Jeff Clark Keeps Focus on Waves, Customers

by Jay Badenhope on October 15, 2010
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Jeff Clark is a legend in surfing circles as the discoverer of Mavericks, a spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay, California, with some truly large and powerful waves. He describes it as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world,” and the top surfers who travel the world to ride those waves would agree. When I had a chance to talk with Jeff at his Mavericks Surf Shop, I learned that his approach to conquering large waves also informs his approach to serving business.

Confidence

First, it helps if you can control your nerves. According to Jeff, “You don’t have time to be nervous on a big wave.” He appreciated the surfers who could show joy and confidence, like those who yell something funny, while riding a 20-foot wave. At the same time, Jeff doesn’t let the competition rattle him when he’s back on dry land. “It’s a wolf pack out in the ocean,” he says, as I take in the posters from movies like Riding Giants, featuring him and other surf pioneers. Turning to the land, Jeff shares a story about reaching more customers outside Half Moon Bay. He and a partner were considering a storefront near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach when a competing surf shop opened nearby. His partner wanted to pull back, but Jeff actually saw it as a good sign. “Competition creates a community,” he explains.

Patience

In addition to running a surf shop, Jeff shapes and designs surfboards that he sells exclusively in his shop. He works with about six to eight partners on constructing each board, adding up to, in his words, about “six weeks of babysitting.” Then, with the pride of a craftsman, he tells us about a couple of his boards, explaining the unique features and quality details that aren’t found in less expensive, mass-produced boards.

Jeff Clark with Sign-In Book

In his surf shop, Jeff Clark holds a book signed by customers from around the world.

Authentic Appeal

Jeff’s face lights up when I ask him what about his business makes him the happiest. Without missing a beat, he walks towards the front of the store and picks up a guest book. It is full of kind, hand-written notes from Jeff’s customers. He reads aloud the customers’ home towns: “San Diego, North Carolina, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Florida, United Kingdom.” I am impressed by the global draw to a single shop in this small beach community. I’m even more impressed when he tells me his customers have filled more than a dozen such books.

Advice?

Given Jeff’s years of business experience, I wanted to know what advice he had for people thinking about starting a business. “Find a traffic zone and think about what isn’t there that people need,” he offers, explaining that he is in the process of opening a second shop closer to a high traffic area of Half Moon Bay.

What if that business is a surf shop? “You better be very involved in the cult [of surfing],” he says, adding, “It’s a lifestyle before a business venture.” He should know. He was catching waves at 6:30 that morning.

Read on for more stories from our business visits in Half Moon Bay.

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