TRAVELER SURF CLUB: MALIBU
SURF MORE, BE HAPPY
Julie Cox Offers Boards with Locks,
Hot Showers for Hours at Traveler Surf Club - Malibu
On a weird spring weather day in May of 2019, I had lunch with Rabbi Levi Cunin at Chabad Malibu just to the east of the Malibu Pier and overlooking it all - next to Swamis down south, Chabad Malibu is the religious center with the best surf view in the world.
After lunch with the Rabbi, I saw Julie Cox, a longtime Malibu person who’s been up north for a while, but is back, and with a cool new project: Traveler Surf Club - Malibu.
Julie Cox took me on a tour of the facility, then we talked a bit about her surf club offering first rate amenities to locals and visitors.
What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?
How do you mean?
Sorry, that’s a line from Blazing Saddles. I used it on Marc Cunningham when I saw him getting out of the water after a bodysurfing session at SurfRanch just before the SurfRanch Pro. Thought I would try it again. What I meant to say without being glib is: Last time I saw you I think you were in San Francisco, and now you are here in the sticks of Malibu. Can you explain your recent movements?
I moved to SF in 2012 after leaving a post at the CA Surf Museum in Oceanside; the cold winds and fog were calling me! ;) Also, my partner was going to grad school up there, so we re-settled in the Bay. I surfed Linda Mar regularly and though the waves are surfable year-round,wearing a 4/3 sometimes with a hood and booties all the time was a pretty nasty wake up from my sunny days down south. So at the outset I was really just trying to figure out a way to solve the problem of freezing my butt off while changing in the cold parking lot, and schlepping my longboard around. I talked about the idea with my friends and family for about a year, and then when a storefront space opened up in the parking lot by Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, I decided to go for it and see if I could make this idea for a "Surf Club" take off.
Up north we built the Surf Club in the back yard with board lockers, hot showers, heated furniture and a cedar sauna.
I think you said there is a similar facility in Pacifica? San Francisco?
Okay I just looked online at the Linda Mar space. Oh god, I just said “space” - a Millennialism. I remember when the surf scene at Linda Mar was two dudes wearing cutoff Levis strapping their boards wax up and fins back to drive back to Fremont. Now it's a scene. The parking lot is packed and I can only imagine what it's like now with SUP and Wavestorms.
It's not a huge SUP scene, but there are plenty of soft boards out there. Surfing has become so popular and Linda Mar is one of the most accessible consistent spots in the area. In Pacifica, we offer one-on-one lessons and etiquette advice and do some rentals, but mostly focus on getting folks warm after surfing. But yeah you can really hone your skills as a slalom surfer- it's a great place to do that.
Coming from Santa Cruz and having spent a great deal of time freezing cold, I’m sure the hot showers and heated furniture were appreciated.
The indoor space is dedicated to retailing gear, apparel and things inspired by travels. I know you hate the word "curated”...
Well I’m hipsterallergenic, so I have a bad reaction to tattoos and topknots. And language can be as deadly to me as bee stings - like “space” and “curated” and “artisanal” and “woke.” Sorry, it’s a generation gap thing but what, you want me to break out in hives and faint?
...so let's just say that I "picked out" cool stuff that I like and that I thought other people would be into.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year. I was driving up the coast from LA and stopped off in Malibu to check the waves as I usually do. I saw that this location just across from the pier was for rent and when I stepped inside I got that same feeling I did two years ago up north - it just felt right. So I ran out to my car to grab a tape measure and when the ceiling height cleared 10' I decided that this could work.
Wow you are a NorCal chick, carrying a tape measure in your car. But Aren't you from Malibu originally?
I grew up in Agoura Hills…
Valley girl, she’s a Valley…. Sorry….
... and spent my early days learning to surf at Malibu and Leo Carrillo with my friends and neighbors who would carpool with me down to the beach. Working the Camp Store at Leo in the summers and doing Junior Guards and MSA contests were really where I fell in love with surfing.
Traveler Surf Club looks like a good idea. Everywhere I go I see surf clubs and surf schools and surf hostels and surf bordellos and they all seem to do well. I stayed at House of Trestles in San Clemente and it was swellegant - quality kitchen, hot showers. How long have you been open? And when did you start to outfit this place?
We opened our spot in Pacifica in 2016 and its been going well. Malibu just opened this spring (April 2019) so we spent the wet winter working on the space and are now getting ready for the summer swells.
How much work and sweat equity went into outfitting this space? I can't remember what was here before.
There was a lot of sweat and sawdust, for sure! We had an amazing, small but mighty crew doing most of the work. I'll be forever grateful to John Whittington, who is an amazing craftsman and carpenter, and who designed and did most of the woodwork in the space. It's meant to be simple and utilitarian - basically a cross between a beach house garage and a locker room, except it's nice a clean: Because I'm a lady :)
Were you in Malibu for the Woolsey Fire?
We were here just after the fires had been put out... Actually the space was being used as a temporary drop off donation center before we moved in. The impact of the fires can still be felt. They have definitely changed the community. So many people have not yet returned or don't plan to... but Malibu is strong and beautiful and so it's inspiring to see that resilience.
How did you experience that quaint little firestorm?
I was glued to any news/social media I could get and was stressed and worried about everyone. At that same time, as the Woolsey Fire was happening, the Camp Fire was devastating Northern California. It was an intense few weeks to say the least.
Did the Woolsey Fire make you say "Uh oh!" in any way?
Starting any new business is always a leap of faith and with all of the changes happening in the environment, especially in California, there will always be things that give you pause, make you wonder about whether this is the right choice, or the right place. At the end of the day though, this is my passion, and we've seen how how our space in Pacifica has helped build a community outside of the water and the parking lot, so I want to do that to the extent that I can here in Malibu - where I grew up surfing. The closer we get to nature, the more real things get, we need to respect nature and interact with it in safe, smart ways... I think surfers get that more than most people.
What is the inspiration/model for Traveler Surf Club? Have you seen similar facilities in your travels?
It's funny because so many people who come to the space say, "Oh wow, I had this idea a million years ago, but I never made it happen.” There are other similar surf club concepts in Asia and South Africa and Europe but we are the first in California. It's a pretty simple concept... imagine you own a share in a beach house a few steps from a great break, where you can leave your board and wetsuit, take a nice hot shower, grab coffee or a cold drink, and not have to drive home with that feeling of sand in your underwear. Also you can meet other people who are into the same things as you... we're not re-inventing the wheel here, we are just making the whole experience a bit more smooth. Our motto is "surf more, be happy."
How long has the Pacific Traveler Surf Club been in operation and did it inspire the Malibu leg?
The Pacifica Shop opened in 2016 and it’s been going well, we've grown our storage memberships and it's been really great to hear members and customers tell us that the idea is a "game changer" for them. A lot of folks who live in the city have small cars, motorcycles, or take rideshare to the beach so board storage makes it easier for them to get in the water more often. Also, no matter how hardcore you are, when you get out of 50-60 degree water, stepping into a steamy hot shower is going to make you happy. It takes the whole "surf-stoned" feeling to a new level. However, the main thing that makes the club great is the people... I know that sounds corny, but I have just been so blown away by the different types of people who decide to join our club; chances are if you are hanging out after a surf session and start chatting up one of the folks next to you, you'll meet someone pretty interesting. We don't "curate" our membership - it's all just rad people who love to surf and be in the ocean. There are musicians, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs, and even a professional knife sharpener...
Being careful not to use the word "curated" or "artisanal" or “space” can you detail what Traveler Surf Club Malibu offers?
We wanted to do the same basic concept here in Malibu, create the spa... open the doors and trust that amazing folks will find their way in. We also are lining up a ton of great events and are still in the process of listening to our members to see what types of services and amenities they will want most. We offer a board-share concept in Malibu as well, where members can "check out" boards from a changing quiver of board shapes that are designed to work really well at Malibu.
That’s a very good idea. When I worked at Surftech in Hawaii, they had a “try before your buy” policy that worked really well.
I'm really excited for this program to evolve... what better way to satisfy your collector's itch than to be constantly getting referrals for great shapes new and old.
I saw board lockers and a hot shower and a sunscreen dispenser and it all looked first rate.
Your eyes didn't lie.
What did I miss?
We also have:
coffee & tea, cold drinks,
a vending machine with snacks, wax, sunscreen and cbd
Day-use lockers to keep personal items and keys secure
Wifi & phone charging outlets
Do you rent equipment at all or would that compete with Surf Shack?
We are a BYOBoard facility. The Boardshare program is the most rental-like offering that we have.
What do you charge for the services?
Drop-in day passes are $20.
$90/month for non-board storage memberships.
$175/month to store one board in a secure locker.
We give discounts for 3-12 month commitments.
Members have after hours access to their lockers.
Do people have 24/7 access to the facilities? How do you work security in these days when meth-theft/meft/theth/metheft is absolutely epidemic from Waikiki to Santa Cruz to Malibu?
Members with surfboard lockers do get a unique code so we know who's coming and going and who has been in the club. We have cameras, alarm systems, and neighbors watching out for the shop at all times.
How has the response been?
It's been great so far, especially here in Malibu. People are very welcoming, we have great neighbors and the folks here really seem to get it. It's not much of a head-scratcher.
Where are your guests coming from? Local? Valley? Santa Monica?
All over: Malibu, Venice, East Side, the Valley... there are people who live close but getting the board to First Point is just enough hassle to warrant keeping one here at the club, but moreover its people who don't want to deal with board racks on the freeway.
Yes I have a word for that: “Racknophobia.” The fear your board is going to fly off the racks and kill some innocent.
The point of the club is to encourage members to surf more... whether they go out at First Point or pick up the board here and drive to County Line or Leo, we get you that much closer to the break.
Any negative vibes from surfers accusing you of making Malibu more crowded?
No, and I really don't think we'll make Malibu more crowded. Most of our prospective members are already familiar with surfing Malibu. We are not catering to ultra beginners.
Are you happy with the response so far?
Yes, it's been great and I've loved randomly running into old friends and characters from my days surfing here as a teenager. It's still very early days with the club being open, so my hope is that if anyone is wondering about what we are up to they will just come in and check the place out, or come to one of our events.
I'm generally a pretty positive person so I think good vibes bring more good vibes. If I'm going to worry about something, I'd rather have it be where I'm going to go for my next surf trip...
Have you had any events in the spa… Surf Club?
We've had some cool events, our opening party was rad and just a few weeks ago we hosted a "talk-story" fireside chat with Keala Kennelly when she was in town. We do surf yoga on Tuesday mornings and are doing a ton of pop-ups this summer with our favorite vendors like Sunski Sunglasses, Indosole slippers and Coffee brands like Patch, Verve and Gnarwhal cold brew.
We have a longboard workshop on the books with local slider Carla Zamora for the end of June, and a Diversity in Surfing movie screening and panel discussion.
There is an epic oil painting show up now by Artist Travis Weller called "Looking for Lines", that chronicles a recent road trip he took up the coast, stopping off at iconic breaks.
Kassia is planning one of her amazing soundbath experiences here too.
We try to be inclusive and quirky with our events programming and are always open to suggestions, ideas and feedback.
Inclusive is good. Quirky is good. What is your ultimate goal for Traveler Surf Club Malibu?
I want to get to reconnect and hang with my old homies and to meet amazing new surfers and ocean-lovers.
Any expansion plans? I think a surf hostel like the House of Trestles would do well in Malibu, but property is so expensive.
We are looking to grow, as it makes sense and as opportunities arise in the right locations. A surf hostel would be rad... you never know.