It’s called “Kicking the tires.”

It generally means checking something out before you buy it. It’s a very superficial kind of research, specifically if you don’t know exactly what you’re researching.

Bare Wires team rider Jude Clark may get a deal on boards but he gets barrels like this. Photo: Courtesy of “Jersey” Mike Cassella

Surf shop owners and employees see it all the time: Surf consumers who drive them crazy while shopping for boards.

In general, shop managers, owners and employees want to set you in the right direction, no matter what your ability is. And with the shrinking retail landscape, they’re happy to talk with any customers who still visit a brick and mortar business. But just for fun, we chatted with a few of these retail workers from all over the country to pinpoint the most annoying things browsers and shoppers do. This is the stuff that they see over and over again. These are the guys you don’t want to be.

The Color Coordinator

Length, width, thickness, shape? All that matters to some shoppers is color. Photo: Courtesy of Used Surf

Used Surf in San Clemente is a gem of a shop, offering hundreds of affordable used surfboards at any given time. But because of the nature of the shop, they see a wide variety of customers – from tourists who have never stepped into the ocean to pros looking to offload used sticks.

“We could write a book about all the things we see and the questions we get,” laughs shop manager Kenny Lazarus. “But my favorite is the ‘color guy,’ He’ll pick out a board and then we’ll take him over to the fins and show him what’s right for his size, his weight and the board he just bought. But he wants fins that are the color that coordinates with his board. And the leash too. If he’s buying a fun shape, he wants a little comp leash because it matches the colors of the board and the fins.”

The Delusional

A fist time surfer at Haleiwa paddling out on the wrong board. You can’t see him. He’s stuck inside. Photo: Courtesy of Bethany/Flickr

Surfing was born in Hawaii and its reefs and bays still produce many of the best surfers in the world. But thousands of people who travel to Hawaii think it’s a good place to take up surfing for the first time. Like everywhere, Oahu sees a lot of first timers who want to buy a board that doesn’t match their ability level.

Clearly, this happens all over the world and everyone we spoke to mentions it to one degree or another. But Merv K at Hawaiian Island Creations on the North Shore has some of the best tales.

“You get a lot of guys who want a Ferrari, but they really need to start with a rowboat,” he tells ASN. “They come in and say, ‘Man, I want one of those sticks over there.’ And I tell them what they need is then longest, widest most stable board they can get. But they insist, ‘No I want that!’ And I will absolutely discourage them from buying a board that’s too small.”

He tells the story of one newbie who came into the shop and did just that. But this customer couldn’t be dissuaded.

“I told him it was a bad idea. But he bought the board. I sold him wax and trunks and all that. After work that day, I go for a surf at Haleiwa, and I see that guy. And all I can think is ‘Oh man. What’s gonna happen?’ Well, I stand there and I watch him start waxing the wrong side of the board. Then he walks down and I’m thinking he’s going to get hurt. Then he tries to paddle out and he couldn’t even stay on the board. He never made it past the first little line of whitewater,” Merv says in hysterics.

The Virtual Expert

Wave Riding Vehicles, Virginia Beach. These guys know a bit more about conditions than some liter chart online. Photo: Courtesy of LG Shaw

There’s a lot of information on the internet (and a lot of it is wrong).

There’s a whole lot of surfing and surf gear information online as well. Much of it is solid, but much of it is designed to simply direct traffic to an online retailer. A customer’s needs can never be fully understood by a generic chart. Just think of how different a size medium tee shirt is from one brand to another. And this is surfing, where every wave at every break is different every single day.

“Some of those online charts are great when you use them as a starting point and go from there based on local conditions and knowledge,” explains LG Shaw of Wave Riding Vehicles (He spent years slinging boards on the North Shore and now runs the show at the WRV Virginia Beach flagship shop). “But when they come into the shop thinking that some article they read from a guy in Australia is going to be able to help them decide on the best board for their spot, it can be a little difficult to reason with those folks.”

Think of how the waves change at your local break from day or day or how different a reef breaks from a sandbar. Now consider how much your wetsuit weighs. The variables are endless.

Shop employees who surf locally are the best way to translate your online research to practical decisions.

“A lot of guys will take the volume charts that are out there as Biblical verse! Those are the best calculations that different shapers have come up with,” he continues. “It doesn’t mean you have to ride those exact numbers or hell will freeze over. The other thing is that the volume the shapers write on their boards are the computer’s calculations of the finished board. If the shaper takes an extra pass, or puts in more concave that number can shift from the CAD [Computer Aided Design]. So it’s ok if the board is off a liter, or even two. Sometimes those boards that are a little off end up being the best board that person ever rode.”

The “Can I Get a Deal, Bro?” Bro

Hand-shaped surfboards made in the U.S. have a famously low profit margin. Photo: Courtesy of Holloway

“They always freaking ask if they can get a deal,” Adam Holloway, co-owner of Bare Wires Surf Shop in Spring Lake, New Jersey tells ASN. It’s a family owned shop that focuses on the core surfer, open seven days a week, year-round.

Anyone who has been around the surf industry for any amount of time knows that retailers don’t make any money on surfboards. The profit margins are famously low. Shops depend on apparel sales to make their money. Surfboards are a huge investment with a minimal return. But you have to have surfboards or you’re not a surf shop, and being a core shop is necessary to move that apparel. (Otherwise, you’re just a department store with a good selection of boardshorts.)

“Boards are only marked up $100 to $150. It costs me $590 to make $100 at best,” continues Holloway. “And everyone wants a deal. They’re making more money than I am and they always want a discount.”

And Holloway feels it’s even tougher on most shapers.

“I feel for those guys. The margins are so low and they can’t afford marketing and big names riding their boards,” he says. “They make quality boards but they can’t give away 40 boards a year for free to a team rider. There are a couple of big name manufacturers just jamming boards down everyone’s throats. How many new models do they need to make a year? I don’t care if it’s the new Mackrel model or Pig Slammer. Just give me a thruster, a tube board and a groveler. If customers actually knew what the materials cost and what the markup was, I wonder if they would still ask for a deal.”

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