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Aaron Pai on the remaking of HSS

By Shelby Stanger
November 30, 2009 6:00 AM

Huntington Surf and Sport has been remodeling its stores and is planning a new series of events to attract customers and get ready for 2010. I spoke with Aaron Pai, the owner of HSS, about the impetus for the remodel, HSS’s new in-store events and plans for 2010.

I also talked to Aaron about HSS’s plan to induct late SIMA Chairman Emeritus Dick Baker into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame Dec. 10 with a private ceremony, and celebrate HSS’s new look with a party following the ceremony.

HSS first storeHSS has four stores in Huntington Beach - at Bella Terra, a newer outdoor mall off of the San Diego (405) Freeway, a location off Warner Avenue, and its premiere location at the corner of Main Street and PCH, across from the beach and near the pier in Huntington Beach. The company also owns a Billabong store on Main Street near its pier-side location.

Pai said the main focus of the remodel is to give customers a better shopping experience and to showcase the stores’ authenticity and heritage as surfer owned and operated since 1978.

“We don’t just sell wax, we use it,” he said.

HSS main floorPai said HSS used cues from its Bella Terra location to remodel its other stores. The Bella Terra shop is much more open with large visuals along the walls, and specific sections for brands to showcase their products. The main remodeling focus lately has been HSS’s pier-side location.

(Right: the main floor at HSS.)

I asked Pai if he is currently carrying fewer brands because of the recession and he said yes.

“It’s about having the best, not the most (brands),” he added.

HSS O'Neill Volcom sectionsThe newly remodeled stores will allow brands that HSS carries to have more space to display products and tell their story.

“This recession is not going to last forever and we want to strengthen our stores for the future,” he said.

(Right: The O'Neill and Volcom sections in the remodeled HSS.)

Visually, Pai will be creating large images that show the history of the shop and the town of Huntington Beach. “We are trying to tie the past with the present so you can feel the lifestyle we live, that other people just sell.”

Bob Hurley and Aaron Pai at Hall of FamePai said he is using a lot of images from friends and family who have had connections to the store since its inception.

He said Bob Hurley of Hurley International supplied and shaped some of HSS’s first surfboards and gave the store a strong customer base in the early eighties. There will be several pictures of Bob Hurley from the '80s pulling up to the shop in his old Ford with a quiver of blanks he shaped, juxtaposed with a current image of him surfing big waves in the Mentawais in Indonesia.

(Right: Bob Hurley and Aaron at the Surfers' Hall of Fame ceremony this summer.)

The remodel seems like it would be rather expensive so I asked Pai how he was funding it. He said brands have chipped in to cover costs, and added that he felt this was not only an important decision for the shop, but an important decision for the sport of surfing.

HSS in the old days“Being at the epicenter of surfing (Huntington Beach), we have an obligation to showcase our sport in the most professional way we can portray it, not only for the city and for the surf industry, but for our sport of surfing. It’s always been more than a business to us and I think we’ve lost that a bit.”

To launch the “re-invention” of its pier location on Main Street, HSS will be hosting a private event in early December with a ribbon cutting ceremony by the Mayor of Huntington Beach and a special ceremony to induct Dick Baker into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame. Peter Townend will host the event.

In addition to the party, HSS is putting on a series of events on Saturdays during November and December where customers can grab coffee and talk surfing with PT, who has a plethora of stories from his days as a professional surfer, contest organizer, magazine publisher and acting stuntman on the movie “Big Wednesday.”

(Right: a group shot in 1978 near the first HSS sign. Aaron is at the bottom left.)

Pai says the events so far have been  well received and that HSS plans to host similar events for 2010.

“We’re going back to the roots of where this industry belongs and going back to being real. If the money comes, that’s part of the fruit.”

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