Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Room and Board

Story by Derek Ferrar. Photo by Dana Edmunds.

As a Japanese surfer living in Honolulu, Toru Yamaguchi found he had no shortage of new best friends, all of whom wanted to store a board in his Mānoa garage for their Island visits. It got to the point where he had to build aisles of racks to fit them all. So when Yamaguchi finally opened a surf shop in 2002, he had no problem deciding what to call it: Surf Garage.

Since then the shop—with its retro-cool storefront sign—has been a fixture of the funky little university district at the east end of King Street. Yamaguchi says he chose the area because “my idea of a real surf shop is not in the middle of a mall, but more out on the edge of town.” Plus, the building’s loft and courtyard offered plenty of space for all that board storage.

He started the shop in part, he says, to help visiting Japanese surfers adapt to local surf culture, after he witnessed numerous tense international incidents in the lineup. “I wanted to sell them the right boards to use here,” Yamaguchi says, “and also give them information about how to act in the water.” As word of mouth spread, the shop developed a more diverse clientele of local customers and other visitors—even a few celebrity regulars like Hawaii Five-0’s Scott Caan.

An old-school noserider himself, Yamaguchi initially carried only vintage-style longboards but eventually branched out into more contemporary shapes to meet customer demand. Today the shop’s inventory of boards by big-name shapers ranges from massive ceiling-high tankers to funboards to zippy little pocket rockets. Equally important, Yamaguchi offers quality used and rental boards, and, of course, storage. “No one wants to come on their dream surf trip to Hawai‘i and have to use a junk rental board,” he explains.

Surf Garage is a family affair, with Yamaguchi’s wife, Kumiko, and son Kazuto working there as well, and serves as a kind of community hub for customers to hang out and talk story. Each year, the shop sponsors a friendly “Hawaiian noseriding” team event at Queen’s in Waikīkī, focused on classic longboard designs and riding techniques, which Yamaguchi says “people almost forget already.” This year’s event will be held July 13-14.