Business: Being Part Of The Community Is Key To Nauset Surf Shop Success

By: Jenna Sammartino

Nauset Surf Shop's current owners, from left, Molly McIntire, Phil Clark, and Jamie Alexander. COURTESY PHOTOS

ORLEANS – It’s the oldest surf shop on Cape Cod, and the name you call it by is almost a marker of your generation.

“Nauset Surf or Nauset Sports…you can tell how people know us by how they refer to the shop,” said Molly McIntire. “We love it.”

These days, the longboard sign hanging above the big window just off the Orleans rotary at Jeremiah Square ties the shop squarely to its roots: Nauset Surf Shop. But whatever you call it, the shop is an icon of the Lower Cape.

Phil Clark was a senior in college when he purchased the tiny shop in 1970. The business was founded in Orleans in 1965, and with his purchase, Clark set the foundation for what would become a true community-oriented business. With his daughters McIntire and Jamie Alexander, the three Clark family members have provided a watersports cornerstone for 51 years running. With McIntire’s kids now working at the shop, it’s a three-generation business.

For a place that everyone knows, and whose T-shirts, hats, and stickers are regularly spotted all over the country, the Clark family are about as down-to-earth as you can get: quiet and “behind the scenes” – even though they all regularly work the front of the shop.

Clark reflected on his early years in the business. Surf culture was popular in the 1960s, he said, brought about by the film “The Endless Summer,” and it was present to a smaller extent on Cape Cod.

“All six of us,” he said jokingly, recalling what would have made up his core customer group in those early years. Clark has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ebb and flow of surf culture over the decades, when the transition to shortboards made longboarding uncool (and made the sport feel more difficult for the average person), when they made their reappearance as folks returned to surfing’s roots (“Why not just have fun?” as Clark said), to the explosion through the 1990s of women’s surfing and the growth of the whole industry as a lifestyle brand.

Through it all, Alexander commented, the shop has always carried the staples: surf wax, boards, bikinis, and tees. And the shop has always been in Orleans, although it moved around town as it grew over the years. Clark’s daughters recount the locations they remember as part of their childhood: first where the current Three Fools restaurant is now, then moving to where Orleans Yoga is now based. As they grew, the business moved across town to where Sherwin Williams now is.

Clark finally settled the shop into its current location in 1985. It was in the ‘80s that the shop branched out, changing its name to Nauset Sports and adding sporting goods alongside the surf merchandise.

“There was a void in the community,” Clark explained, “There was really no sporting goods store outside of Goose Hummock. We picked up the slack for the team sports.” 

McIntire and Alexander remember the shop printing jerseys for all the local teams when they were in the Nauset school system. The sisters were always involved in the shop. In their younger years they were “doing odds and ends, sorting hangers,” McIntire laughed. When they were old enough they worked summers and holidays. Alexander added, “I learned how to make change using our old-fashioned cash register.”

For several years in the 1980s and early ‘90s, Clark added a satellite location called Pure Fun in Eastham. Alexander talked about how she loved working at that location. “We watched 'Endless Summer' and 'North Shore' every day,” she reminisced, and then laughed, “It was the less stressful location.” 

Clark chimed in, “It was a rental shop. The reason for having it was to teach windsurfing.” And McIntire added with a smile that on rainy days the Orleans location, where she worked, would be packed while her sister was up in Eastham watching surf films.

It’s clear the family enjoys working together. After McIntire finished college, she knew she wanted to go into the family business and she began right away as a buyer. “The timing really coincided with the growth of women’s surfing and the launch and early growth of a lot of the women’s brands like Roxie,” she said.

“I was a little more hesitant to come home,” Alexander admitted. She was on the west coast, she said, “And then Molly got married and had Layne (her daughter), and I thought, ‘Do I really want to be the only one living on the west coast?'” Again, the timing worked well, as the bookkeeper for the business had just retired.

McIntire’s two teenagers also now have several seasons under their belts. At 18, her daughter Layne started college this fall and her son Cooper, 16, is a strong surfer who has been helping Clark hold down the board end of the business. Alexander’s little ones already help out just as their mom did when she was little with the all-important job of sorting hangers and other odds and ends.

Over its half-century in business, the shop has stayed true to its roots while shifting to meet the needs and interests of the local community. Their annual end-of-the-year “Penny Sale” has become legendary. With the rise of online shopping, they phased out sporting goods and returned in 2002 to their original name. When concern grew over sharks, stand-up paddleboarding and skimboarding got more popular. When the pandemic hit, Alexander oversaw the building of a new website with their own online shop.

And with an eye to the future, the family is considering what the increased year-round population brought on by the pandemic will mean for business. If the Clark family has always had a good feel for the needs of the local population, the reason is simple: they’re part of the community.