Bustin’ Down Doors: Right Coast Resilience
Making a living in the surf industry has never been easy. It’s an insulated world of pros and bros with highly concentrated epicenters of industry (think Orange County and Australia). If you live in a place like Florida, your odds for success drop faster than the waves on the backside of a passing hurricane swell. Of course “living” is a relative term. Some associate it more closely with money; others with rich experience. To follow are the stories of three Floridians who haven’t let daunting odds prevent them from building their lives around surfing. Their common themes: equal parts courage, determination and more than anything else– a love for surfing that is all-consuming.
Brian Weissmann: Trident Surf Shop
Brian Weissmann Photo: Mark Sain Wilson
According to recent statistics, about half of all new businesses fail within the first 4 years. Retail stores sit just below that line with only 47% succeeding. And surf shops– well, let’s just say that if you want to jump into those waters, you’d better be a strong paddler, because from a business standpoint, you’re going to be fighting some seriously stiff currents.
Fortunately, Brian Weissmann is that.
The Palos Verdes native and former Lifeguard recently celebrated the first anniversary of his Trident Surf Shop in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL and seems to be cruising along just fine. Growing up near the beach in California, Weissmann was a self-proclaimed shop rat, who like most surfers at some point in their lives, dreamed of owning his own shop. Fast forward through an adventurous adolescence, careers as a lifeguard and a project manager for AT&T, and a broken marriage that pulled Brian eastward to Florida to be near his two middle-school aged children; and the dream finally became reality. But it wasn’t without overcoming some formidable challenges.
Most important was finding the right location. Weissmann had become familiar with the surf scene in Ponte Vedra Beach following six years of visits to his in-laws. Northeast Florida is a hot bed for east coast surfing, with no less than 20 shops, including several well-established local players. Next, even if he had found the ideal location, Brian knew that he would next be faced with trying to get access to desirable product lines. Reps for some of the larger, more well-known brands are notorious for not selling their lines to newbies for fear of repercussions from established clients– at least not without demanding huge minimums that can quickly sink a new business or leave them dedicating their entire store to just 1 or 2 brands. Finally, Brian knew he’d have to distinguish himself from the competition in some sort of significant way.
The last hurdle was the least of Brian’s concerns. The independent-minded Weissmann had never envisioned his shop being like anyone else’s. His original idea for the business was actually a “Surf and Rescue” shop that would not only sell surf goods, but also state-of-the-art lifesaving equipment to individuals and organizations. Ultimately, research convinced him that markets weren’t large enough to support his concept. Still, even when his mind turned to a more conventional surf and skate business, it was anything but traditional.
Brian’s vision was of something larger– greater in presence and purpose. Something that would feed his clients’ appetites for escapism (think a Central American style shop with open rafters and an attached taco stand, steps from the surf); and one that could also bring the neighborhood together, like a YMCA or skate park. The only thing stopping Weissmann was securing that ideal location– the one he had identified in Ponte Vedra just a few hundred yeards from “Mickler’s, one of the area’s most popular public beach breaks.
For years, the spot had been home to a well-known restaurant and bar called the “Oar House”, where local surfers would stop for a game of pool and après surf refreshments. Eventually, the business, which snuggles up to the edges of an inland waterway and state park, closed– leaving behind a beautiful decades-old structure that oozes character on a spacious, rural lot. After several attempts at getting information from Realtors were ignored, Brian approached the landowner directly and shared his concept for the business. Trident Surf was born.
Today, Weismann’s’s vision is coalescing faster than a cup of UV-activated resin in the middle of July. Kids visit after school to hang with their friends and utilize several well-constructed skate ramps outside. Ocean breezes blow through open doors and visitors can sip on ice cold Jarritos, just like you’d savor in Mexico. And while you may not find Billabong or Quiksilver boardshorts in Weissmann’s shop, you will discover a treasure trove of hot new upstart brands that your friends aren’t wearing yet, as well as top-shelf surf, skate and SUP hard goods.
Nothing Weissmann does is anything like his competitors, and he’s never shy about promoting his own personal values (no drugs or alcohol), a comforting reassurance in the family-focused area he serves. Brian believes that all children should be able to enjoy a sense of adventure in their lives, just not the kind that leads to poor decision-making. Rather, the kind you might find out in the line-up, on a trip, or just hangin’ with your buddies at the local surf shop– an environment he’s working hard to perfect at Trident Surf.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally written for and published on TheInertia.com, surfing’s definitive online community. I later reposted it here on my personal blog.