Muir surf shop rides the boarding breaks all the way to campus

Nestled beneath John Muir College’s Sierra Summit, Muir Surf & Sport is a modest store with a small cache of surf and skateboarding equipment making the best out of its limited space.

Behind the counter is owner Scott Lembach, who works even after closing time. From building a display case and hanging posters to adding lighting in the dressing room, he works intensely to maintain an inviting ambiance in the store. He only stops to help students find products or converse about swell forecasts or conditions.

The store may be small but its owner’s vision is not. A self-proclaimed salesman, Lembach exudes youthful energy and enthusiasm. He is a man of big ideas who talks with eager eyes about future promotions and ideas for the store.

He opened the doors of Muir Surf & Sport on Sept. 17 as the first surf, skate and snow shop to appear on a college campus in the continental U.S., according to Lembach.

Good timing is partly responsible for the launching of Lembach’s business venture. According to Muir College Center Director Vince Manson, the spot that is now Muir Surf & Sport was once called Glacier Point, a quiet study lounge that students rarely used. A student survey found that the top requests for the space included a barber/hair salon, a video store and a surf shop.

The original attempt of a video store failed, and with UCSD’s proximity to the beach and its notable surfing culture, the idea of a surf shop was tempting. The sheer number of UCSD’s on-campus population made the venture seem promising: Out of UCSD’s 30,000 students, more than 6,500 students live on campus — many of whom have few transportation options. An on-campus store gives students an incentive to shop locally.

“We’ve got 30,000 kids here, and we are offering the industry’s culture to a new culture that’s never been touched before,” Lembach said.

Certain students also appreciate the arrival of surf culture and products to campus. UCSD surf team co-captain Lorca Lueras noted that the shop’s location on campus is convenient for students.

In 1997, Sports Illustrated ranked UCSD the “Best School for Surfing,” stemming from the university’s proximity to Black’s Beach, where an offshore canyon generates one of the world’s most famous breaks. However, there has never been a surf shop closer than 2.5 miles from the school.

On the west side of campus, Muir Surf & Sport sits within walking distance of the world-renowned beach. Because the nearest surf shop is 2.5 miles away, Muir Surf & Sport has a claim as the beach’s exclusive shop. Lembach plans to also target the nonstudent Black’s Beach surfer by emphasizing that parking is usually free on the weekends in UCSD parking lots.

But, Muir Surf & Sport is still aimed mainly at students. A student-designed logo has recently been crafted for the shop’s product line and will appear on apparel, surfboards and skim boards, among others. A student-created Web site is also in the works, showcasing Muir TV-produced videos from the UCSD surf and snowboarding teams.

“Everything that we do through the university is student-run,” Lembach said. “That goes for our logo design, Web site, our filming, our photography. We want to keep the project in the university.” The future staff will be composed of only students.

Providing service to students is the main concept at Muir Surf & Sport, according to Lembach. He enthusiastically chats with students as they stop by to check out the latest demo or to rave about the incoming swell.

A maintenance station stands in the front of the store so students can change their bearings or adjust their bindings free of charge. On the 15th of every month, students can bring in their surfboards, which will be sent off-campus for ding repairs. He also provides discounts to students who live on campus and to members of the various board clubs and teams.

Muir Surf & Sport is currently open for business. A grand opening debut with a possible feature concert in Muir Quad is projected to be held at the end of fall quarter.