Oak Forest’s Surfhouse is celebrating a half-century of selling fun products and providing helpful service to residents in the area and Houston at large. The celebration of this milestone includes a move to a new building – less than 100 feet from the old location – and Surfhouse owners Carol and Lloyd Sandel could not be happier.
Since opening in 1967, the Sandels have been making friends with their extensive knowledge, professional guidance, and hand-selected inventory of all things sun, surf and skateboard-related. Their hard work and care paid off. Today, the Surfhouse is recognized in the Texas Surfing Museum as the oldest shop in the state, and the front door of the former location is considered a relic and prominently displayed there.
However, the new location does not disappoint. It is part of the redevelopment project underway on the southwest corner of 34th Street and Ella Boulevard. Does the new building rob us of the aroma of surfboard wax we so love? Can we still find colorful Hawaiian shirts, skate-themed tees, sunscreen and interesting swimwear? Are the peace signs still available? The answer is a resounding “yes,” and then some.
“Our new store is a little smaller, but it has big widows that let in the light. It’s so comfortable; it’s a really nice change,” Carol Sandel said. “Sometimes things come to an end, and we just have to roll with it. The old building was falling down. It was so old, nothing worked. The last week we were there, the lights tried to go out, and I thought ‘Just go out. I’m not changing another light bulb in this old place ever again’,” she said, laughing.
Both the Sandals grew up in near north Houston. Three years after they married, the couple launched their business on Spring Branch Drive and, six months after that, they relocated it to the old 34th Street and Ella location. Their timing was perfect.
“When we first opened, surfing was just taking off. We were able to grow with the sport. A few years later, in the 1970s and 80s, skateboards took hold,” Sandel said.
Many baby boomers remember when kids across America would dismantle metal roller skates and nail them to planks of wood to make skateboards. Manufacturers quickly introduced all sorts of models. Many included the stability of hard rubber wheels that kids snapped up.
“That new skateboarding trend was a good fit for us,” explains Sandel. “Skateboarding was first introduced by surfers in California as ‘sidewalk surfing,’ and it just kept getting bigger and better. Today, it’s a full-on sport of its own. We expect to see it introduced in the Olympics sometime soon, and it’s really big in China. China has the largest skate park in the world, but the North Houston Skate Park is the largest in America.”
The inventory of skateboards at the Surfhouse is worth a visit. While aspects of the shop still echo the 1970s, the new skateboards are so high-tech, they look space age. The surfboards reflect the same advanced designs and engineering evident in the skateboards. However, the clothing lines remain delightfully retro.
“The demand for the older sixties style designs is so high, that it’s hard for us to drop in newer ones. We’ve even added baby and kids clothing because people asked us to. They are very popular,” Sandel said.
How long will the couple continue? Carol Sandel has heard the question before. “As long as we can,” she said with a laugh. “We really like getting up each day, and having a place to go.”