CRRRRRRRRRR-FLAP. A skateboard careens down a low steel handrail anchored to the floor, flipping around 180 degrees the moment it lands. Its lanky rider, once grounded, resumes what he's come here to do -- shop for clothes.
SoCal board riders: Your mecca has arrived. Burton Snowboards has opened a jumbo West Coast flagship in collaboration with Channel Islands Surfboards. The cavernous space on Melrose Avenue looks like the downtown loft of some famous DJ -- concrete floors, sky-high ceilings, a set of turntables. But this action-sport emporium stocks all the gear you'd ever need to ride waves, powder or asphalt. And putting it to the test is encouraged: Along with two handrails to grind (one high, one low), there are also small plywood skate ramps scattered around. But what else would we expect from a company whose snowboarding team includes 2006 Olympics gold medalists Shaun White and Hannah Teter?
Not that you have to be a hard-core pipe-rider to appreciate the place. The store makes it easy to co-opt the slouchy street style of extreme-sports stars -- marked by hoodies (plaid is the pattern du jour), dark-and-loose denim, canvas car coats, and vintage-style sweaters and anoraks.
Half the store -- called Burton Snowboards and Channel Island Surfboards -- is dedicated to Burton boards, boots and apparel, and niche slope gear from company-owned brands including ANON Optics (goggles) and R.E.D. Impact Protection (helmets). The clothing includes high-performance pieces -- full snowsuits ($300-$400), snow jackets and pants ($140-$500), and gloves ($75 ) -- and casual wear, including padded, zip-up hoodies ($68); cable-knit sweaters ($75); and sporty parkas (mid-$200s). There's also a separate skateboard shop with decks ($45 to $60) and accessories from brands including Analog, Alien Workshop, Habitat, Birdhouse and Bones.
The opposite side of the store is home to Channel Islands, a 38-year-old Santa Barbara-bred company Burton acquired (but didn't swallow up) last year. The company is famous for its baby-skin-smooth boards, all of which are hand-shaped -- many by company founder and surf industry legend Al Merrick.
The Channel Islands side features all the usual surf shop suspects -- O'Neil and Hurley, Volcom, Reef and Billabong, among them. And although there's certainly no shortage of surf shops on the Westside, this one features an impressively long corridor of nearly 400 gently arching Channel Islands surfboards ($625 to $1,650). The hallway, dubbed "The Hall of Boards," is replicated on a smaller scale on the Burton side, with the company's full line of illustrated snowboards queued up in racks like staples inside a stapler (kids' models start at $150, while adult boards run $300 to $1,000).
"The store was a sort of meeting of the minds," said Jake Burton Carpenter, chairman and founder of Burton, during an interview at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. "It's the first time we've ever really shown an insight into our company philosophy, which is to be a true board-sports company on a very high level." The company is steeped in its tradition of hard goods, the industry term for the boards and the nuts and bolts that make them usable.
Carpenter, who started the company in Londonderry, Vt. (the company is now based in Burlington, Vt.) 30 years ago, said he wanted to open a store in L.A. to establish a bigger presence for Burton on the West Coast, to better compete with SoCal's numerous action sports behemoths, including Quiksilver and Volcom. But Carpenter is picky about where he plants his company's flag. The brand has also opened stores in Chicago and Osaka, Japan, during the last few months, but L.A. is only its seventh store to open since 1977.
"We want to have retail," said Carpenter, who rode his own snowboard 125 days last year. "But we want to do it on a very high level. It's not really about having some mall shops."