Tucked away on a chill side street in Newport Beach’s Cannery Village sits The Board Club. Housed in an old 1930’s beach house, its rooms now hold a pretty terrific collection of locally-shaped surfboards, kayaks, a collection of beach gear, and a gallery of local artist’s work. They’ve got everything from beginner to high performance boards, longboards, and even some cool asymmetrical boards for goofy footers that I’d never even considered. It’s a perfect place to explore your surfing style and try out the latest local shapes. From a financial perspective, it’s a gold mine. Imagine your garage stocked with an ever-expanding quiver for less than $100 a month. (Not to mention you could actually have garage space…)
I stopped by and got a tour from an enthusiastic young surfer named ARI Marks. Ari’s a Newport Beach lifeguard and a water polo player at his college. He considers himself the club’s caretaker while its founder, Peter Belden, is away. The club is in good hands. Ari passionately shared the club’s community-based values and his stoke for being able to ride the new boards whenever they came out. Membership is open to anyone, but he says most of their members are in the immediate area, contributing to the friends and neighbors feel the club has established.
Ari mentioned a recent screening of the Red Bull documentary ‘Waves for Water’ in the outdoor courtyard as an example of one of their membership events. It’s a cool space with a small lounge area and a parking lot that they convert to an outdoor cinema for such occasions. On summer days, the club provides parking for members for quick changes and board pick up. That alone could be worth membership on a busy Saturday in July. Other amenities include locker space for members, board bags for travel, and invitations to monthly events like shaper talks, dinner parties, and a recent community art show. They’re working on a fin program as an add-on benefit.
Tonight at 7pm! We’re all set up so come join us to watch Waves For Water, a @redbulltv documentary featuring Jon Rose in his quest to bring clean drinking water to millions around the world. . Free Pizza at 7pm🍕 Movie starts at 7:30pm. . #theboardclub #newportboardclub #surfclub #surf #cleanwater #water #redbull #redbulltv #movienight #freepizza #newport #newportbeach #surfing #wavesforwater #nobeachplastic
As I missed Peter on my visit, we connected via email to get his take on the club:
BCS Where are you from? If not Newport Beach, how did you end up there?
PB “I spent my entire childhood growing up in Newport Beach. I was a Junior Lifeguard from 9-15 years old and I’ve been a Newport Beach Seasonal Lifeguard since I was 16 years old. This will be my 19th summer! I was also a Junior Lifeguard Instructor for 7 years and I played water polo at Newport Harbor High School and then at UCLA”.
BCS What specifically was the ‘lightbulb’ moment that inspired The Board Club?
“It really started on July 6th 2014, when my friend and fellow lifeguard, Ben Carlson, drowned while making a rescue in big surf. That was a pivotal moment in my life that would take me down a path toward the “lightbulb moment” for The Board Club.
The previous 5 years had been spent working for a tech startup selling data analytics software. But I was truly was a fish out of water in that field. The day that Ben passed away made me realize that life was too short to pursue a career, and life, that was not making me happy. So I quit my job, sold my car, put everything into storage, and left on a world-wide trip with a promise to myself that I would not return until I knew what I wanted to do.
I spent 2 months traveling through Bali, Lombok, and Sumbawa (Indonesia) with just a backpack, scooter and 3 surfboards. After Indonesia, I moved to Australia and lived in a van for six months, surfing and exploring the Australian coastline from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. Then while trying to surf a heavy, slabbing wave in New South Wales with the wrong type of board, I grew frustrated and looked for surf shops and clubs that would give me access to quality boards. After coming up empty, I realized this was not just a problem for me, but for almost all surfers. That’s when the lightbulb went on. I could purchase a wide range of board styles and sizes and then give surfers access to those boards for a low monthly membership fee. So rather than having to buy new boards ranging from $600-$1500, a surfer could now pay $90/month and have access to hundreds of boards that would otherwise be unattainable.
I spent the next 4 weeks in Australian coffee shops writing my business plan. When I was finished, I knew I had a legitimate business opportunity, so I sold the van and returned home to get started on The Board Club.”
BCS What were your business goals for the club? Did you have social or community goals as well?
PB “The Board Club is a brand new concept in the surf industry so when I started this club, I didn’t know what to expect. So you could say my initial goal was simply to sign enough members to pay the bills and get a true understanding of the club’s potential. But in the first 2 months, I had over 60 members and was forced to start a waitlist until I got more surfboards. By the fifth month, I reached an important milestone of over 100 members and it’s been flourishing ever since.
The longer term business goal for The Board Club is to expand into other locations throughout California, the U.S. and hopefully around the world. This is where the true potential of The Board Club can flourish because members would have reciprocal membership benefits to other Board Club’s around the world, eliminating the need to travel with your personal collection of surfboards. Airlines charge outrageous board bag fees ($100-$200/board/flight) and they often damage them, so this could eliminate that cost and make surf travel much cheaper and convenient.
As for social/community goals, The Board Club is not a “demo shop”, it’s a surf club. That’s a very important distinction for me because the foundation of this club is built by the members and community here in Newport. We host Shaper Talks, Member Dinners, Beach Clean Ups, a Workout Group, Movie Nights, Charity Donation Drives, Surf Trips, Art Fairs, and many other events and activities that aim to unite the ocean-loving members of the Newport community. I love this city and I get a lot of personal enjoyment by hosting fun, positive events that bring good people together.”
BCS Almost year in, are you on track to meet those goals?
PB “After 10 months, I’m happy to say I’ve exceeded all of my year-one goals. As for the longer term goal of expanding to new locations, this coming summer will be extremely important to demonstrate the true potential of this business model and whether it justifies future investment.
The community support of this club and the attendance at our events has been overwhelmingly positive. While I love riding all these different surfboards, it’s the growing bond between the members and the community that is most rewarding, and in that context, I’d say it’s been a huge success.”
BCS Great idea to connect with local shapers. Do you exclusively have local boards?
PB “Yes. Everything about The Board Club is local. From the Shapers, to the artwork, to the retail products that we sell. I’m a big believer in local community and economy.
Another major reason for using local shapers is my personal belief that the surfer/shaper relationship is critical for getting the best board under your feet. The last 10-15 years has seen a growing trend towards big production manufacturers with large marketing budgets. In this model, surfers are “self-prescribing” themselves a board by ordering it online or buying it off the rack, rather than having a detailed discussion about it with the shaper that will be making the board. But time will tell if this is the right approach. The true focus and direction of the club is steered by the members and if there’s an overwhelming demand to take a different approach, then it’s my job to make that happen.”
BCS Do you have partnerships with local coaches as well?
PB “We have a close relationship with Hurley Surf Club that provide free surf coaching. So every couple weeks, members will meet at a specific location where a Board Club Videopgrapher will get video clips of the members. After the surf session, we’ll email the clips to each member so they can submit those clips to the professional surf coaches at Hurley Surf Club. That helps the members improve their surfing and ultimately have more fun in water.”
BCS How many of your members are women?
PB “Women make up about 10-15% of the membership. We have a wide range of demographics from 11 year-old girls to 65 year-old men and everything in between. The Board Club is very inclusive and strives for a diverse group of surfers that otherwise might not interact with one another.”
BCS What’s the next step for the business?
PB “I’ve recently opened the club’s surfboard inventory to travelling surfers and tourists. I have soft tops for the beginners, but if an avid surfer visiting from the East Coast needs a board, they can stop by The Board Club and choose from over 200 quality surfboards.”
BCS What has been the biggest reward or most memorable experience so far?
PB “The biggest reward for me is the daily interaction with members that genuinely love being a part of this club. It’s a great feeling to do something for a living that provides a positive impact on people’s lives and the community as a whole.”
For more information about The Board Club, stop by or reach out to Peter or Ari.