Take a look inside Sunderland's first surf shop Bob Gnarly as it opens its doors
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Husband and wife team, Gary and Kay Wilson, from Ryhope, started an online outdoor clothing and accessories business 10 years and formerly ran their mostly online operation from North East BIC at Hylton Riverside.
When the pandemic hit two years ago, Gary noticed a surge in surf board, wetsuit and boogie board sales as more people began appreciating the great outdoors.
Although the Bob Gnarly Surf Shop sells around the country through online outlets, the uptake in local custom has led to them opening the city’s first surf shop.
Housed in a former antiques shop in Hylton Road, the shop, whose name is a play on Bob Marley, is well stocked with surf, skate, outdoor and watersports apparel, with brands such as Osprey, Sola, VW, Catch Surf, Carver, Sector 9 and more. It primarily sells entry level and intermediate surf gear, with more lines to be added over time.
Although the business doesn’t solely rely on footfall thanks to its website, Gary say it’s great to be able to meet customers face to face and to talk them through the products.
"There’s not many shops like this in the North East, the nearest are probably Tynemouth and Saltburn, so it’s great for people who want to see the products in person before they buy,” explained Gary.
He added: "We definitely noticed a big increase in surf sales and more and more people using Roker and Seaburn due to the pandemic. It’s a great spot,” said Gary. "The pandemic saw a huge explosion of folks getting into sea swimming, surfing, SUP boarding and other water sports. It was a difficult time for us all. But some real good has come from it though.
"By getting into the sea, people have found the massive benefits to their general wellbeing and mental health. We want to keep that momentum going and encourage more folk to find out just what they have on their doorstep up and down this beautiful coast here in the North East.”
The shop opened its doors recently and Gary say it’s already proved a talking point with nearby businesses and shoppers on the local high street.
“I was looking for a unit, but there isn’t a lot of availability for retail on the seafront, and it’s expensive,” he explained. "People are surprised to see a surf shop on Hylton Road, but it’s a large enough unit for all the stock and there’s non-permitted parking for people.”
Speaking about how he started the business, he said: “The business has evolved over time with my own interests. It’s great to be able to make a living from something you love.”
Bob Gnarly Surf Shop is open now, but will be hosting an official opening day event on Saturday, April 2 between 10am and 2pm. All are welcome to stop by and have a look around. There's also 10% off everything in store on that day between those times.