I was born in San Diego, California on April 17th, 1957. I was the fourth, but not the last, child of Robert & Marion Huffman. By the time my folks stopped having kids there were nine of us. I have five sisters and three brothers. My folks migrated from Minnesota with my oldest sister in the early ‘50s to beat the cold and snow. They loaded up the old Studebaker, hitched on a wooden trailer, and headed west to check out California. After the car broke down in Mission Bay they planted their roots and are still here today. The rest of us were born right here in San Diego.
My mom was into the beach, and La Jolla Cove was her SPOT. She would load the growing mass of kids into the old Plymouth and hit The Cove. As the family grew, a Volkswagen van became the preferred mode of transportation. For as long as I can remember, the beaches of San Diego have been like a home to me. Well all pretty much grew up in the ocean, so wave riding of some sort was pretty much a given. Styrofoam boards, hard rental rafts, skim boards, belly boards, etc… were all part of the quiver. Whatever we could get our hands on we would ride. And let’s not forget about the many hours spent bodysurfing.
Growing up in Mission Hills (which is about 3 miles from the beach) during the winter beach days were far less frequent. It was a bummer, but we had no wetsuits and just had to deal with it. As my two brothers grew older they both started to kneeboard. Kneeboards are shorter and easier to transport; which is a good thing when you’re peddling on a bike for 3 or 4 miles. At that point in time they cost a whole lot less too. The boards we rode were basically like belly boards that could be ridden on your knees. Mark and Rex started to get more into it and were able to infiltrate into a group of young, stoked kneeboarders who surfed Sunset Cliffs a lot and some of the La Jolla areas that most stand up surfers feared to tread. Being the little brother I was constantly under food looking for rides to the beach and more importantly equipment.
We all continued to grow, and so did kneeboarding as a sport. Special shapes were being built by some of our fellow kneeboarders, as well as a few regular surfboard shapers. Most all of our boards were built out of garages. A third quality blank from Mitch’s surf shop was $5, resin, glass material, fins, buckets etc…costing another $10 or $12 bills. Ten bucks for the shaper and you were in the water. Sounds cheap, right? Not so. Paper routes paid poorly and doing yard work took away from your water time. Not to mention that a board’s life span was short, as the quality of construction was poor and NO leashes were even thought of. At that point in my life all I wanted was good equipment. bird-with-dogThat was pretty much why I got into the Surf Biz in the first place. There were very few surf shops in San Diego at the time and then, as it is now, things were not cheap. By sheer luck a neighbor up the street owned the coolest surf shop in town. Select Surf Shop and its owner Phil Castagnola were everything that was cool about surfing at the time. The best boards and the heaviest locals. Hot chicks and cold beers. Plenty of smokes and other sorts of contraband. Phil knew EVERYONE and the shop was like a Mecca that drew all the core faithful through its doors. Enter a surf-stoked 13 year old Catholic schooled kid and the game was on. I would work for nothing; cleaning, running errands etc… just for a chance to hang out and get a ride home. As I actually started to become a payable employee not a coin was exchanged as al funds were put into the best equipment I could lay my hands on. At first it was just some better quality used stuff, then I started getting new gear at TEAM pricing. I soaked up all the information and made all the connections that I could. As time went on I was lucky enough to know and work with countless first rate board builders and world class surfers. Shapers like Bill Caster, Frye, Warner, Lis, and Goodrum all became friends and mentors to me. Surfers like O’Rourke, Dobson, Lynch, Keating, etc… would talk story and share surf tips with me regularly. Over the 10 year period that I worked and managed Select Surf Shop there was never a dull moment. There were times that Phil owed so much money to people that I was afraid that somebody would come in and beat it out of him. On more than a few occasions when it looked like that was going to happen Phil would work his magic, calm the person down, AND borrow even more money from them. Such was Phil’s way. The ultimate con/salesman that always had a smile on his face. I learned and saw things at Select that sent me down the road of life well prepared for what lay ahead.
At the very end of 1979, early ’80, I was approached by Jeff Junkins to manage La Jolla Surf Systems. At first I was hesitant to make the move. Surf Systems was everything that Select wasn’t. It was well funded, well stocked, and very commercial. Not only would my pay check triple from what I was making at Select, I would actually get to have the money. After a bit of soul searching I made the move and sold out, as I was often reminded by some of the older crew who I looked up to. I soon settled in to a rocky few years at Surf Systems; made quite complicated by a co-owner who was often bombed on any one or several of both legal and illegal substances. I did manage to learn quite a bit about buying and stocking a full service surf shop and I also continued to meet all the major players in a fast growing industry. At around the 2 year mark at Surf Systems I couldn’t take any more of the drama that was going on between the owners and I up and quit. It was the first and only time that I was not working in the surf industry in my entire life. But that wouldn’t last for long. After a few months of planning and scraping some money together I partnered with Bill Caster and Ernie Higgins (who was Bill’s Glasser at the time and a former manager at Select.) We opened up Windansea Beach an Surf in 1983 on the corner of Bonair street and La Jolla boulevard; just a block up the street from the legendary surf break. Rent was $125/month with all the waves you could catch. It was tight from the get go-Vastly under capitalized and trying to compete with a growing number of well established surf shops and new comers like myself. It was a hard fought battle to survive. All that I had learned from the past years at Select and Surf Systems was not enough to make success a sure thing. Now I needed to meet and deal with the upper management of the surf industry. Most everybody is your friend when you work at a surf shop, but it’s a whole different story when you own one. Even after knowing quite a few of the major players from throughout the business I had to pay my dues. It would be years before I could become a dealer for a lot of the key brands. At this same time I met Amy, who has proven to be the most important person in my life. With her constant love and support I pushed on as a small time surf shop owner. After about six years together we were married. Four kids and a lot of years later we are still together, and Amy is the one that keeps me going.
So years passed and the business would come in and go out like the tides. Recessions, trends and fads would al come and running a surf shop never got any easier. I was still meeting and working with all of the best people involved in the surf biz and new things were learned everyday. By around 1990 the economy was once again in a bad way and my partners wanted out of the business. I liquidated whatever I could and borrowed a chunk of money so that I could buy out the partners and struggle on as a surf shop owner.
In late ’91 I struck up a conversation with Rob Ard, who owns and runs the best surf shops in OB. He was closing down his inland store and wanted to concentrate his interest back in the beach areas. We struck up a test market plan where I would market and sell South Coast Surfboards and clothing in Pacific Beach to see if there was a market for his product. After a trial period time of approximately a year and a half a plan was made to partner up with one of Rob’s old managers, Erich Tramonti, and turn Windansea Beach an Surf into SOUTH COAST WINDANSEA. And that is where I stand today. About 39 years later I continue to make sure that I always have the best equipment available. My commitment to surfing has never been stronger. On a daily basis I continue to met new people and learn more about the business as to always stay a foot or two ahead of all the other guys out there.