Surf legends series: Meet Surf City’s Mark Allison

Mark9Mark Allison has achieved the near impossible in the surfing world. He owns a successful surf shop, surfs when he wants, gets the cool gear and clothes, travels the world, and everyone loves him. “I’ve always considered Mark to be the unelected president of the surf club in town. If there ever could be an unofficial guy, he would be the president,” said local surfboard shaper Gary Wilson.

Wilson, owner/shaper of Kinetic Surf Designs lives the dream himself, and it was Allison that steered him down that path. Allison was the guy that said, “Here, fix this surfboard. Here’s $25 if you can put this fin back on,” said Wilson, describing how he got started in the repair and eventual shaping business. After shaping over 6000 surfboards, Wilson still shapes his boards out of a glass booth inside Surf City Surf Shop in Myrtle Beach. It’s that shop that has been the clubhouse, and the place to be as a surfer since Mark Allison opened it himself in 1978.

“Everyone comes by here. If you want to surf, you’re going to stop here at some point and see what’s up,” said Wilson. “Granted, you can go online and see a contest or whatever, but at some point, you’re going to have to come by here to get a bar of wax. Or, you’re going to bust a fin out and have to come in to get it fixed.”

“We started in 1978,” said Allison. “Our very first store was a short lived one. It was in a little retail development in Restaurant Row with a waterslide, during the waterslide boom. The development was called Hawaiian Village. But, we ended up in the Windy Hill center up in North Myrtle Beach. We stayed up there until about 1981 and then added a store in Myrtle Square Mall. We took the spot that was the GT Phone Mart. Then a few years later, we moved over into the Carousel Court in Myrtle Square Mall. We were in Myrtle Square Mall for 20 years.

“We went back to Windy Hill in 1994 to the 33rd Ave store (adding a second store). When the mall went downhill, we moved the Myrtle Beach store to the strip center over by Dunkin Donuts at 31st Ave North. Then, in 2005 we got the opportunity to come into the store where we are presently at 6303 N Kings Hwy.” In 2011, the North Myrtle Beach store closed and moved everything, including Wilson, into that 63rd Ave store to form one large retail base.

Over 37 years in the retail industry – that’s not easy. The successful formula that has worked well for Surf City is a simple two-prong approach: personality, and passion for the sport.

“Mark is great with the customers, but you can’t discount his wife Laura. She’s the one running the back end of that show,” said former employee and life-long customer Laura Weaver.mark 3

World famous surf artist Drew Brophy grew up in Myrtle Beach, and remembers the impact Allison had on his early years, “Here’s this guy from California that opens this shop that instantly brought us into current surf trends. You’re dealing with someone who loves surfing. He brought that to us and anchored it in our town. At the core of it, he’s given us the gift of surfing.”

Relocating from California to Myrtle Beach, from the idyllic surf of the Pacific Ocean to the “temperamental” waves of the Atlantic, is a pretty dramatic change for a surfer. But it was those Cali roots that developed Allison’s surfing soul.

“I grew up in Los Angeles around the South Bay area and then moved to the San Fernando Valley in Northern LA County in middle school,” says Allison.

Allison discovered surfing like most young kids do, just looking for a way to have fun with his friends. “I started at the age of 9 at Playa Del Ray in South Bay. We were close to the beach and I went down with a friend of mine, Marty Mayfield. We took his brother’s longboard; it took two of us to carry it. We just caught the white water foaming, trading off with each other, and that’s how it all started,” said Allison.

Moving to the Valley gave Allison access to one of the best surf breaks in the world, “We lived about a 20 minute ride from the point in Malibu, where all the legends like Miki Dora were.”

Allison left California in 1975 after graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He took a job in marketing with a company out of Atlanta. He would live out of a suitcase, traveling from town to town, calling on import car dealers. With a variety of beaches up and down the East Coast to choose as a settling down point, Allison chose Myrtle Beach.

“It was my first Memorial Day here and I had an apartment I was sharing with a guy. I had just gotten my board shipped to me, and I drove up to North Myrtle Beach. I don’t know why I made the right turn on 27th Ave South in Crescent Beach. I drove down there to the pier that was there then, there’s a Baywatch Resort there now.

“I pulled up to the beach access and saw these perfect little green waves coming in probably about chest high with nobody out. So, I went out and surfed the whole day. A couple of people finally came out.

“I went back the next day and it was a little smaller, with more people out.

“I went back that following Monday on Memorial Day; it was a little smaller with a lot of people out. But, I had three great days there and I said this place looks like it could be me. That was in 1975,” said Allison.

On New Year’s Eve in 1977, Mark and his wife of 37 years, Laura, were married. They would produce two children, Vanessa and Sarah, both adventurous, world travelers.markbanner-u2356-fr

That first Surf City Surf Shop opened in 1978 and Allison brought that California vibe, originality, and coolness that this area lacked in surf shops. “He’s one of the first real surf guys that I met when I came to this beach around 1980 or 81,” said Wilson. “He was the real deal, he wasn’t just a guy out there selling shorts, he surfed. He traveled; he grew up in Southern California, and knew those spots. He was legit.”

Traveling is a huge part of surfing, especially to those on the Grand Strand. With average wave heights of below waist high, local surfers hit the West Coast, Central America, Puerto Rico, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina when the funds and opportunity arises. Having a knowledgeable guide is always a plus, and Allison has always been ready and willing to help show his community the way.

With a new shop, and a clubhouse membership building, Allison took the lead in helping guide and develop local surfers. “Around 8 or 9, I started coming to the store,” said local surfer Chal Lester. Lester now works in management at Surf City, another guy living the dream thanks to help from Allison. “Mark did some really cool things with some guys that got invited to the nationals in Huntington Beach, California. This was the mid to late 80’s. Mark and Dan Cox took 18 kids to K38 & Rosarito Beach in Mexico and stayed down there for a week. We really got to surf some nice waves before the nationals. And then they took us all over to Huntington and let us compete. That was one of the coolest things as a 13 year old. It was a quick introduction, but a lifetime of memories.”

Allison remembers Lester’s group well, “There was a really good group of guys that we had back in the 80’s. Drew Brophy was one of them, Mike Hoisington, Reid Cox, Ted Detwiler. They were super competitive kids on a national level. They were world class, regardless if they lived in Myrtle Beach or they were in Huntington Beach. That group traveled with me in the 80’s.”

Rob McCarty is another guy, living the dream, influenced by Mark Allison. McCarty grew up in Myrtle Beach, along with that same group of 80’s guys, before going off to California to work for Billabong, eventually becoming their senior designer. He left Billabong 15 years later and became one of the founders of the international surf clothing brand, Vissla. “I had a single parent growing up. Mark would come by and pick me up for contests. I remember this one time he was taking me to a contest and his wife was having a baby. He didn’t know, but when he found out, he dropped me off and rushed back to the hospital. That was around 1984.

“He exposed us to a lot, taking us to the west coast and Mexico. He showed us that there was more to surfing than just surfing in Myrtle Beach,” said McCarty.

“You think about it,” said Brophy, from his California art studio. “If Mark never came to Myrtle Beach, how would our lives be different? Not many people have that kind of impact on the community. I can’t tell you how many contacts and things he’s given me in my life.Mark n drew

“I’m pretty lucky. I’ve surfed everywhere in the world, but I was just a kid in Myrtle Beach too. If Mark wasn’t there to introduce me to people, and take me places, would I be where I am today? I seriously doubt it. Surfing saved my life, and he was a big part of that.”

If you’re going to surf and travel, you’re going to need gear, and Surf City has always been there with the coolest stuff. Through several store moves, through the progression of surfing and gear advancement, Allison has always kept his finger on the pulse of what is happening in surfing. Annual trade shows allowed Allison to fill his store with the latest gear. He was willing to take a chance on local products from the occasional surfer/entrepreneur, but he also brought in the stuff from around the world. He estimates that he’s sold probably four to five thousand surfboards through the years.

“When this industry grew,” said Lester, “it got commercialized and it was the lifestyle that was lacking. But Mark encompasses that. He never loses sight of, “I don’t have a store to be rich, I have a store to live a lifestyle. That lifestyle and nostalgia, this surf shop embodies it. He’s cultivated it and groomed it. He’s so intelligent, and able to read the pulse of the industry. It’s gone through a lot of changes since 2004-2007. To get around that corner and see what’s next, he’s two steps ahead.”

Paddleboarding was one of those changes. Instead of catching the wave while lying prone on your board and then standing up, paddleboarders stand up while paddling, and riding the wave.Mark9

“This paddleboard thing has been really awesome,” said Allison as his face lights up with the discussion. “It was one of those things that really fit my physique and lifestyle. Not only do we ride these things in the surf, but a good friend and I up in North Myrtle Beach, we bought race boards and for the last 3 or 4 years we’ve competed in the paddleboard races up in Wilmington.

“The very first race we went to was the Surf to Sound Classic in Wrightsville Beach, about four years ago. I had a 12’6 carbon fiber board and competed in the recreation races, which are 3-4 mile races and won the 12’6 category. We went to New Bern this past year and competed in their race on the New River. They had a 5K race with about 65-70 people and I actually won that thing on a 14 footer. I got a picture of me on the podium with guys that were a lot younger and a lot stronger than me, but I paddled faster. So, I thought that was pretty cool.

“I’m going to do a couple or three races a year. We’re doing a race in Chattanooga in September, it’s 30 miles down the river. That’ll be about a five hour race.”

“A lot of surfers haven’t embraced it yet because it’s too easy or not cool enough, but I gotta tell ya, it’s the best workout that you’ll ever get. It was a game changer for me. I’m able to go out and surf for a couple of hours in Playa Grande, or wherever and in those two hours I can catch 30 or 40 really nice waves. Not that I’m trying to catch a lot of waves, it’s just that the paddle and how fast you can move on that board. I get all jacked up about it.”4461_94819357189_218110_n

Playa Grande you ask? That’s Costa Rica, Allison’s current playground. He’s had a house there for many years and spends a month at a time when he travels. He’ll return to Myrtle Beach to check on the store, hang out with friends and surf. Then, rinse and repeat, Allison’s back in Costa Rica again. And more than likely, when he’s in Costa Rica he is hosting his Myrtle Beach friends, and taking them to exotic breaks to surf – just like he’s been doing with folks for over three decades. After all these years, Mark Allison still fosters the lifestyle and spreads the stoke every chance he gets.

“He’s figured it out,” said Lester.

“I am living the dream,” said Allison. “I have to pinch myself every day. I’ve had it so good. Not to say that things have been super easy. Being in retail is hard. My best income producing days were back when I was sales repping. My income peaked out 20 years ago. All I’m doing now is, I’ve created a job for myself, and it’s a good job. But, it’s been such a good ride to be able to do what you like to do. Not to say that you can go anytime you want to, because you do have responsibilities. But, if you plan it right, you can. When I’m dead and gone, ain’t nobody going to be crying for me, because I’ve had the best life anybody could ever have.”

Mark Allison. Husband, father, mentor, surfer, traveler, Grand Strand Legend.

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