Board Culture at Mermaid Beach is much more than a surf shop. If you grew up on the Gold Coast, or travelled here for surfing holidays in the 80s you’d remember it as Town and Country. It was an institution – the favourite haunt of many a young grom, shaper and surf fanatic.
Travis Buchanan, the current owner has plenty of memories of that time.
“I was a grommet in ‘83 and ‘84 and used to skate out the back right here with the guys – everyone wore T&C shirts and rode T&C boards back in those days,” Trav said.
As it turns out, some 30 years later, Travis and his wife had the opportunity to buy the actual surf shop that held so many memories. Trav said he saw it as a chance to recreate a community hub similar to the one he knew as a kid.
“We used to come here and talk about surf boards,” he said, gesturing around the now refurbished store. “I couldn’t wait to get home from school. You’d race here right after the bell, you’d be here Saturdays and Sundays, hanging out here after a surf at Burleigh.”
“You’d go to see all the great shapers: Chris Garrett’s, Richard Harvey, Nev Hyman, Lawrie Hohensee, Muzza Burton and later Jack Knight, Ian Byrne, the Chapmans… We’d go from shaping bay to shaping bay and store to store talking about surf boards with all those guys,” Trav recollects.
“The beach looked after us in those days,” he said, acknowledging that where his store is, is one of the few areas of the coastal strip yet to be gentrified. “You’d have two dollars and go get some chips at Burleigh and then 20 of you would eat the chips and then surf for another five hours.”
As Travis tells me about his youth on the Gold Coast it’s clear he’s passionate about surf culture but also about the things that tied the community together then – face to face connection with people.
“My dad had his business at the old Burleigh Arcade for 20 years. Surfrider Foundation started next door. Back in those days Australian Surfing Life was made next to dad’s office. I’d surf during the day and then sit there and watch films or read articles when Timmy (Baker) was a young journalist and all these pro surfers would just be walking through the door,” Travis said, quick to point out that it’s unlikely any of those people would remember him as a kid.
“It was fantastic.”
Trav has owned Board Culture Surf Shop for not even two years but he has quite the vision for the space, and when you ask him about it, retail hardly gets a look-in.
“I want to share this space with creatives, with industry. Share the space with music, art, just take it to being a place of creativity rather than just a retail space,” he said.
He does accept he needs to sell things though, and while we’re sitting chatting there’s a constant stream of traffic – on foot and passing commuters – stopping in for their mid-morning caffeine hit.
“I do need to sell t-shirts and coffees,” he laughed. “It’s not cheap to have property on the Gold Coast Highway, but at the same time I want to add to our culture positively.”
Travis said when he took over the store it was most certainly a retail environment where surf was concerned. “It was 2013. The local surf shop had become more about retail than a social hub with a community conscience,” he said. We speak for a while about whether building social community hubs is actually good for the dollars and cents side business and Travis laughs again.
“Well, let’s just say you have to build the groundswell,” he said with a smile.
And if community spirit is the measure of business success, then Travis is doing an outstanding job. While we are chatting over his coffee counter, seated in retro lounge chairs tucked inside the front door, amongst locally designed bikinis, locally shaped surfboards, and skateboards, there’s a constant stream of people coming and going. Some of them have yoga mats. One has a guitar. He tells me there’s a local delivery guy who stops for a coffee and a quick game of darts most days.
Later, while I’m interviewing someone else Travis walks out with a stack of coffees and says to his army of regulars enjoying the morning sun, “look after the shop for me while I do this coffee run, guys.”
He tells me about some of the products he stocks: DHD Boards by Darren Handley who trained under Muzza Burton down at Kirra. “He’s probably the number one or two shaper in the world,” Trav tells me. “He has like 12 world titles that he has shaped.”
There’s Super Brand Surfboards shaped by Sparrow who trained under Darren Handley and there’s Harvest Surfboards by Jack and Aaron Knight – specialising in handmade, retro classics and John Mantle single fins. Trav also stocks Clearwater Longboards, Vissla, Depactus and Rhythm clothing brands – all local and all with interesting histories. He has Worthy Skateboards, Cacao Bikinis and Bahana who make cotton pants and throws, a heap of local magazines (including Blank, of course) and photography for sale by Adam Duffy. He rattles off a bunch of other brands, particularly surfboards, but the list is completely overwhelming.
He humbly hints at having helped other local businesses find their feet in a retail environment and I ask him which one he’s most proud of.
“That would be Fit Yoga Mermaid,” he said of the local business which started upstairs at the surf shop doing just one yoga class on a Saturday morning. “I’ve helped Natalia establish her business to what it is now. It’s just unreal.”
Natalia now runs nine classes at Board Culture every week. She tells me Trav was one of the first people she met on the Gold Coast.
“I was cruising around and thought the space was amazing,” she said. “Back home I used to rent the second floor of a surf shop. So we created this little project. We just started with free community classes on a Saturday because he wanted to create a community space – for me it was just having the opportunity to teach again.”
“He’s been such an amazing support for me – not just for the yoga, but as a friend. I love that he supports local people and little projects. It’s been really, really amazing,” Natalia said.
Travis feels it’s important for him to help other local businesses; to “help these guys build grass roots and then expand with them.”
He’s also passionate about tapping into the live music environment. And I can personally attest to that. In fact, the first time I set foot inside his store was for a Friday night BYO blues and burritos type deal. The week after we chat he has a massive live music showcase with some eight artists on the lineup planned for a weekend afternoon.
“We have spaces upstairs and up the back that we rent out for events and offer to charities,” Trav tells me. “We work with Surfrider Foundation and Make A Wish Foundation. We also support MNM Boardriders and Palm Beach Boardriders Clubs.”
As with all good ventures, Travis’ wife Dani is right behind his vision, but not so far as learning to use the coffee machine – she says that sits squarely in Trav and his barristers’ domain. But she does share his love of bringing people together. So much so she moved her own architecture practice upstairs so she could be part of the action.
“Oh I love it,” she said. “It’s a great feeling. What we’re building here is nice – it’s a nice environment to bring our kids up in.”
“I guess we’re kind of like worker bees. We’re not retail giants. And he has a real love of the old Gold Coast,” she said speaking of her husband. “He has this thing about the surf shop being where you hung out as a kid – I think that’s a really nice way to run a shop. If you have to run one, it’s nice for it to be more than a shop. It has an old Gold Coast feel.”
Dani designed the open-space store – the counter, retail display area and styling.
“It’s a work in progress, it will change and grow,” she said, and as we wrap up the interview Dani and Trav both share their motto… “buy local, surf global.”
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You can meet Trav up front and in person at Board Culture Surf Shop, 2442 Gold Coast Highway or check their FB page for regular events – like film screenings, live music, art exhibitions, yoga classes and more – or better still, go buy something | boardculture.com.au.