Let’s Go Surfing Now
A family business spawns 50 years of surf, skate and snow in the San Fernando Valley
Written byErika Thomas
Val Surf founder Mark Richards grew up in the San Fernando Valley at a time when surfing was popularized by the likes of The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Like a lot of kids at the time, those beach tunes got him hooked on surfing.
As a child, Mark would ask his father, Bill Richards, to drive him to the beach. Because his dad, a record industry executive, was unemployed at the time, he typically agreed. It was on one of their many treks to the coast from North Hollywood when Mark had an epiphany.
“There was just no such thing as an inland surf shop,” he says. So Mark, then just a teenager, came up with the idea of opening one in the Valley. It took some time to convince his dad, but he finally did. They started researching “basically by driving up and down the coast and seeing what other stores were doing,” he says.
In addition to surfing, Mark was also into skateboarding. In those days, he recalls how skateboards were cheaply made and largely thought of as toys. “They were nowhere near what they’ve become today. There was no industry for skating like there is now. I used to go to skating rinks and ask them to sell me their old skates. I’d use the wheels to find ways of making better skateboards,” he recalls.
In October 1962, 15-year-old Mark, his dad, and brothers Kurt and Eric opened the first Val Surf store in Valley Village at the corner of Whitsett Avenue and Riverside Drive. “Surfboards, skateboards, T-shirts, wax, wetsuits and stickers were what we carried when we first opened,” Richards says.
Business grew, and by the early ‘70s, their merchandise expanded with board and walking shorts and hoodies. In 1973, Val Surf opened its second location in Woodland Hills. Eventually they would open three more locations: Thousand Oaks in 1990, Pasadena in 1994 and Valencia in 1997.
In the mid-‘70s, Val Surf began carrying popular brands Quicksilver and Billabong.
In 1977, Richards says they expanded their merchandise again, becoming one of the first stores to carry snowboards. And like skateboards, they would ultimately manufacture their own snowboards as well.
Val Surf holds the title of being “the first professional skateboard shop in the world,” Mark proudly notes. And although they carry numerous premium brands, their most popular apparel line is the Val Surf line. “It’s simply our best seller,” he says.
Today Mark runs the business with his sons, Brandon and Blake, his brother Kurt, and Kurt’s daughter, Denise. His brother Eric retired from the business. The Valley Village location, still the main store, is overflowing with a half-century’s worth of surf, skate and snowboard memorabilia. It remains a hub for autograph signings and video screenings, and the parking lot still occasionally plays host to skate demos from the Val Surf Skate Team.
When asked which aspect of the business has remained unchanged, Mark says, “Everyone at Val Surf has always had true passion for board sports. We’ve stayed active in surf, skate and snow sports since the very beginning in ‘62. All of us are involved in at least one of them, and that will never change.”
Val Surf in the Valley
4810 Whitsett Avenue
22864 Ventura Boulevard