Why you should care
Because surfing zaps stress and is a great workout.
It was the last Saturday of summer, and I headed to Santa Cruz to get in a few hours of surfing before the warm California weather began its descent into the 70s. By 9, I was stuffed into my wet suit and trekking out to the water’s edge. What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Bodies. And boards. Everywhere. I hesitate to call them surfers, because there was very little surfing going on, but the shoreline was swarming with people trying to catch waves. And more than a few were mounting blue-and-white pinstripe soft-tops etched with the Wavestorm logo — or “Costco specials.”
Surfing has gone mainstream, for many reasons, but accessibility is surely one of them. The Wavestorm, which Costco members can buy for $99, has opened up the sport to the bulk-bargain-buying masses. “It’s an impulse buy at the grocery store. Then you figure, Better go use it,” says lifelong surfer and Wavestorm evangelist Barry Green, who runs the Santa Cruz surf school Making the Drop. But it’s not just the financial barrier that this generic foam board has lifted. Surfing is hard. I do several other board sports and I still hardly got up my first few outings. I popped into warrior position immediately on the Wavestorm. It’s easier to paddle out on, plus it’s buoyant, stable and, as Green says, it at least “gives you a chance at catching a wave.”
Use your cruiser just four times and you’ve made the purchase worth it.
Sure, if you’re serious about riding the water, you’ll outgrow it pretty fast and want to upgrade to a legit hardtop that you can maneuver. After all, “you get what you pay for,” says Steve Boehne, owner of Infinity Surfboards in Southern California. But if it costs $25 to rent a board, use your Costco cruiser just four times and you’ve made the purchase worth it. Meanwhile, plenty of experienced surf studs still take out the Wavestorm simply because it’s fun to ride. Pro surfer Jamie O’Brien even rode it through the barrel at Pipeline. And when the humongous waves snap the flimsy board in half, no problem: It has a lifetime warranty.
Of course, the soft-top revolution has had a less-favorable ripple effect, too, as the big-box-store overlords wipe out the little guys. The same surf shops that sell pricey, handcrafted fiberglass models used to boost their bottom lines selling foamies and boogie boards. Families would come in for everything — boards, bathing suits, wet suits. Not anymore, says Boehne. Now, they go to the discount retailers. And the artisan shapers, glassers and sanders have no doubt also taken a hit. “Why does Costco have to step on everyone’s toes?” Boehne asks.