by Ali Murtaza
Photo by Briana Diamond
Topanga's Old Center plaza sees more change as Will Wicks starts his own surf shop.
First shop on the left, two doors down from recent pop-up art shop, ART, Will Wicks' So What Surf n' Skate Shop opened its doors with a promising new line for those who would rather pick up a board locally and support local commerce than drive miles to find other products.
"This shop is for people who need last-minute accessories for the beach but would rather not travel to the Valley or deep into Malibu," says Wicks. Since opening, he has seen his vision fulfilled, adding that he has been embraced by most of the local surfing community.
"Our boards have been a success, another step in making Topanga a surf city once again," he says. He looks up to Paul Lovas' Topanga Beach Experience calling it "the surf hangout, groovy place to be away from LA."
So runs the motto of the new space that carries wetsuits for men, women and children, as well as custom hand-shaped surfboards with skateboards and rental gear for those caught without a board or for people wanting to learn surfing.
Ever since he first started to ride waves in 2002, he has dreamed of opening a surf shop. He now stands in the reality of that dream, 10 years in the making, and could not be prouder, except for the fact that he'll be a parent come next Christmas with Bekah Bourget, a local fashion designer and owner of Indio Eight boutique.
The name came about through something he has long held within his heart, a philosophy on life and surfing: "’So what?’ is a great thing to say when faced with life's challenges whether it's riding a big wave or dealing with people," he says. He pauses and reflects, then comes back with a smile and explanation: “Don’t take things so seriously, have fun, live life, for it can all be gone in a second.”
The casual laid-back approach to life that Wicks promotes is not only a staple of the California surf culture, but a cry of Topangans tracing back over years of the lifestyle.
He says that he has heard countless locals thank him for not having to drive miles out of the Canyon and feels that customers like these will be essential to him in the coming months and years.
Though he is a Topangan, some of Wicks' skills can be traced back to West Hills, where his mentor, Glen Kennedy, makes his own surfboards. He is grateful to have learned what he did with Glen and his family, not only for the skills that they helped him hone, but also the way of life, deep-rooted philosophies that passed from one surfboard maker to another.
When asked about the surf culture in Topanga, Wicks states, "The surf culture in Topanga is as free as the ocean," describing the calm he feels when surrounded by the waves and the same calm that he senses in the other Topangans and surfers.
"Some surfers only go out when the surf is big and good," he says. “Others surf almost everyday rain, shine, swell or no swell. There is the older generation, their offspring and the offsprings’ offspring. There are visitors who want to experience the amazing point break. All these are the people that Wicks admires and wants to accommodate. Yes, it is about Topanga, but it is more about the love of surfing and beyond that, the sea itself.
Wicks has seen more than Topangans around his shop lately including Malibu residents, commuters and even visitors from other countries. Advertising has garnered more interest, he says, “and shows we're not just some scrappy town; we actually have culture and roots that are pretty cool.
The business is still growing but his philosophy dictates that he not worry about it. Spoken like a true surfer, he simply says, "I'm just taking it day by day," and as if to test him, his road-side sign was recently bashed to pieces. He didn't go into a rage. Rather, he laughed it off with his friends while making a new sign, but he would like to know who the vandals are who didn't have the courage to confront him. Such shenanigans don't deter him because he feels that he has the support of the community.
He tries to express his gratitude but is reluctant to try to name everyone — there are simply too many. In general, he thanks the Canyon and all its residents who have supported him through this endeavor and who have appreciated his hand-made boards.
Two people he did name, however, were Jeff Hull and Jerry from Ventura showing him the ins and outs to completing surfboards at production value and good quality.
For everything else, he only needs his planer and sure-form, an experienced eye for symmetry that he has acquired over the years, lots of elbow grease and even more patience.
So What Surf n' Skate Shop is located at the Old Topanga Town Center, 115 South Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290; (310) 455-0101; firstname.lastname@example.org.