The popular Tarsan Stand-Up Paddle Boarding shop in Redondo Beach’s King Harbor closed its doors for the last time this week — a sign, say its owners, the sport of is not the rage that it used to be just a few years ago.
Owners Gene and Pam Smith, who were packing up the final merchandise from the store on Wednesday, Jan. 29, tried to focus on the positive memories they will have of the shop, even though they were brokenhearted to say goodbye. A mural of pictures on the wall, from floor to ceiling, captured just some of the moments.
“I’m just really glad to have created this great experience for many, many people and as sorry to see it go as much as anyone else, even more so,” said Gene Smith, who was introduced to stand-up paddle boarding in 2007 by Laird Hamilton, who’s largely credited with spawning the craze.
Tarsan, on Harbor Drive just a few feet from the bike path leading to a dock in the marina, became the setting for receptions and fundraisers, with the shop itself contributing to hundreds of charities.
Since 2010, when the shop first opened in Hermosa — before moving to King Harbor in 2015 — Tarsan has put roughly 20,000 people on the water through a sport that, at the time, was booming in popularity. But that popularity has waned, the owners said.
“We’ve seen the writing on the wall for two to three years,” said Gene Smith, who revealed the shop and the rentals were always a passion project and not a main source of income, which came from his sports marketing and licensing work.
“I spent a lot of personal money subsidizing this,” he added, “and my accountant was like, ‘have you had enough?’”
Customers could rent boards and paddles by the hour or pay for a membership to use the stock pile of boards they had on a dock in the marina. On a good summer day, the shop would send dozens of paddlers, some with instructors, into the marina for an experience that feels at times like walking on water.
“We were fortunate we lived through the peak years,” Smith said. “So there are no bitter feelings about it, but the retail side of this industry has been dead for two to three years.”
Smith said the retail store suffered from the high cost of rent, seasonal trends that never seemed to equal out during the summer and lower-cost retail products — creating what he called a “race to the bottom” on quality and price.
The general downward trend in the sport can also be seen through the competitive side, with a decline in the participation and sponsorship of races, such as the Pacific Paddle Games in Dana Point, which was the first “battle of the paddle” when it started in 2008. The event, which was viewed as the foremost contest in the sport, was called off last year and there are no plans yet to revive it.
“As soon as you know the ‘battle of the paddle’ is over, it’s pretty much over,” Smith said. “There’s just not as many people doing it. People say, ‘Why is that?’ The learning curve is so small that for a lot of people it’s just a bucket list thing. Some people get addicted and want to be on the water every day, but that’s the minority.”
Recent market studies, however, show the stand-up paddle boarding industry is still growing by $111 million in the next four years.
Smith said he got so hooked on the sport, like many others, that he competed and made stand-up paddle boarding an integral part of his active lifestyle, something he said he would continue to cherish. Running a business, he said, sometimes has a way of sucking the passion right out of something.
“I probably will regain that passion for having all those great memories like we had with the blue whales,” he said. “I look forward to those days again.”
Pam Smith, who operated the Tarsan shop in Redondo Beach on a day-to-day basis, said people need to support their local businesses more.
“The South Bay is a very seasonal place,” she said, “and if you don’t get the support of the locals during the winter months, that’s why so many go out of business.”