STONE HARBOR - For someone who lives in a pancake-flat part of the Northeast that sees precious little snow, Chris Brockman spends a lot of time thinking about snowboarding.
Brockman, of Middle Township, owns Stone Harbor Surf & Paddle, a surf shop on Third Avenue in downtown Stone Harbor that sells and repairs surfboards and paddleboards. But in winter, he teaches snowboarding to vacationers in Aspen, Colo.
Surfing and snowboarding have a lot in common, he said.
"I grew up a surfer. But I went out to visit my brother in Colorado. I was out there bartending and I started instructing in snowboarding," he said.
He snowboards about 130 days of the year, learning new free-style tricks with pipes and rails.
Brockman bought the surf shop this year and changed the name from Wetsuit World to Stone Harbor Surf & Paddle.
The store still sells a wide variety of wetsuits, with long or short sleeves, plus materials suited to diving, surfing, paddleboarding or triathlons. They're made locally by manufacturer Henderson Aquatics, which is based in Millville.
"We're breaking in new equipment all the time. Some are made for commercial fishing. We're putting together an order now for a fire department in Delaware that does river rescue," Brockman said. "I have good product knowledge because I use this stuff. When I buy equipment, I know what will work here in New Jersey for our clients."
The shop is open year-round. When Brockman goes back to Colorado this winter, he will leave the store in the hands of manager Matthew Mansor, 29, of Avalon. Mansor learned to surf when he was 12 and worked for the store's former owner.
"Matt's a year-round surfer. He's one of those guys climbing through the snow to get to the water," Brockman said.
Some of South Jersey's best surfing takes place in the fall, when the water gets colder. The shop offers a variety of products to help surfers contend with all weather conditions.
"February is our slowest month, but you'd be surprised by how many people go surfing in all weather," he said.
Locally, paddleboarding is growing in popularity.
"It's versatile," Mansor said. "Paddleboarding is something you can do in the back bay or the ocean. You can even teach yourself how to do it."
The store offers individual surfing lessons and runs Stone Harbor's surf camp for the borough's Recreation Department.
"We do a lot of lessons. That definitely helps with our sales," Brockman said. "We specialize in helping beginners. We sell a lot of beginner equipment - soft surfboards and equipment."
The way Brockman sees it, people don't learn to surf. They become surfers.
"When you get good at it, it becomes very rewarding. It's a great sport because there's no score. It doesn't matter how good or bad you are. The best surfer is the one who is having the best time," he said.
Beginner boards are wider and longer, less expensive and made from a foamy material that is more forgiving on the body during a fall. But the store has a variety of gear to match all experience levels, Brockman said.
Children can get frustrated and give up when trying something difficult for the first time, so Brockman said it's important that they have a fun time during the lesson.
"That's our emphasis. I set them up for success and make it so they can stand up on the board," he said. "Then mom and dad can get a picture."
These young surfers are bound to be tomorrow's customers, he said.
"There's an investment. Kids will start with a soft board and then move them up to a durable board. We steer kids to a used board so they know how to care for them," he said.
The shop also does in-store repairs in its back workshop. They can fix cracks and chips to extend the lifespan of a board, he said. Most of these board mishaps occur out of the water.
"A high-performance surfboard is a fragile piece of equipment that takes a lot of care," he said. "When it does break, it has to be repaired. If it's not, it's the beginning of the end."
Contact Michael Miller:
Surf & Paddle
Location: 9716 Third Ave.,
Owner: Chris Brockman