Graham Day is a California surfer/shop owner who runs and operates Shelter Surf Shop. Growing up in a beach-oriented lifestyle, Graham brings a blend of music, art, and surf culture to the city of Long Beach. We spent some time with him to learn more.
What was life like growing up?
Fifty percent South Bay and fifty percent Orange Curtain, and pretty good—looking back on it now. My mom and dad have always been hard-working, middle class folks that raised my sisters and I close to the ocean. During our days in Torrance/Redondo, almost every day of the summer and certain winters were spent at the beach. My mom worked nights as a bartender so as soon as we were out of school for the summer, this was her cue to let us loose on the sand and catch up on sleep in the sun. My dad worked construction, but a was lucky enough to have a supervisor for a long time who surfed. So he was off early enough during the week to catch a day end surf. While he surfed, we roamed the sand. Weekends were travel time to Ventura/SB or south OC breaks. My sisters and I were all seaworthy at a very young age and we would ride those styro boards, old mats or whatever we could come up with.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
Funny enough, other than my dad and uncles, at first I was really into music. I’m really dating myself here, but when I saw Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” video, that really blew my mind. It would greatly affect a part of my life and my career that only came to a close back in 2007. My exposure to surf icons at that time came via subscriptions to Surfer magazine, 70’s surf films and what I saw posted on the walls down by the beach. Seeing Curren surf was the thing that really made me look at surfing as something that I wanted to work at. I loved watching footage of the Ho family, Shaun Thompson and MR. MR made the hand-me-down twin fins that I had that made it seem okay that I didn’t have a board with three fins.
When did you get your first surfboard?
1984—a hand-me-down Horizons West single fin sting/swallow with the pins cut off the tail. I still have it.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I have to admit, I expected it to be more smooth and controlled. I remember thinking that it was fast. The feeling of the resistance and looseness beneath my feet was unexpected. Maybe I remember the sensation of taking a nose full of water more. I just remember looking out in the lineup for my dad to see if he had seen me. It was at Rat Beach,
How did you come to open a surf shop?
Reckless romanticism with sensory vehicles that put you on the freeway to happiness. I’ve always made it a point to try and turn the way I want to spend my time into a living. On a basic level, we love surfing, the ocean and the product of inspiration from the experiences these things can generate. I had worked in the music industry for about 13 years. I started skipping out on work to spend more time at the beach looking for inner inspiration, and a replacement for the satisfaction I used to get from creating and working with others to create. Although it wasn’t my initial plan to be a full-time shopkeeper, I was drawn to it.
After about a year of my wife running the shop and me working behind the scenes, I disappeared on the road with boards for about a week and discovered what I felt was a better way to spend my time. I also need to give credit to looking at what guys like Thomas Campbell have done. Although I do not create much in the way of visual art, the whole “Beautiful Losers” idealism made it feel warm and possible to do what I had done in music. It was like being 14 in the garage with my buddies and our instruments all over again. Long conversations with guys like Steve Krajewski would remind me that life might be hard, but it will be good. So far, so good.
Why did you decide to offer alternative shapes (twin fins, hulls, alaias and hand planes)?
Growing up, I was huge into twin fins and singles because that is what I always had. I rode weird hand-me-down boards. My dad’s supervisor at work had two older sons who I never met, but I have to say that they were into some pretty cool stuff. The single fin I mentioned was the first board I got from them. The second board I got from them was an early Clyde Beatty Rocket Fish. I wish I still had that. What I thought was a curse—being the “beat up board” kid—was really a blessing. It allowed me to appreciate the idea of finding different ways to connect with the wave and the different sensations that different craft bring. I keep my mind wide open when it comes design. You never know what sensations and subtleties in a shape or design can unlock. I offer the stuff I ride and enjoy.
What is it that makes you such a nice person? What code do you live by?
Nice? Who says I’m nice? I mean, I try my best. It must be the love of a good woman, two beautiful children, my friends and family (who I am fortunate to have), the waves and the sun. As surfers, there is a common understanding we all share. We live simply— and try and have the utmost respect for life, our surroundings and the other folks that we come into contact with.
Who or what inspires you?
That’s a broad question. On a base level, I am inspired by the opportunity to wake up in the morning and experience life within the reality that I am engaged in—my wife’s patience, my kids and watching them experience things for the first time as they grow. When it comes to surfing, it’s more of a creative expression although I am inspired by the feeling it gives me. As for Shelter, I love to do it because of the feedback we receive from the people that share in the experience we try to provide.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
There is an opportunity to learn something every day. Always keep “those doors” open. The second you close them is the second you stop progress, growth and the evolution of the soul.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done some thing differently?
No regrets so far and I don’t feel there has been anything I could control that could be changed.
What are you most proud of?
First, I am proudest of my family. Second, the fact that I am on some level managing to get through life on mostly my own terms.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Although I will be the eternal grom in many respects, it is probably the single strongest cultural influence in my life. It has made the bad times seem good and the good times all the better. The reason why our shop is called Shelter is because we consider the ocean to be our shelter. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have ridden the waves I have experienced and I hope to ride many more. I will be a lifelong devotee.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Time with family and friends, surfing, warm sunny days without schedules, good music, good food, good beer.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
I think fluid style is timeless. The guys who make it look easy are always the most fun to watch. The pursuit of fun is the premise for surfing. I never get tired of watching these guys—Tyler Warren, Ryan Burch, Jimmy Gamboa, Alex Knost, Tomo, RK— do their thing.
As for craftsmen, I think guys like Greg Liddle, Brian Hilbers, Klaus Jones, Tomo, RK and Larmo are forging or have forged the inroads for anyone to take a new path in pursuit of a new and unique wave-riding experience—whether they were way ahead of their time or they are the guys who are always re-approaching.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Dale Solomonson Neumatic
Paul Gross 4th Gear Flyer
5’5 Larmo Ghostbuster
5’6 Lis fish
5’10 Josh Hall keel
6’? Horizons West single fin
6’3 Liddle SHRW
6’6 Klaus Jones stringerless
6’8 Liddle Musgo
6’11 Liddle “MM”
7’0 Andreini Vaquero
9’2 Liddle Designs (Brian Hilbers) L-Spoon
I enjoy surfing open faces at empty places.
What’s your favorite meal?
Homemade pizza nights.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I like the iPod but nothing beats the warm saturated sound of some wax on the turntable!
Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos
Kurt Vile — Childish Prodigy
Roky Erickson – Anthology
Avi Buffalo – S/T
Byrds — Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Flying Burrito Brothers – Burrito Deluxe
What causes/projects/organizations do you support?
We would like to see the (Long Beach) Breakwater come down. It would be cool if someone did something about the BP mess in the Gulf too. Be good to others. Life is fragile and a gift. We only live once.
What’s next for Graham Day?
We’re always working on something here. Aside from our monthly in-shop events, we will be doing a surf film festival with the Art Theater located across the street from the shop. We will be hosting three board demo days/seminars this summer with Larry Mabile in June, Dano in July and Jon Wegener in August. New Shelter shop boards designed by us in conjunction with some great local shapers are coming. Real surfboard rentals. Shelter board shorts. We have a new online store that has our official merch as well as some designs from the Surfrider Foundation that encourage us all to support the cause of getting waves back into Long Beach.
Find out more about Graham Day and Driftwood Caravan here.