What it's like to Surf in New York: Pilgrim Surf + Supply

Opening up a surf shop in the middle of a metropolis sounds like a counterintuitive idea. But the brilliance of husband and wife team behind Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Brooklyn (and a second location in Amagansett) is how their curious minds put the seemingly random together in unexpected ways that flow. 

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Inside the Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim. 

Opening up a surf shop in the middle of a metropolis sounds like a counterintuitive idea. But the brilliance of husband and wife team behind Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Brooklyn (and a second location in Amagansett) is how their curious minds put the seemingly random together in unexpected ways that flow. Like Asian-Spanish fusion cooking, or a hip-hop and rock song mash-up, the surprise combinations cast deeper flavors to the individual components.

Co-founder Erin Norfleet Gentile (and wife of co-founder of Chris Gentile) explains, “It’s exciting to watch people come into the door and discover things. For example, possibly being challenged by the fact that there's a book on Italian painter Giorgio Morandi sitting next to a rack of George Greenough fins shelved next to a hearty winter jacket designed in Denmark which hangs in front of a rack of Josh Hall, Fineline or Andreini boards – all of which are relevant to us!”

We caught up with Erin and Chelsea Burcz (Editor of Pilgrim Surf + Supply) about how Pilgrim came to be, what its really like to surf in New York, and Erin reveals why her and Chris' love for Brooklyn hasn’t waned from being bright-eyed twentysomethings to thirtysomethings raising two children.

Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Surf + Supply. 

What's the story behind why Pilgrim was founded? 

Erin: Chris and I never had a goal to open a surf shop. Thirteen years ago, Chris and I moved to New York - for him it was to make art and to be in a dialog with a community of friends that were doing creative things; surfing was a part of that community.  I come from a background of working in non-profit and public organizations before we opened Pilgrim, and that's what originally brought me to New York.  Chris initially opened a small surf shop in our neighborhood in 2007 because there was a need for a hard goods surf shop in the City at that time.  After 5 years, in 2012, we took the leap and opened Pilgrim as our family business.  We both stopped working our other jobs and jumped into it, which was scary because a lot was on the line, but it's been the best decision we could have made.

Inside Pilgrim Surf +Supply in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim. 

When did women's garments and swimwear come into the picture, and what kind of women shop in your store? 

Erin: We have a wonderfully diverse core customer, women being a major part of that. We've carried women's swim since we opened the shop in 2012, and have been gradually bringing women's apparel into the mix each season.  For the first time this summer, Pilgrim launched a small women's collection, which is exciting!

How did you discover Seea and why does it fit within the kinds of brands and style you choose for Pilgrim? 

Erin: Seea has a practical element to its design that we keep in mind when choosing brands to carry. We always are questioning a product's ability to hold up to the elements.

Chelsea: Seea has a great fit for women who surf or are active in the water -- no slippage!

Life growing in the city. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim. 

Where did you grow up and how did you get into surfing? 

Erin: I grew up in Virginia, near VA Beach.  I spent my childhood in the ocean in Virginia and North Carolina, and lived for a spell in the Outer Banks.  I have to admit, I'm more of a beach bum than a surfer these days.  I'm happy with a book or the paper on the beach.  Our daughter, Ida, who's eight-and-a-half-years-old is a much better surfer than I am!  It's been so fun to see her fall in love with it, just like Chris.  I think Ida's surfing may be the thing that gets me back out on a board.

Chelsea: I grew up surfing up the block from my home in Bay Head, NJ. After a family friend pushed me into a few waves when I was 8 years old, I immediately asked for my own board. My older brother passed along his old beat up thrusters and I began working for my local surf shop. The rest is history!

From left, future Seeababe! Erin and Chris' daughter Ida braves the waves! Right, the sunset in Louse Point closeby the Pilgrim Shop in Amagansett. Photos courtesy of Pilgrim. 

What are some of the best experiences and relationships that you have gained through surfing? 

Chelsea: Pilgrim is a community of surfers, and we've formed a big family around the act of and love for catching waves. Artists, bankers, writers, designers, chefs -- everyone brings something new to the table.

What are some of the common values and lifestyles that you see in people who surf, or have a connection to the outdoors and ocean? 

Erin: There's a deep respect for the ocean and its raw power.

Chelsea: Anyone who has a connection to the outdoors tends to be more thoughtful to the nature around them.

How are East coast women surfers different from West coast women surfers? 

Chelsea: East Coasters have longer stretches of time with no surf, so they tend to have more time to sit and think about the act of surfing, talk about it, write about it. In the northeast, we endure much harsher elements to catch a swell. It's really a 'drop everything and surf' mindset.

Pilgrim Editor Chelsea Burcz in Montauk. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Burcz.
Pilgrim Surf + Supply shop in Amagansett. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim.
What are the most frequently asked questions about surfing in New York? 

Chelsea: People are always interested in hearing about how we get to our breaks (we take public transportation or drive), about how cold the winters get (this past winter we surfed in waters that were 34 degrees), and where to get the best pizza post surf session (depends on what break your surfing, but Best Pizza in Williamsburg is always solid).

What are your home breaks? How often are you able to make it out to surf? 

Chelsea:  Some of our favorite breaks are in Long Beach, out east in Long Island and New Jersey. Our Brooklyn shop doesn't open until noon, so we can usually get a session in in the morning.

What kinds of waves do you usually surf? What kinds of boards work well in those waves and for your style?

Chelsea: It depends on which break you are surfing. There are spots in Montauk that usually offer a softer wave with some fantastic longboard breaks. New Jersey is a quick, dumpy barreling wave, so it's much better for a smaller board.

Inside the Amagansett shop. Photo by Saul Metnick. 
Inside Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Amangasett. Photo by Saul Metnick. 

Inside the Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Amagansett. Photo by Saul Metnick. 

What are your top five recommendations on where to eat, other shops and sights to see in the neighborhood around where Pilgrim is located? What do you love about your local community and neigborhood?

Chelsea: I love eating at Cafe Mogador or Saltie's, and drinking at places like Hotel Delmano, Union Pool, or Black Bear Bar. 10 Foot Single is a great vintage shop in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood really feels like a creative community, full of distinct small businesses feeding off each other's energy.

Erin:  I would add La Superior and Glasserie as personal favorites when eating out in Brooklyn.  In Amagansett, we eat LOTS of dosas from Hampton Chutney in the Square.  Mostly though we take advantage of being able to cook out on the grill outside.

We are fortunate to be able to be based in Brooklyn but also get out to Amagansett on the weekends and more over the summer. The best part of Amagansett is being able to be outdoors more in general. I love walking down to Louse Point with our kids or just watching the sunset over the Accabonac Harbor.  Chris and I have been in Williamsburg as twenty-something's, then thirty-somethings starting a family, and now forty-somethings with two kids and a local business, and I love it.  It's a genuine neighborhood with friends and supports.  My friends and I call on one another to help each other out all the time.  There's a very real community here that has persisted amid all of the change, and I value it on a daily basis.

What are some of the other cool brand discoveries that you sell in your shop? What's the story behind them?

Erin: We are most excited about the launch of our Pilgrim women's in house line! We spent a lot of time, thought, and energy into building apparel that can transition from the city to nature, and from work life to social life.

Easy, comfortable looks from Pilgrim's women's range. Photo courtesy of Pilgrim. 

What are your favorite moments about living in New York, and having a shop? The times that it makes you think that you love your city, and what you're doing?

Chelsea: The shop attracts people from all over the world, and we get to meet and talk with interesting and wonderful people every day, whether they're from Japan or Germany, surfers or not!

Erin: The energy of the City is like nowhere else.  It's intoxicating and motivating, and you don't stand still for very long.  In Amagansett, even when we're working, we get to slow down a little, which has been wonderful for our family.  I feel like we have the best of both worlds.  And yet these worlds also overlap and energize one another in a very natural way.  I feel very fortunate to do what we do.

Thank you Erin and Chelsea! Seea is so honored to be carried at Pilgrim Surf + Supply's curated shops! 


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