as the core surf shops who are selling our suits! If core shops like Proof Lab, Cleanline, Nor Cal, CCS, HSS, Surf Ride, Sunrise, Unsound, Bunger, Hi-Tech, Surf N Sea, Jacks, Hanalei Surf Co., Ohana Surf Shop and others weren’t carrying Buell and psyched on our brand, we would be done! Or would have to turn into a DTC brand like some of the other wetsuit companies have done or are pretty much doing despite saying their support core retailers…
BTR: What should we watch for from Buell in 2020?
DB: We’ll our fearless leader, MC Buell has been working closely with our team riders and a few of the surf shops that we work with to develop some new wetsuit designs. We’ll launch those in Spring & Fall 2020. And of course he’ll be focused on fun with more uniquely entertaining content for neoprene-nerds and lovers of all things surf!
BTR: Surf Shops are full of interesting characters. What is the most interesting thing you have witnessed at a surf shop?
DB: That’s a tough one mainly because I have a terrible memory. While I was at G&S, I shared a house in PB with three other guys. Two of us worked at G&S, and one guy, Spencer Reemlin, worked at Breakers Surf Shop. And Charlie Rick unofficially lived with us and worked at Liquid Foundation Surf Shop. When it was slow at the shop, we used do all kinds of stuff to keep ourselves entertained. For example, we would order a bunch of pizzas and have them delivered to Breakers. When they arrived, Spencer would tell the pizza guy that he blew it, the pizzas were supposed to go to Liquid Foundation. We would mess with each other constantly, from the pizza deliveries to prank calls to strategically putting G&S stickers in conspicuous places in and around Breakers and vise-versa. We were consumed with ways we could sabo each other. Spencer was pretty much the master prankster though. Dude had a weird sense of humor and we all loved him for it.
During Desert Storm, the US was on high alert for the threat of terrorism. One day the surf was really, really good, we had surfed all morning before work and were super bummed to have to go in and open the store. It was really slow at the shop so we were thinking of ways to keep ourselves entertained. We came up with the bright idea to call up to our warehouse and told whoever answered the phone (in a creepy terrorist voice) “There is a bomb in the building” and hung up. We laughed about it for a few minutes and about 10 minutes later got a call from the warehouse to close the store due to terrorist threat. At first we were bummed and thought about calling to let them know that it was us but we were too scared to come clean. So we got to surf out the rest of that day. We did feel really bad though. We didn’t think they were going to call and have us close the store…
There were so many fun and crazy things that went on at all of those shops! I have a terrible memory unfortunately and don’t really remember what all went down. I’m sure if asked Spencer or Debbie Gordon they’d have some good intel from the G&S days. And Tom Miyao will definitely have some good ones from our time at Local Motion. That brown bugga is one of the most classic humans I’ve ever met. He left Local Motion to work as the team manager at Black Label. Such a legend!
ENJOY MORE PHOTOS BELOW FROM DUKE’S HISTORY