Rip Curl Surf Center Reopens

About 75 people — respectfully quiet — stood in a circle in the parking lot of the new Rip Curl Surf Center this morning in San Clemente. In the center of the circle, a young Hawai’ian girl sang a song of pomaika’i — good luck — for the new 4,500 square-foot store, which reopened today after ten months of rennovation.

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Gone is the slightly mungy, comfortable-as-an-old-shoe shop that served as a South San Clemente landmark for more than twenty years. Gone is the ratty couch where countless groms watched videos after pushing their bikes up the hill from nearby Trestles. In its place is a wonderfully slick retail environment, which is both upscale and comfortable.

“I would like to begin by thanking everyone who had the faith and confidence in helping us achieve our dream,” said Leigh Tonai, president of Rip Curl U.S.A, at the reopening.”The dream of creating a landmark surf shop right here in San Clemente, home to the best surf in Southern California. A dream to create a shop that captured the essence of surfing. A dream to create a surf shop that embodies the surfing spirit of Rip Curl.”

“Rip Curl’s home has always been San Clemente,” continued Tonai. “We feel our responsibility goes beyond putting up the nicest surf shop in the U.S.A. Afterall, a building is only made up of concrete, steel, and glass. As part of the community we need to keep our oceans and beaches clean and accessible. As part of the community we want to provid income opportunities for the youth in the area. As part of the community, we want to create an environment that surfers can feel comfortable in. I hope our staff will respect and appreciate the opportunity to make this shop the best surf shop in the U.S.”

Store Manager Isaac Kirkpatrick says the store was modeled exactly like the flagship store in Torquay, Australia — Rip Curl International’s headquarters. Rip Curl, which has four shops in Australia and shops in Europe, is considering increasing its retail presence in the United States. If the look of those stores is similar to the new Trestles location, the brand is likely to encounter success.

Tonai (who read his comments from a prepared page, “so no pidgin can slip in”) spoke from the wood-floor staircase that overlooks the bottom floor while surrounded by the retail employees of the shop.

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Up the stairs is a wide selection of surfboards — Hamish, Surf Prescriptions, Channel Islands, Xanadu, Rusty, HIC, JC, and Hogan are all on display. A computer kiosk provides surf forecasts, information about the shop’s products, and live images from area surf spots. A few steps away, a flat-screen TV is playing a video (although the old, ripe-smelling couch is nowhere to be found). The upstairs loft also contains a selection of wetsuits: rash guards, spring suits, steamers — the works. Not surprisingly, your selection of wetsuit brands is limited to Rip Curl.

What is surprising, however, is the egalitarian treatment Rip Curl gives rival apparel brands on the main floor. Walk in through the front doors and make a quick left and the first thing you’ll hit is Volcom clothing. Rusty, Stüssy, Ambiguous, Quiksilver, Billabong, Lost, Hurley, MCD, Tavarua, and others can also be found on the custom rolling displays that comprise the men’s department. The story is similar in the juniors area.

Rip Curl apparel is there too, but is mostly along the back wall. “We don’t want to freeze any of the competition out,” says Tonai, when asked about the high-profile treatment of rival brands. “We just want to make sure Rip Curl comes out on top.” However, he quickly ads that Rip Curl’s presence in the apparel department will be beefed up in the coming weeks.

Most of the crowd on hand this morning was there to simply wish Rip Curl luck, eat the spread of pupus, schmooze, and listen to the mellow Hawai’ian band playing music near the shop’s tall front windows. But young Brian Adams wasn’t. Within ten minutes of the store opening, Adams and his mother were at the cash register, ready to make the newly opened shop’s first purchase — a $26.95 rash guard and a $9.95 key chain.

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Adam’s purchase seemed an auspicious start for the relaunch. The old store’s rough edges are gone, smoothed over by tasteful wood floors and built-in display cases housing accessories, videos, and watches. The racks of moldering used wetsuits are gone as well. But after ten months of construction, countless headaches, inspections, and planning committee meetings, Rip Curl finally has an amazing new store, and is once again front and center at Trestles.