Owner Aaron Pai On The Epic New Huntington Surf & Sport
At the corner of Main & PCH stands one of Huntington Beach's most iconic surf shops, one that's been in business for nearly four decades. When entering the heart of HB, an enormous surfing graphic, sprawling sidewalk sale, or the bronze likeness of Duke Kahanamoku grabs your gaze and fixes it on the beloved storefront. Come May 25, the face and belly of Huntington Surf & Sport will look and feel like the elevated surf town we've become thanks to a multi-phase renovation.
A haven for surfers, HSS says it "will offer the largest inventory and best selection of hard goods in the entire surf industry" upon completion of its upgrade. The HSS revamp of its flagship store—there are three others in HB—sees new and refreshed partner exhibits, along with a stunning facelift and updated cafe. Featured in the new digs are a new main entrance, a massive new wetsuit room, an additional 3,000 square feet of space, a Channel Islands Surfboards showroom, a completely overhauled Volcom Store, and a high-tech Hurley digital merchandising headquarters that provides real-time reports on waves at local breaks plus current and future product offerings
"The Hurley/HSS partnership goes back a long time. Aaron Pai was the first retailer to support Hurley surfboards when my dad was shaping years ago. My father grew up surfing HB pier, and we are particularly passionate about HB and working with the Pai family.
The sport and culture of surfing is growing at a rapid rate. Viewership is up; participation is up. However, we feel the 'industry' hasn't fully connected these dots to serve the consumer better. Our opportunity at Hurley is to lead this industry and the consumer to a new place, connecting the best athletes, the best products, and the best services in a premium and seamless way.
Inside the Hurley store at HSS you will find more immersive storytelling on product, innovation, and everything you need to improve your experience in the water. The partnership and teamwork between the HSS team and the Hurley team has been amazing over the years, and we look forward to serving the consumer better collectively."
We caught up with owner Aaron Pai—the first HSS employee hired back in 1978—to find out what's on the horizon for HSS. In case you're unfamiliar with his story, Pai initially worked for $2.25 per hour selling wax, t-shirts, and surfboards until he borrowed $60,000 from his parents to buy the shop, molding HSS into a revered leader in the surf retail world.
1) Main & PCH: What has your vision always been for HSS, and what is your vision of its future?
Aaron Pai: Huntington Surf & Sport isn't just a business, it's a way of life, it's the surfing lifestyle. We work to put food on the table and to provide for our families. We love to surf whether it be in Fiji, Indonesia, or Huntington Beach. We know that we cannot be the "biggest" surf shop, but we do strive to be the best. (I say that humbly.) We are a family-run business, and my sons Trevor and Taylor, along with my youngest daughter Ashlyn, help run the business. They have been stepping up and working hard to keep the business running like a well-oiled machine. Surfing runs deep in our family roots. Trevor and Taylor are always surfing out in front of the store. They are all the future.
2) Why renovate?
To make it bigger and better! We have been planning for years on pushing out the storefronts, and finally on October 5, 2015, we started the project. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were renovating almost all of Huntington Surf & Sport.
3) Briefly walk us through the bad-ass upgrades and when we can expect them all to be complete.
We have added a Channel Islands Surfboards showroom, Hurley Store has been completely redone, Main Sales Floor has been completely redone and is still a little work in process, Volcom Store will be completely renovated, Java Point Coffee shop (within HSS) will be completely redone, and everything will be completed by our Grand Opening on May 25 of this year.
4) What does this renovation mean for locals?
We are homegrown, and we love our homegrown local guests. We hope they like the renovation, and we hope to make them a little more proud of our great city.
5) How does HSS approach curating its collections?
It's a family thing! Trevor, Taylor, Ashlyn, and I all pitch in. My wife Sher plays a huge role behind the scenes too.
6) What local surfboard shapers do you support in the shop?
Mark Pesce helps run our Boardroom, and Barry Vandermeulen does our ding repair—both local shapers. Today many of the other local shapers sell direct and not out of our boardroom. We do have some of the top surfboard manufacturers in the world here, like Channel Islands, Firewire, and Rusty to name a few.
7) You've aptly described the corner of Main & PCH (our favorite intersection!) as the "epicenter of the surfing world" and the "Times Square of surfing." Why do you know this statement to be true?
It's where all "the magic" happens! Huntington Beach sees some 15 million beach visitors every year. According to the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce, the intersection of Main and PCH is one of the busiest in Southern California. Some 50,000 cars pass by HSS each day, and pedestrian traffic nearly equals that. HB is also home to the world's largest professional surfing competitions since the 50s to present day. The best surfers in the world, from Duke Kahanamoku to Corky Carroll to Kelly Slater, have surfed our pier and walked through our intersection. Many of the icons of surf have HB roots: Robert August, David Nuuhiwa, and Bob Hurley to name a few. So much surfing history—past, present, and future—has happened and will happen right here at the corner of Main and PCH! Surfing trends start right here in our store. We have countless surf industry people visit our store from throughout the world to see what is trending in "surf." Every surf brand wants to be in Huntington Surf & Sport.
8) Where's your go-to HB surf spot?
For my sons Trevor and Taylor, southside of the pier is their favorite. I grew up as a boy surfing northside of the pier—that's been my favorite spot. Recently, I've been surfing Bolsa.
9) Is there anything else you want readers to know about you or HSS?
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, moved to California at the age of one, and caught my first wave at the age of 12 on the northside of our HB Pier. All of my family has surfed and does surf. We live and breathe Huntington. We love this town and all the people in it. We believe that surfers-owned surf shops are the best, and we are surfer-owned. We are committed to quality, customer service, and the community—always a pleasure to serve you.