40 years later, Surf Ride still integral part of North County flow

Surf Ride’s Solana Beach store.
Surf Ride’s Solana Beach store.
( / Courtesy photo)

On Oct. 4, 1974, twin brothers Bill and Richard Bernard opened Surf Ride, a small shop a short walk from the beach in Oceanside. Odds are they had no idea that 40 years later the company would not only still be going strong, but would soon become an integral and legendary part of the North County surf scene.

“They originally owned a restaurant, but were getting tired of it,” said Bill’s son, Josh Bernard, a 2000 graduate of Carlsbad High School and current CEO of Surf Ride. “They were passionate about the ocean, so they wound up buying an old Hobie Cat dealership, which served as our original location. As time went on, they naturally progressed to selling surf merchandise.”

Since those original days operating out of a small adobe on Coast Highway, Surf Ride has expanded exponentially and soon became known for having one of the largest selections of surf boards in the country. Expansion since has included their Solana Beach location (which opened in 1998) and their popular website (launched in 2002 during the e-commerce boom).

His family’s passion for the sport of surfing has carried them through the ups and downs of being a privately owned business surrounded by corporate-owned establishments and brands.

“There are a few hurdles you have to get around, being family-owned,” Josh conceded. “Mainly the cash flow aspect, which makes it trickier than a big corporate thing with shareholders and investors. On the flip side, it’s awesome because you’re doing it for yourself and your family, and that makes it all worth the work.”

Josh knew a thing or two about Surf Ride before becoming CEO, considering he grew up in and around the shops, and the only three jobs he had in his life were all within the company. Even a stint attending the University of Hawaii didn’t permanently lure him away from the idea of staying in North County and helping run the business.

“It was always my plan to work here,” said Josh. “It was never forced upon me by my parents. My father said I could do whatever I wanted to do. But it was important to me to keep it family-owned and growing, and I really love it. Retail is hard as it is, so you have to have a passion for what you’re doing or you’ll be miserable.”

During its 40-year haul, the Bernard family has seen plenty of highs and lows, as well as changes in the retail world, the most significant being the birth of e-commerce and their e-store, of which Josh was a main architect.

However, business has continued to rely on the two Surf Ride locations in Oceanside and Solana Beach. “I’d say our sales are 90 percent brick and mortar, 10 percent e-commerce,” Josh said. “It’s really tough to compete online, and I think our website largely serves as a visual representation of what we have in the stores.”

In addition, Josh pointed to the fact that buying a surf board in person is simply easier. “Everyone keeps saying that brick and mortar stores are going to die,” he said. “I don’t see that happening. Especially with the convenience aspect of them. If you’re going to the beach and need sandals, you’ll walk into the shop and buy some. When it comes to buying boards, people like to size them up and see how they are in person, since ordering them online can be a tricky process.”

To celebrate their 40th anniversary last October, Surf Ride threw a flash sale, barbecued, and created a carnival-like atmosphere to thank North County for supporting Surf Ride for the better part of a half-century.

“We definitely try to give back as much as we can to show our appreciation,” Josh said, adding that he personally tries to surf as much as possible.

“When I took over, it put a lot of pressure on my shoulders and I couldn’t screw it up,” he said with a laugh. “My parents had this going for 40 years, after all.”

Surf Ride is located at 325 N Hwy 101, Solana Beach, 92075; (858) 755-0858; www.surfride.com.