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Gulf surf shops report on spill impact

By Shelby Stanger
June 10, 2010 8:00 AM

With the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil spill along the Gulf Coast, we wondered how surf retailers in the area were being affected by business, and if the spill has impacted actual surfing along their beaches.

I talked to about a dozen stores around Florida, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana to find out how retailers are coping. Results varied from grim and shocking to somewhat surprising and cautiously optimistic.

(See our related story about how Surfrider Foundation is responding to the spill and how the surf industry can help.)

Louisiana, Florida shops impacted most

Fluid Surf Shop web imageOutside of Louisiana, the Florida Panhandle seem to be getting hit the hardest by the news of the oil spill. According to Kevin Faotas who owns Aqua Surf Shop on Miramar Beach, Florida, business is down 80% from last year.

(Right: An image on the Fluid Surf Shop web site.)

“It is incredible because last year was so bad because of the economy,” he said.

Faoutas attributes most of the loss in his business to the media, a shared sentiment expressed by everyone I spoke with. “The beaches are still beautiful here, but the media is grabbing at anything trying to report bad news,” he said, noting that the beaches in the area surrounding the shop are still open.

At Fluid Surf Shop, on Fort Walton Beach, Florida, about 15 miles from Miramar Beach, owner Tim Carr said the spill has affected his sales by about 36%. Business is down 25%, but he said they were tracking 11% up before the spill.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom, even though water is still crystal clear,” he said, echoing Faotas’ feelings about the national media attention.

(Click here to see an updated map of where oil has touched shore.)

Carr said besides the fact that tourist traffic is down from visitors not coming to the beaches, locals who are not shopping have affected sales the most.

“Because tourism is down, all the kids that work on the beach and in restaurants are afraid they are going to lose their jobs. So there is no cash flow,” he said. “We are getting the whole trickle down effect now.”

Gulf of Mexico mapJust last week Carr said he bought nine barely-used surfboards from a surfer who started selling his equipment because he was getting tight on cash.

“It’s crazy. This is day 50 right now so in the beginning everyone freaked out and May sucked. June is coming around, but they keep saying there is oil a mile off shore even though we really haven’t seen any on the beach. The news has reported the beaches are closed and they are killing us. If you didn’t watch the news, you’d think it was another beautiful day in Florida. They’ve only found maybe six tar balls only on our beach.”

Click on Page 2 to read about surf shops in Pensacola, Alabama and Texas and how SUP sales are faring.

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