The Pipeline: Uncle Sam’s Surf & Surplus

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 Left, left, left right left. March on down to Rockaway Beach. You’ll feel like a recruit as soon as you step into Uncle Sam’s Surf & Surplus (USSS) by Beach 92nd Street. They’ve put a new twist on the surf shop concept by also providing military inspired apparel and gear.

Rockaway Park resident Lou Harris, a self-taught surfer of 10 years, opened USSS in May along with Richard Geist. Geist, the CEO of the 20-year-old Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters shop in Manhattan, brought the idea to Harris after coming down to Rockaway. “My girlfriend, Danielle, is the district manager of the Manhattan shop and Richard came out here for her birthday one year and saw people wearing camo. He knew I surf and suggested that we combine the two,” Harris said. Rockaway Beach’s USSS is now one of five Uncle Sam’s shops in New York and Toronto.

At USSS you’ll find Army/Navy apparel from 26 countries including things  like jackets, shirts, shorts, pants, bathing suits and even underwear, as well as useful gear. “We sell a lot of things that we survived on during Sandy,” Harris said. These items include Ready-to-Eat meals, tents, cots, sleeping bags, canteens, lanterns, flashlights and other items that could be used for survival, or maybe even a camping trip. If you’re looking for accessories for a costume, they have things like gas masks and grenades. Heavy-duty multi-compartment backpacks that come with weatherproof covers or even built-in-canteens are also a big hit. Harris expects business to do even better in the fall as they’ll carry items like peacoats, jackets, thermals, heated socks, parkas and blankets.

USSS isn’t just about the military lifestyle. Harris brings his knowledge of surf products from previous experience. “I used to be the manager of Breakwater and when Nigel was working there, he took me to trade shows and I got more involved in the business side of surfing,” Harris said. At USSS you’ll find a limited number of boards for sale, as well as wax, ding repair, fins, leashes, traction pads, sunglasses, surf films and more. “Someone asked me how does surf and military go together. You don’t always have waves in Rockaway, so a lot of surfers will travel out to Montauk or Long Beach and will sleep in their cars or go camping and we offer things that can make that easier like tents and sleeping bags. I have friends that went camping and they stopped by and were able to get everything they needed,” Harris said. Incorporating the military angle also makes USSS different than other surf shops in the area. “We didn’t want to be a surf shop primarily. I have a lot of respect for Steve at Boarders. He sold me my first board and Nigel at Station helped me a lot. We didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” Harris said.

Harris and his staffers like Ernie Herrera bring a friendly, approachable vibe to USSS. “When people come in as customers, they leave as friends,” Harris said, adding that they often promote other businesses within the neighborhood to visitors. “We’ll set up times to surf or hang out with customers or will recommend they go check out nearby places like Connolly’s for a piña colada, Whit’s for pizza or the Rockaway Beach Surf Club for a drink and tacos. We want to support other businesses, so if we don’t have something, we’ll send them to Station or Boarders of even Zingara Vintage or Off Season,” Harris said. They also offer discounts to Rockaway residents. “All locals get 15 percent off. Rockaway is a blue collar town with cops, firefighters, construction guys and teachers so we want to help them out with discounts.” USSS also helps the community by coordinating beach cleanups with local girl scouts and they run a non-profit called the Black Surfing Association, in which they provide free surf lessons to kids who may not have the opportunity to learn otherwise.

Uncle Sam’s Surf & Surplus is located at 92-14 Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Hours are 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Call 718-634-SURF (7873) or check out www.unclesurf.com for info.

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