Surf shop sector trends

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the surfing equipment retailing sector

The sport of surfing in the UK and the image and lifestyle that surrounds it is currently very popular and fashionable. There have been many features in the mainstream media over the last couple of years on how to start surfing and this has led to increased numbers of people taking up the sport, or at least trying it out for a summer.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, it was very different: in general, the only people that bought surf equipment and clothing were those that actually surfed and consequently there were fewer surf shops and none of the High Street stores carried surf clothing. Gradually, the appeal of the surfing lifestyle grew and, while the number of people actually surfing did not particularly increase, surf brands started to appear in more mainstream shops. The sport achieved possibly its highest global profile to date when in the early 1990s, then world champion, Kelly Slater, secured a role in the popular American TV program Baywatch.

A traditional problem for surf shops has been that, while interest in the sport has increased, most people simply buy the clothing rather than actually take up the sport. This has led to High Street retailers stocking surf brands and becoming key competitors for surf shops. Surfing as a sport is very difficult and there are many barriers to learning, such as:

  • the equipment is expensive and needs to be renewed quite often
  • the sea is cold when there are waves and when the water is warm, there generally aren't any waves
  • a certain level of physical fitness is required
  • it takes a long time to reach even competence as a surfer

However, there has been a fairly recent growth in the number of surfing schools in the UK which provide all of the equipment, have properly trained instructors and will often provide accommodation and meals. These schools have proved very popular, with both men and women, and have led to increased numbers of people taking up the sport and buying the equipment rather than just the clothing.

A surf shop in an established surfing community has a reasonable chance of success, particularly if it is in a good location. The brands stocked need to be chosen carefully and staff need to be able to give accurate advice on the equipment stocked. It is becoming increasingly important for a surf shop to have its own website, ideally offering online sales but at the very least giving details of the brands that are stocked.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade or industry association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry.

Surfing England does much to raise the profile of the sport and to encourage safe practice. Visit their website for more information.

The Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA) represents the whole of the sports industry in the UK, including equipment and clothes retailing.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the industry. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions website has more information on forthcoming exhibitions.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.