Always Summer Inside: Island Surf Marks 25 Years in Business - 27 East

Always Summer Inside: Island Surf Marks 25 Years in Business

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Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett outside the original location of Island Surf in Westhampton Beach 25 years ago.

Shawn Mett outside the original location of Island Surf in Westhampton Beach 25 years ago.

Shawn Mett outside the original location of Island Surf in Westhampton Beach 25 years ago.

The Island Surf logo.

Island Surf gear is a hot seller at the Westhampton Beach store, which is celebrating 25 years in business. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

Shawn Mett owns the building on Sunset Avenue where he operates the popular surf shop, Island Surf, which is marking 25 years in business this year. CAILIN RILEY

authorCailin Riley on May 26, 2023

The summer of 1992 was a golden one for Shawn Mett.

He had just graduated from Southampton College with a degree in accounting, and was in the early days of pursuing what would become one of his biggest passions in life — surfing.

Every day, for the entire summer, there was always a wave down at Road K, west of Ponquogue Beach on Dune Road. Almost every day, Mett was there, too.

“It was magical,” he said. “The crowd, the scene. It was as radical as it could be, and I was just drawn to this motley crew of characters there.”

That crew included a group of surfers who still frequent the area breaks today — Sherman Kearns, Ryan Saboe, Steven Brown (“Bedford”), Michael Barone (“Mundis”), Greg Hansen, and others — and have achieved a level of local status and notoriety within the surfing community. Mett fit right in, and the impact that summer had on him took effect, and ultimately changed the course of his life.

After exploring several different career paths, Mett eventually combined his acumen for business with his passion for surfing and the ocean and opened Island Surf in Westhampton Beach in 1998. For just $400 a month, and with just $2,000 in inventory to start, he rented a small space tucked down an alley off Main Street, next to what was the famed Artful Dodger bar and restaurant, selling surfboards, boogie boards, wet suits, clothing and other apparel. It filled a need — there were no surf shops in the area, despite the longtime presence of a vibrant surf culture in Westhampton Beach and Hampton Bays, and Mett saw success almost immediately.

Over the years, his business expanded, outgrowing its initial location before settling at its current home in the building at 49 Sunset Avenue. This month, Mett is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the store and brand he built from scratch. Over time, Island Surf has become an integral part of the soul and character of the Village of Westhampton Beach, and the embodiment of the surfing culture and lifestyle that so many people, from all different walks of life, find so appealing.

Mett’s path to success as the owner of a popular surf shop did not follow a predictable trajectory. He was an only child, born and raised by a single mother, hundreds of miles from the ocean, in Glens Falls. He was an athlete, an avid skier and martial artist, but even from a long distance, the ocean seemed to be calling. After graduating from high school in 1988, he went to Southampton College to study marine biology.

“I was always attracted to the ocean, even though I’m from the mountains,” he said. “I always had this internal desire to be an ocean person. I don’t know why. It was just this strange, inherent thing.”

After one semester, Mett said he had “a full change of heart” and decided he wanted to be a businessman, switching his major to accounting. After graduating, he worked briefly at several banks, and then as a pharmaceutical representative. His love for business remained, but he said that “after graduating with an accounting degree I realized that I wanted to hire an accountant, not be an accountant.”

In 1997, Mett had what he describes as an epiphany after reading “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra while on a two-week trip to San Diego. It was a book that “rang true” to him, he said, and led him on the path to leaving the corporate world and starting his own business. Shortly after returning from that trip, Mett quit his job and went to work for Jeff Esposito, owner of the famed Espo’s Surf Shop in East Hampton, armed with a clear vision of where he wanted the job to lead.

“He was my mentor in business and he hired me because he could tell I was a good salesman,” Mett said. “I knew I wanted to open my own business and potentially a surf shop, because the love of the ocean always rang true to my soul.”

Esposito owns several pieces of commercial real estate in East Hampton, and got out of the retail business 15 years ago, but said Mett was a natural from the start when it came to running the surf shop and having a good eye for business.

“Shawn’s a great guy and he’s always been a hard worker and really dedicated,” Esposito said. “When the opportunity came for him to open the Westhampton store, I told him he’d be perfect for it.

“He really built that business from the ground up,” Esposito added. “I think Shawn’s store now is probably the nicest surf shop on Long Island, with the selection of inventory they have, and he’s really become part of the community in Westhampton. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years.”

During that quarter century, Mett made a series of moves that helped Island Surf become what it is today. During that time, Mett said perhaps the most important thing he learned can be summed up in a quick, to-the-point phrase: “If you don’t own your building, you don’t own your business.”

It’s a message he said was imparted to him by his original landlord, Ellen Pastor, who died in the early 2000s, but who Mett said was a real estate mentor to him.

After expanding and renting more and more space in the alley location where he initially opened his shop in 1998, Mett was watching his rent increase at an alarming rate, a challenging situation familiar to many local small business owners on the East End. Mett had also opened a second Island Surf location on Main Street in Sag Harbor, and while the business was still thriving, he was paying rent on two buildings and feeling the squeeze. In 2007, he sold his business in Sag Harbor to Flying Point, another surf shop, then put the money from that sale in the bank, and waited.

One day, in March 2009, after unsuccessfully negotiating with the landlord who had replaced Pastor to remain in the location where it had all started, Mett walked to the 7-Eleven on Sunset Avenue to grab a coffee. He had ended the meeting with his landlord telling him he was going to move out of the location, but was still unsure where he would go. Coffee in hand, he walked past the building a stone’s throw from the convenience store, a sprawling two-story structure that had formerly been the home of a cafe and bait and tackle shop but was currently vacant. He saw a sign in the window — the receiver of the property had just put the building in foreclosure, and was looking for a tenant. Mett made the call, and secured the lease, and two years later, closed on a deal for the purchase.

Since then, the first floor of the large building has been the home of Island Surf, while Mett rents the second floor to a longtime tenant. When he first bought the building, Mett lived for a period of time on the second floor with his wife, Kirsten Mett — a longtime teacher in the Westhampton Beach School District — and their oldest daughter, Ellie, now 14. The couple also has a younger daughter, Andie, 8. Mett and his wife lived there with their oldest daughter for two years before buying a home in Westhampton.

A big motivating factor in staying in Westhampton and making it home for his family and his business was the fact that Mett has operated a surf school with Ryan Saboe since 1999, teaching children of all ages how to surf, and operating the surf school in a way that does not interfere with the local surf and beachgoing community, he said.

“We’ve kept it under the radar and we really just promote it through the store,” he said. “We never want to overdo it and try to make a fortune off of it. We didn’t want to pollute the community.”

That spirit has gone a long way, and is part of what Mett says he considers the overall Island Surf brand. And no one embodies it better than him. Mett has a commanding but inviting presence — he’s tall, gregarious, and effervescent, carrying a constant smile, and chatting easily with everyone who comes in the store. To invoke the most heavily used word in the surfing vernacular, he is stoked.

“Island Surf is a lifestyle brand that I created for the love of the ocean,” Mett said. “And surfing, I think, is the greatest love you could have of the ocean, to study it in that way of enjoying it.

“The whole soul of surfing is just so attractive to everyone,” he continued, pointing out that even people who don’t surf at all love to come to the store, spend their money, and be part of the unique environment there. “People just gravitate to it.”

It’s not hard to see why. On a recent sunny morning in May, just a few hours after opening, a large group of Nassau County and Suffolk County police officers on motorcycles made a stop at the surf shop as part of a day long trek to Montauk, parking their bikes outside and coming in to peruse the store, and chat with Mett, who was friendly with several of them. As Jimmy Buffett music drifted out of the speakers by the open front door, they all posed for a photo together. Later on, Mett estimated that most, if not all of them, probably did not surf. But the store was a sought out destination nonetheless.

“It’s always summer in here,” Mett said, with a smile.

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