F1rst Surf Shop Works to Build a Surf Community in Miami Beach
While in Miami, we stopped by F1rst Surf Shop, the only surf shop in Miami Beach and one of two in Miami-Dade County.
The shop first opened nearly 10 years ago a few blocks away from its current location near Miami’s South Pointe surf break.
Owners Mark Gamez and Christian De La Iglesia are Miami natives who have surfed since the mid-80s.
Mark and Christian wanted to offer a unique boutique shopping experience without losing the core values and built the store from the bottom up.
“We started by buying a couple boxes of product, sold them, and got more,” Christian said. “We sold used surfboards for awhile before we started bringing in new ones.”
The store continued to grow, and in 2010 Mark and Christian decided to relocate to a new location just steps from South Pointe.
“We built out the whole store,” Christian said. “We had some setbacks but we bounced back and were able to expand the shop in 2012.”
Mark and Christian sacrificed a lot and got accustomed to living a very minimal lifestyle in order to grow their dream shop.
They began offering paddleboard rentals, which created enough profit to offset the cost of surfboard margins.
“Summer paddleboard rentals used to be big but it has slowed down,” Christian said.
Due to the slowdown of paddleboard rentals, inconsistent swell as well as local city, surf industry and retail challenges, they have to find creative ways to draw customers to the shop.
“South Beach is a desert for waves but people flock here when there is swell, which is typically December to March or February,” Christian said. “We don’t have surf culture built into our DNA like they do in California. We need to build that culture here. It’s a collaborative effort.”
F1rst Street works with their friends at local restaurants and bars to host events in order to bring the community together around the shop.
“We are the lighthouse for surf in this community,” Christian said. “In addition to these events, we work with local businesses and our retail partners to conquer city and industry challenges.”
In an effort to connect with the consumer, the shop hosts Instagram Live vlogs discussing the state of surfing.
They also teamed up with the Surfrider Foundation to create the “Blue Water Task Force,” which tests the local water quality every Thursday and releases the results on Friday.
“The state of Florida lowered the frequency of water testing,” Mark said. “We hope that this pushes the city to do it and puts pressure on the citizens to reach out to the city.”
Christian and Mark also work hard to create strong relationships with the brands they carry.
“Currently the Stokehouse brands followed by Banks Journal are doing best for us,” Christian said.
In addition to those brands, they also carry Sun Bum, FCS and Slowtide and a variety of smaller brands that they identify with.
“We curate the shop with our merchandising and product choices,” Christian said. “We try to create a shopping experience unique from shopping online. We want to create a community around the shop. Most surf shops in South Florida are at least 15 to 20-plus years old. Newer shops don’t last here. It’s hard with the state of retail and inconsistent swell.”
This is the first time the shop has carried a full run of wetsuits.
“We take all the risk,” Mark said. “We don’t know what the swell or weather will be like. When there’s swell here we get really busy and often run out of wetsuits. But there’s no predicting it.”
Christian and Mark hope that with the help of their brand partners, the store can continue to grow and be the center of the surf community for the Miami area.