In August, when I first heard about a surf shop in Downtown Oakland, I thought I might've misheard. You mean Mollusk in San Francisco, right? No. Oakland. As Max Klineman, co-owner of Oakland Surf Club, explained to me, circumstances make it so surfers aren't just living in sleepy beach communities dotting the coast; they live everywhere. Of course. But what's the deal with this surf club? I stopped by the new-ish shop, located at 337 14th Street, to talk to Max and his wife/co-owner Ari Serrano-Embree, to find out more.
Max (with baby Coco), Jihaari, and Ari
Oakland Surf Club opened in July, in a storefront of a beautiful green art deco building. To be clear, it's not an actual club for board-carrying members, but it is a hub of sorts for people interested in surf and skate lifestyle and culture. So you can pick up a Mangiagli board and some Sex Wax, but you can also get some well-designed, laid-back duds; buy a few records, zines, and magazines; check out an art or rock show upstairs in the gallery; or just come by to shoot the shit with Ari and Max. Really, they encourage it.
The couple live in East Oakland, in the same house that Ari grew up in, with four generations of her family, six dogs, four chickens, and their two-month-old daughter. Needless to say, they've got a lot of Oakland pride. Ari told me that they opened the store downtown because they wanted to be in the heart of the city, where it still "feels like Oakland." As a woman of color who's originally from the city, she's interested in the shop being a part of, and strengthening, the existing community. Both Max and Ari realize that new places like theirs are great for bringing in people to the area, but they don't want to displace or ignore the older neighboring businesses. They were really sad to see Jesso's, a nearby catfish joint, shut its doors, and were concerned when the flower shop across the way almost went out of business (luckily, the florist was able to make it).
Art in OSC's upstairs gallery by LEAF
But being in an area that's not yet known as a shopping destination isn't always easy. Lots of folks stumble upon the Oakland Surf Club on their way to and from work, or at other times when they're not really prepared to throw down some serious cash. Still, people have been coming to the shop, finding out about it by word of mouth, by going to their events, or on Instagram. And unlike my childhood neighborhood skate/surf shop, OSC isn't just a stomping grounds for cool (boy) teens to get their skate gear and talk shop, it's a place where people of all ages and cultures can hang and find something they'll dig. I picked up an awesome shirt from Loup (a NY designer) and a tote bag featuring an illustration by Oakland artist Paul Solis, who lives nearby.
One of two tote bag designs by Paul Solis
This is the first business the couple has owned. Before opening the shop, Max was a teacher in North Oakland, but he's not exactly a newcomer to the biz – he worked at RVCA in SF, cut his teeth working retail at surf shops in Southern California, and his family is in the clothing industry. But Oakland Surf Shop is more meaningful to Max and Ari because it's a place where they can work with people they know, support artists they like, and carry products they love. "It's really fun," Max said, "We get to pick our favorite stuff."
When I asked the couple what's next for OSC, Ari told me that they may actually live up to the club aspect of their name. They're hoping to start Sunday Surf Day, where they'll take kids from the neighborhood out to the beach to learn how to surf. There's already a pretty big skate community of color in Oakland, kids "who are rippers on skateboards," as Max put it, but so many of them have never been to the ocean. Ari and Max wanna change that. They also want to live up to being a club by expanding their presence, so that people know that their shop is a place they can come in and have a conversation.
And just your luck, there are two events happening at Oakland Surf this weekend so you can do just that. On Friday, Nov. 16, from 7-10 p.m. San Francisco bands Swells and Tidelands are playing a free show in the upstairs gallery. Then on Saturday, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. L.A. designer Popomomo, who can only be found in Oakland at OSC, is having a trunk show.
And, if you wanna shop local after T-Day, go to Oakland Surf Club on Plaid Friday, Oaklandish's independent business shopping event happening on Nov. 23.