Doylestown, PA isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of Surf Cities but in reality it’s only a little over an hour from the nearest break. Chris Blackway of Nomad Supply Co recognized a growing surf community and decided it needed a local shop to call its own. This week we catch up with Chris to learn about the shop and the community around it.
BTR: Let’s start in the beginning. What inspired you to open Nomad Supply Co?
CB: Nomad has been a goal of mine since I graduated high school over 20yrs ago. I was surfing and skating and just always wanted to create a shop centered around community and my passion for the lifestyle. For one reason or another I could never pull the trigger to make it happen and then in April of 2019 I lost my job and after looking around for a new one I decided it was time to do it on my own. I had nothing to lose and I knew that I could make it succeed. I’ve been in the retail world in different capacities for my whole life so this was not foreign territory for me. Thankfully, over all the years I’ve made some pretty incredible friends and contacts and when it came time to create the shop I reached out to all of them and utilized them for their talents and knowledge. It’s been a pretty surreal experience so far and I wouldn’t change a thing.
BTR: You’re located in Doylestown, which is just outside of Philly. Skateboards are a major part of your business but you also sell Surfboards. How is the surf community in your part of Philadelphia?
CB: The skate business is definitely the driving category behind the shop, but there is a really strong community of people who surf or just love the beach and the culture around it. When people hear that there are surfers in PA the response is usually “where do you even surf?”, but what they don’t realize is that we are only 1:15 to 1:30hrs away from really decent beach breaks. I mean, I’d love to be only 5 min away, but if you love something you make it work. I’ve met people who are born and raised in the Philly area who travel abroad just as regularly as anyone else who lives on the coast. This is still Philly though so we have our share of “summer surfers” who live at the beach for 3 months out of the year and ride foamies as their go to boards. What I appreciate about those surfers is that they are still moldable. They love the beach and the ocean, but they have never been fully exposed to what’s possible from surfing. When I get to talk travel and waves with them it definitely gets them stoked to get into surfing and the culture more and that will only help the shops and brands further down the road. When I opened the shop I really wanted to make sure that I focused on as many brands as possible from the East Coast who know our community and our surf scene. I brought in a shaper from New Jersey named Charles Mencel who has Charles Mencel Shape and Designs out of Monmouth County NJ. He’s shaping and glassing everything right out of Jersey and he knows these beaches and waves better than most people so his boards work really well. The first batch of boards I brought in sold within a few months so we’re going bigger and sticking to alternative shapes going forward.
As I get more established I’ll continue to look for emerging brands and makers coming out of the East that I can bring on and help grow. The Northeast has an important place in the surf community and I feel like if I can positively impact that image then I’ll have accomplished my goals.
BTR: We are seeing more and more girls skateboarding. Nomad Skate Supply Co just had its first Girls Skate event on Saturday, Oct 24th. Tell us about the event and will there be more? What inspired you to have a women’s skate event?
CB: Girls skateboarding is EXPLODING during this pandemic. When the shutdown first began back in March and we were able to reopen for curbside pickup I would have to estimate that 60% of my customers who were picking up skateboards for the first time were women. It was really encouraging that a new generation of skaters were coming up in the area. Since August it’s definitely flattened out a bit, but now I’m seeing more and more women and girls at the skateparks in the area. The Girls Skate night that we just held was totally inspired by my 3 daughters who tell me that they are nervous at the parks because of all of the boys. I want them to feel as comfortable as possible, but at the same time don’t want them to run away from feeling uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. I really want them to feel confident in their abilities and if that means they build that up by skating with other girls then that’s awesome. The goal should always be to help someone feel good about themselves and have fun doing it. I want my girls to show up at the park and be known for their smiles and their drive to be better skaters. I want them to inspire the boys and girls because in the end their all just skaters because they’re having fun. My inspiration for creating these events was through one of my shop ambassadors, Paige Pirolo, who is General Manager at an all girls surf school over in New Jersey called Pink Pineapple Surf Lessons. They’ve been holding Girl Skate Meetups for a while now and its really inspiring to see how many people show up. All of these kids are building each other up and inspiring others to start skating and surfing so it’s creating a rad diverse culture. We just scheduled a second event for later in November to end the season, but the YMCA and I are already planning events for 2021 so hopefully this is just the start to this movement in skating for our area.
BTR: It looks like you’re working hard to create a community around the shop. What does community mean to you?
CB: Community means everything to a small shop like mine, or any surf or skate shop. Community is what supports you and holds you up in hard times. I opened Nomad Supply in late November of 2019 completely unaware of what was going to happen in 2020. If I didn’t have my support group of neighbors and people on board with what we’re doing here then I probably wouldn’t have made it this long. We shut down for 3 months to in store shopping so that was really challenging. I was only open for 3 months before the shutdown so the following was still brand new and small. But, I went really hard on social media to make sure people didn’t forget about us and it worked. When I was developing the concept of the shop I really wanted to try and bring some of the West Coast vibes that are created by the better surf shops. I wanted to have movie nights with BBQ and music and just the chance to bring people together from the surf, skate and art world. The challenges of Covid changed that for this past year so that was a bummer, but lately we’ve been holding small pop-ups for local brands and artists and it gives you this feeling that things are ok even if they aren’t when you walk away from here. I just want to give people a place to escape and not think about all the stuff going on around us that we can’t control. I honestly can’t wait to get back to some sort of normal because we are going to go hard on events. For Nomad to work community has to be at the center of focus, always, and I don’t think we’ve lost that idea at all, just got a little sidetracked with surviving.
BTR: Nov 30th will officially be 1 year in business for Nomad Supply Co. How do you plan on celebrating?
CB: I still can’t believe it’s almost been a year! I’m still in the idea phase but I have some thoughts about how we can be socially responsible and still get people together. I’m lucky in the fact that the shop has space outside to have music and events so as long as we do it right, we’ll be fine and have some fun. I would stay on the lookout for some music, a movie or two, and some drinks. Definitely want to offer some promos on product and just say thank you to everyone who has helped in some way over the past year.
BTR: What advice do you have for the Surf Industry?
CB: Oh man, that’s a loaded question because I think we’re all trying to figure it out. For me, personally, it’s about selling the experience of surfing and then selling what the customer needs to have that experience. Sell the customer the vision of camping along the coast with a board and you’ll have a customer for life. Help the customer understand that the more we connect to other cultures then the more empathy we will have for our own communities and communities around the world. As surfers we live the Nomad lifestyle in a sense and that gives us a very powerful tool in the fight against xenophobia and ignorance. The surf industry needs to step up its game when it comes to positive image promotions for other countries.