It is probably the oldest surf shop in the country, and as such, Hobie Sports Shop in Dana Point is something like a favorite pair of broken-in Levi's.
After 40 years, the shop has a comfortable, lived-in feeling that transcends the framed black-and-white photographs of surfer greats and the classic boards hung throughout the store.
It has established itself as a bellwether for the surfwear industry. And, lately, its clientele is sending out a clear message: "back to basics."
"Surfers like to think they are first on the train," store manager Stephen Koehne explains. "Several seasons back, they jumped on neon colors. Since the mainstream picked up on them, however, surfers only use neon as an accent--if at all. For the most part, they now prefer the deep rasta (reggae-influenced) reds, greens and yellows."
They are also sticking with the established surfwear labels: Stussy, Gotcha, Quicksilver and O'Neill.
"The scruffier guy who likes the dreadlock image, even if he is a student, generally likes Gotcha," Koehne says. "Stussy appeals to the more fashion-conscious, affluent surfer; Quicksilver to the hard-core surfer, and O'Neill to the functional, Joe Average surfer who doesn't care about making a statement with his clothes."
Some customers are loyal to one label; others buy two or three. Increasing numbers round out their wardrobe with Mossimo, Spot Sport or Redsand volley shorts and tank tops. And the most stylish top it all off with a pair of X-Isle sunglasses, a brand giving Ray-Ban some serious competition.
Assuming that the weather and the environment cooperate, Koehne expects reasonably good sales for Southern California surfwear lines and for shops like his. But, he notes, "it used to be that you had to go to a surf shop to buy surf clothes. Now there are so many pseudo-surf shops everywhere and so many clothing companies that the supply may exceed the demand."