Steps from the breathtaking beaches of South Beach, there sits a store with that ‘Cheers’ familiarity where everyone knows your name. It’s the kind of place where both locals and tourists alike speak that universal language of the sea and first quality service is always the attitude du jour.
Alright, I might be getting a bit hokey in my spotlight introduction but the verse fits. I’m talking about FIRST Surf Shop, a one of a kind surfers’ paradise, specializing in providing top of the line merchandise in a laid back atmosphere. The shop also offers lessons for anyone who dares to enter the South Florida swells! Who knew Miami had a wave pool?!
The shop was launched in 2008 by two avid surfers and friends, Mark Gamez and Christian De La Iglesia, who wanted to offer a more personable and passionate experience to riders of all levels.
I consider this style spotlight my surfer for dummies tutorial and after interviewing one half of F1RST for this style spotlight (thank you, Mark!), I’m ready to suit up and get on a board. But I’m going to need a life jacket first.
Surf’s up, fashionistas!
|Co-owners and friends, Mark Gamez and Christian De La Iglesia, hang ten at the remodel of F1RST Surf Shop
FSF: Opening the shop in 2008 seems like a natural progression for you. How did the idea to make it happen come about?
FSS: Christian De La Iglesia approached me in 2008 after collaborating on a pop up shop called UNIV. Chris liked what I was doing and came from a surf retail background. There were no other surf shops in South Beach so we created F1RST. We’ve been at it for a little over five years now and have doubled in size and added South Beach’s only VIP SUP storage lockers as well as a satellite location at the Marriott where we offer SUP and Surf clinics on Saturday mornings.
FSF: The shop has become a vital part of the South Florida community. What makes this surf shop different from the other shops out there in the market?
FSS: Authenticity. We built this shop with our bare hands. Every piece of furniture, wood, stain, along with every single artifact that we have in our shop has been hand picked and curated- from the decor to the merchandise- and I believe it shows. Our patrons can appreciate that authenticity and the added unique touch and appeal and they identify with it. You can’t pay someone to do that for you. You gotta get your hands dirty.
FSF: There’s a big skating and surfing culture in Miami that most people do not know about. How did you become part of its landscape?
FSS: Thank you for noticing! I wish the City of Miami Beach and the politicians would finally realize that! I am very vocal when it comes to the issue of skateboarding in Miami and Miami Beach and it’s a sad fact that it is the year 2014 and Miami, one of the most forward thinking and progressive major metropolitan cities in America, does not have one single skate park to call it’s own. It’s pathetic. I have been to my fair share of city meetings regarding skate parks and have seen, firsthand, the level of political bullshit and it is overwhelming. I’ll spare the blog one of my long-winded rants about skate parks and try to get back to the point.
I have been skateboarding and surfing in Miami for over 25 years. Being born and raised in Miami makes me part of the landscape, but I’m a dinosaur. The crew at MIA skate shop does an excellent job of holding the Miami skate scene down and they are more the landscape than I am. They keep the skate culture alive and well and I like to think we do the same for surfing.
FSF: The shop itself is almost like your way of giving back to the community and to its customers. What are customers looking for when they come into your store?
FSS: We built the shop with the idea of accepting the fact that we are a place of social gathering. That’s why our main counter space looks like your local bar retrofitted with barstools and all. When there is surf (which is not often) we are ground zero for surfers to have a place to hang out and celebrate and talk story while waiting for the conditions to improve. In the era of online shopping, you can’t replace what a locally owned and operated retail shop offers, which is local knowledge. Try to find out what bars or nightclub to hang out at or where the real South Beach hangs out at on a forum or blog and see how your night ends up. Good luck with that!
Our merchandise selection is what separates us from the pack. You won’t find a lot of our brands anywhere else but at F1RST. We carry a limited amount of individual items and pieces from our vendors. When it’s gone its gone. We like to keep it moving and fresh.
FSF: Call me a rookie or whatever is categorized below that, but are there good waves in Miami?
FSS: Yes! South Beach does get good. Our season is November to March (Winter) and we do see classic surf conditions down here that accompany the Nor’easters and cold fronts throughout our winter season. We’ll see a handful of classic surf conditions. In the Summer, things get sketchy–we need to have a hurricane swing right by us and make a u-turn at the very last second. Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Frances are two classic examples.
FSF: You also happen to be an avid surfer and you used to be a professional skater. Is there one you like more than the other?
FSS: Thank you for the compliments, but no, I never went pro for skateboarding. I was a local hero at best who moved to California and got humbled–quickly. Most of my friends out on the West Coast are professional surfers and skateboarders so maybe people sometimes think I was pro. I would say I was bro-fessional. My friends know that I am an elitist skate-snob and I do not hide it. I bleed 7-ply maple and I talk, act, dress and think like a skateboarder. Skateboarding is and will always be my first true love. Surfing on the other hand is my favorite. It is way more satisfying and way easier on the body at this age — There’s a reason why surfers are so laid back and on their own trip. You know the slogan “Only a Surfer Knows The Feeling” by Billabong? Yea, well as cliche as that may sound — it’s true. Surfing is a one of a kind feeling that cannot be emulated by any other water sport.
FSF: Do you have a favorite place to surf? If so, describe what that looks and feels like for you.
FSS: Believe it or not. South Beach! I’ve traveled the globe and have surfed the Caribbean, Central America, Baja California, The West Coast, Hawaii and Indonesia and there is simply nothing that can compare to catching South Beach in its classic form.
FSF: I know the shop takes up a lot of your time, but when do have some downtime, what does your perfect day in Miami look like?
FSS: I keep it local. If I do venture out its to visit Gabe and Elad at The Broken Shaker, or Flip and Paulo at Radio Bar. My wife and I are huge fans of Red The Steakhouse. Peter Vauthy is the best!!!
FSF: We have to talk about your style. You have a laid back, yet distinct sense of style that you carry off really well without falling into that whole stereotypical surfer look. How would you describe your everyday. go to look?
FSS: Thank you! I definitely try to break that surfer/stoner mold of wearing a huge logo/brand names on your chest lookin’ like you are a walking billboard. I try to keep my personal style up with the times without going overboard on any particular trend. You won’t catch me running a mustache (mostly because i can’t grow one!) or sailor tattoos any time soon. Remember, I was a skateboarder in the early 90’s, which meant you rocked the huge baggy jeans. I’m thankful Instagram and Social media weren’t around for those days but I am indeed haunted by those memories. I try to keep my style safe and current. I add some flair on the proper occasion to let the people know I can still run it when the time calls for it.
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40 S Pointe Dr #107, Miami Beach, FL 33139