May 8 2012 11:44 PM

Business moved from Oahu to Cardiff in 1962, now thriving in Encinitas

Josh Hansen shows off one of the more artistic boards at Hansen's surf shop
Photo by Dave Maass

For Hansen’s, the last 50 years in the surf-shop business has moved just like the water its boarders ride—in waves. The surfing craze crashed in like a tsunami in the ’60s, but since then it’s ebbed and flowed, like a tide, from long boards and short trunks to short boards and long board shorts and back again. For awhile, business receded so far that Hansen’s almost stopped selling surf boards altogether, gathering up a mix of opportunities, the adventure-sports flotsam and beach-fashion jetsam that washed up on its shores. A time-surfing San Diegan who shopped at Hansen’s first location would hardly recognize Hansen’s current 30,000-square-foot, multi-level store and offices. It feels new and young and strong, strong enough to last another half-century.

Don Hansen’s shop began as a surfboard manufacturer, at one point one of the largest in the world, selling more than 6,000 long boards a year, according to Josh Hansen, Don’s youngest son and a manager at the shop. In 1961, Don established a retail location in a shack on Oahu, but moved to a building in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in 1962, where The Kraken bar is now, and from there to Encinitas when the store needed to expand five years later. 

By the early 1970s, long boards had fallen out of favor, and the nation’s top surfboard foam maker decided to open its warehouse to the public, rather than only offering its product exclusively to manufacturers. Losing business, Hansen’s had to adapt.  

“You had this whole evolution of the backyard or garage shaper, so the business kind of quickly and dramatically was changing, and it was just hard for us to keep up,” Josh explains. Also, his father had introduced a warranty program that ended up screwing his bottom line as surfers began intentionally sabotaging their boards. “At that point, they decided, Hey, you know what, maybe we’ll get into the retailing side.” 

And that’s when Don Hansen struck gold, or perhaps better put, his perfect barrel—he invested early in the hugely successful Ocean Pacific Sunwear clothing company. From there, they expanded to cash in on the skiing industry as it became popular, then camping and other adventure-sports niches, until there were hardly any surfboards in the retail store. But after a few years, Hansen’s decided to bring back its roots, now offering 500 or so surfboards in its showroom.

It’s worth noting that Hansen’s isn’t the only surfboard shop to open in 1962. Pacific Beach Surf Shop also opened that year, but unlike Hansen’s, it’s no longer in the family. The new management did not return calls.

Today, Hansen’s (1104 S. Coast Hwy. 101) almost feels like a super store, with giant open rooms filled with as many clothes as any store at a mall; as many varieties of sandals as you’d find basketball shoes at a Foot Locker; a whole lot of technology, including surfboard-mounted cameras and waterproof headphones; and every kind of board imaginable, including skateboards and body boards.

But tastes have also come full circle, particularly among surfers. The racks are filled with retro styles, but so are the surfboard stalls.

“Over the last five years, we’ve seen a real transition back into the long board,” Josh Hansen says, standing among the surfboards and several panels of pictoral history that were compiled for the store’s 50th-anniversary exhibition at the California Surf museum. “Definitely, lots of guys come in to buy new long boards, and, I think, also, there’s just so many more people surfing nowadays, so not only is there a younger demographic only looking for a short board, but there’s an older demographic who just wants to ride the waves and have fun.”