Roger Cox: When a surf shop is more than a surf shop

Boardwise surf shop in Edinburgh
Boardwise surf shop in Edinburgh
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Broadly speaking, shops can be divided into two categories: the ones that just sell stuff, and the ones that do more than just sell stuff. Into the former category we might put supermarkets, high street fashion retailers and the 24-hour shops attached to petrol stations. Nothing wrong with these temples to retail efficiency per se – indeed, western civilisation would probably grind to a sudden and unpleasant halt without them – but in spite of the fact that they are collectively helping to keep the apocalypse at bay, it’s difficult to feel much attachment to them. They are what they are, and they do what they do.

By contrast, shops in the second category tend to be less essential to the smooth running of life as we know it, and yet these are the retailers that we romanticise about and form attachments to: independent book shops, record stores, art galleries, artisan bakeries and health food emporia. There’s usually more to these kinds of places than simply making a profit; often they are owned and run by people who are passionate about what they do, and often they act as hubs for like-minded souls; in some cases they almost feel like unofficial community centres for loosely affiliated groups of people who share a common interest.

If you shop in one of these places on a regular basis, chances are you’ll know the people who work there, at least to say “hi” to. You’ll probably chat to them about your purchases, too, and on some level, however subliminal, you’ll probably feel you owe them a certain level of loyalty. Yeah, OK, that book might be a couple of quid cheaper on Amazon, but the folks at the Amazon warehouse really couldn’t care less whether you enjoy it or not. Why? Because they’re too busy wrapping it in a tree-and-a-half’s worth of scrunched-up brown paper and then putting it into a cardboard box the size of a small family car in order to create a package that can withstand a 20-minute buffalo stampede followed by a nuclear explosion.

Boardwise, the long-serving surf and snowboard shop on Lady Lawson Street in Edinburgh, is definitely a category two kind of place, and over the course of many years I’ve come to feel surprisingly attached to it (surprising because, in general, I’d rather lose a toenail than go shopping). I bought my favourite ever surfboard there, as well as all kinds of other surfing and snowboarding bits and pieces too numerous to mention, and it’s also where I sometimes go to make emergency last-minute birthday purchases for the surf and snow-loving people in my life. Brian and Sarah Stark, who run Boardwise, probably know better than anyone else how spectacularly disorganised I am when it comes to gift-getting, and Sarah in particular has a knack of helping me out with life-saving suggestions at three minutes to closing time.

Perhaps this explains why I was so upset to learn that Boardwise had been badly damaged by fire at the end of August. One day I was walking past ogling the snowboarding backpacks in the window, the next there was a fire engine parked outside and the place was closed until further notice. Nobody was harmed, either in the shop or in the flats above, and all being well the insurance people will do their stuff with their customary speed and efficiently, but still – for Brian and Sarah it’s a devastating blow, a labour of love literally gone up in smoke. I wasn’t just upset on their behalf, though, I was also upset in a selfish kind of way. Even though I’ve never been a particularly frequent visitor, the shop had become part of my mental surf and snow geography, as prominent in its way as a favourite ski hill or surf spot. There’s something unsettling about its disappearance from my inner map of where the important things in life are to be found; hopefully it’ll be back soon – ideally before Christmas, or I’ll be in trouble.

On a brighter note, by the time you read this some of the best young surfers in Scotland

will be in the Azores, competing

in the International Surfing Association World Junior Games, which runs from today until 25 September. Surfing in the under-18s category will be Andrew Robertson, Finn MacDonald, Robbie McNicol, Connor Wilson, Iona McLachlan and Tamsin McQueenie, while the under-16s contingent is made up of MacDonald, McNicol and McLachlan plus Ben Larg and Elliot Young. “Don’t miss the future of Olympic surfing” says the trailer. Because – oh yeah, did we mention? – surfing’s an Olympic sport now. n

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