We love breathing in the comforting scent of Sex Wax, neoprene rubber and swimsuits when walking into a surf shop. The local retailers that stock Seea suits are integral partners in getting our labor of love into your hands.
At first glance, our newest California Seea dealer, Huntington Surf and Sport in Huntington Beach, doesn't look much like a mom and pop shop. What many people don't know is that HSS is still a family owned business. Behind the glitz and glam and corporate surf logos that dominate PCH and Main, there is a core of enthusiastic employees with a passion for surfing, some of whom have worked at HSS for over 20 years.
Recently, we caught up with Ashlyn Pai, daughter of owner Aaron Pai, to find out more about the HSS story, and to find out what it was like to grow up surrounded by all the things we hold dear.
|Then: The first HSS 15th St. location in Huntington Beach.
|Now: HSS Pierside store at Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street in Huntington Beach.
|Seea display at HSS.
The story starts with Ashlyn's father, Aaron Pai, who moved from his birthplace of Honolulu, Hawaii to Southern California as a child. Aaron fell in love with surfing in Huntington Beach when he was 12-years-old and spent his adolescent summers visiting his great grandmother in Honolulu.
In 1978, Aaron was the first employee to be hired at Huntington Surf & Sport and one year later, he had the opportunity to buy the shop. With the help of his parents, he started living his dream of running a surf shop. Today, the whole Pai family—parents, brothers and sisters—are involved in the store. As part of the women's merchandise team with buyer Latisha Tavarez, Ashlyn told us about what life is like being in a surf shop family.
Growing up in Huntington Beach and in a surf shop, surfing has been all around me.... or I've been all around surfing. It wasn't until I got a little bit older that I got to step back and see the unique dynamic of southern California, and the roots a lot of our cities have in the sport of surfing. I see much more of a community now than I saw before, and I'm happy to be apart of it.
|Pai family Aaron, his sister and cousin picking pineapples in Hawaii in the late 1960s.
I don't get to Hawaii as often as I used to, but being there last summer really opened my eyes to a lot. When I was younger, it was such a great place to visit every summer. I can remember my dad pushing me into waves, the sunrises over Diamond Head, the saltiness of the water.
It wasn't until the past few years that I realized how much Hawaii has shaped my father's life, my life. I have such a love and appreciation for Hawaii, and as much as it may change in some areas, I still get the same feelings as when I was a kid.
The surf culture there is very simple and laid back. I can remember being 8-years-old and meeting a girl the same age. Her dad was friends with mine and he took us out at Waikiki for some waves and a burger after. Not very many places are like that. I think it's true that time slows down there a little bit. It's magic.
How have you seen the HSS business grow over the years?
When I was young, HSS had already been around for 13 years. We had two stores (our Pierside location and PCH and Warner Avenue location), and not too much girl’s product really existed in the industry. In the mid '90's we added the girl’s section at our Pierside location, and eventually had a girl’s store on Main Street as well, which is now our Billabong store. In 2006, we opened our store located at Bella Terra. In all, we have four stores located in Huntington Beach. It's been really awesome to watch HSS blossom into a fruitful thing. The future is something I look forward to.
|Pai family as children. Pictured from left to right: Trevor, Lindsay, Taylor, mom (Sher) and Ashlyn.
How do you feel about coming into the family business now? Did you think you would always join in when you "grew up" or have another career?
I've been working here now since I was 12-years-old. My parents would let me help out on weekends, and I loved it.
When I was younger I thought for a while I would grow up and do my own thing. Once I hit a certain age, I was able to see what was around me and what I could be apart of. Everything just started to make a lot more sense. If I could work with my family that I love, why wouldn’t I?
On top of that, I've always had a love for fashion and clothing. My sister, Lindsay, is six years older than me. She has definitely influenced me. It's really cool to see the stages people go through, whether it's fashion, choices in life, where people are, how they got there and the steps they are taking. I'm happy to be apart of HSS.
|Ashlyn with her father in Hawaii.
|Trevor Pai and his wife Jenna (wearing the Seea Swami's Playsuit in Waterstripe) fishing off the coast of Tavarua.
I feel like I have an eye for detail, which I owe to both of my parents—that is what I want to carry on and contribute. I feel that it is very important to put the loving touches on things. It makes everything so much more meaningful.
How is your style and perspective as a girl influencing the store buys and decisions?
I think that nowadays it's more important than ever to set your store apart from others. So much product is available online. The team and I really want to create an experience when customers come into our store. It's important to keep things youthful and fresh, and that's what Latisha [Tavarez, HSS women’s buyer] and I like to strive for as the girl's buying team.
|Lindsay Pai, now a mother of two children, at San Onofre in 2009.
HSS is located at the intersection of PCH and Main Street—opposite the busy pier and right across the street from Jack's Surf Shop. How do you differentiate yourself from the other stores in town that essentially carry the same brands?
My father has surfed the pier since he was twelve. My mom, brothers, and sister have all worked or are currently working at the store. We all share a deep love for the ocean, and for the most part all of us surf.
I think the fact that it is a family business sets us apart. We're very passionate about what we do. We also have a very knowledgeable and experienced staff. Many of our workers have been with HSS for 10, 15, even 25+ years. We care more about helping our customers than making a sale. The sale is just the fruit of our work.
We like to have our customers feel at home and we want them to have a positive experience. This is our 35th year in business and we are always finding ways to better ourselves!
Seea is a very grassroots, personal line. Why is that important for HSS to support those kinds of lines?
We love to be able to offer and support brands like Seea because of the unique nature and the passion. The passion shines through and has so much appeal. We love to be able to support brands that are motivated by the same thing as us: the ocean.
We want to offer our customers a variety, and really, there's no other brand like Seea that is so simple, fashion-forward, and functional. It seems like any girl that surfs has been waiting for something like Seea.
What's your favorite thing about Seea?
The simplicity! It's so refreshing. And the fact it's run by a power couple, Brian and Amanda. They have a true vision. The Palomar Crop Top and Leucadia Skirted High Waist bottoms are my absolute favorites!