This week on Along The Keel, Zach talks with Nick Halleran, the founder of MAR Surf Exchange, which stands for Make And Ride. MAR Surf Exchange is a surfboard shop based in Virginia Beach, Virginia with a unique surfboard factory built into the shop designed for customers to learn to shape their own surfboard. Nick, originally from New York, did not grow up near the ocean, so when he moved to Virginia Beach and attempted to “break into the industry” he realized people’s tendency to keep their surfing and surfboard making knowledge to themselves as to not reveal their secrets. Throughout his time in Virginia Beach, Nick gained his own knowledge and board-shaping skills and decided to use them to teach others. He now operates the surfboard shop and factory where people with any level of knowledge can book an appointment and learn how to shape a board side by side with an instructor. Nick likes the work he does because it allows him to make connections within his community and share his knowledge and love for surfing with his customers. He believes that giving someone the ability and opportunity to shape their own surfboard makes the surfing experience more fulfilling since it begins long before they hit the waves.
A Personal Touch
Nick moved to Virginia Beach in 2012 after his freshman year of college. He decided that it was time to ditch the snow and give warmth and water a longer chance than the family vacations that originally exposed him to the beach lifestyle. Nick graduated from college with a degree in psychology and a focus in counseling. During his time in school, he worked to build and shape surfboards for clients. While he enjoyed the work, he desired to make a more direct impact on people’s lives. After he graduated from college he realized:
“My career paths were counseling or make surfboards, and so it was literally like, do you want to be in a small room with somebody else and try to help them make their life better? Or do you want to be in a small room by yourself and breathe dust and toxic fumes by yourself?”
Nick decided to fuse the two and took the idea all the way. He goes above and beyond to give each customer a personalized experience. Teaching takes double the amount of time it would take him to build or shape a surfboard himself, but it is worth it to him to make sure that each person is learning and understanding the process. Nick describes the way that some people enjoy the science behind it, paying special attention to each measurement and the way the shape will be affected by the water. Others prefer to take an artistic approach with the aim to build a board they are proud of and adjust to it as it moves with the water. He recognizes that everyone has a unique goal and learning style and caters to each one the best he can.
“If I have a guy who's way into the science, I better know the science. And if I have somebody come in who is not interested in the science at all, and they're looking at this process more as an art project, sure, I need to be able to speak that language as well.”
In addition to catering to the desires of each customer, Nick makes sure to put his own twist on every appointment. He pays attention to the way the customer is responding while he teaches them and gently pushes each person to the edge of their comfort zone, being careful to preserve the love of the craft and the interest in the sport. Nick wants each customer’s experience to be unique and beneficial so that their surf experience goes well beyond a day on the water.
Nick enjoys owning the unique business and being a well-known storefront in his area, but he is undoubtedly in it for the people. He likes to say that he is investing in community success rather than financial success. He has done a wonderful job with the business, which the community recognizes and outwardly shows appreciation. This became more apparent than ever during the COVID pandemic. Nick was concerned in March 2020 when people around the world were not able to work and individuals became increasingly more wary of day-to-day activities, largely giving up their special interests. Nick and his wife decided to take it slowly and check in week by week to determine if MAR would continue operating or not. To their surprise and delight, people showed up to the shop regularly as the shutdown allowed people to spend more time outside than they normally were able to. Nick tells of one person who called to make sure that MAR was still open since he had been wanting to build a board for a while but didn’t have the time to do so until now. Another gentleman chose to buy a year long MAR membership to support the business, even though he did not think he would have time to come in during the year.
“I think that it's people who have had great experiences with us want us to be around…and…that blows me away. It really does.”
The community showing up for MAR during the COVID pandemic when many small companies went out of business is a testament to the character of the shop and the impact that it has on the community.
Nick is having a great time fusing his creativity and surfboard building skills with his desire to connect with and teach others. His future plans for the shop include making and selling shirts, collecting parts and equipment that people are getting rid of, and he claims to have some secret plans up his sleeve.Whatever the future holds, the waters of Virginia Beach are sure to hold more and more MAR boards with happy riders!
By Staff Writer and Editor