Editorial Note: This retailer showcase, presented by Feelgoodz, highlights the continued success of surf shops around the country. Feelgoodz is a North-Carolina based footwear brand that crafts its flip-flops from natural rubber trees in Thailand, and is committed to leaving a positive footprint on the planet. Learn more at www.feelgoodz.com.
Driving southbound on the two-lane Ocean Drive in Deerfield Beach, Florida, you can see the baby blue Atlantic Ocean in between high-rise condos and restaurants.
If you’re doing the drive during hurricane season, you’ll likely see waves — massive storms off the coast whipping up swell and offshore winds, creating an event that calls all South Florida surfers to the sea.
The road suddenly winds away from the beckoning Atlantic, and it’s hard to miss a store that comes into view quickly after: a baby-blue building with a massive shark not just on the roof, but going through it.
This is the headquarters of Island Water Sports, a surf shop that has had its doors open for the last 40 years.
But Island Water Sports is much more than a surf shop: it’s a community staple, a meeting place for surfers, skaters, and action sports enthusiasts.
It turns out that not only does the store itself have a fascinating backstory; so does the shark in its roof.
In the summer of 1978, Kirk Cottrell opened Island Water Sports in Pompano Beach, with the goal “to reach out to the youth for Jesus & support a healthy surfing habit."
The great white shark drew attention back then and continues to do so today. Photo courtesy Island Water Sports
“My dad was brilliant with marketing,” Kirk’s son, Cheyne, said. “He was friends with the guys who ran a local taxidermy shop. Someone ordered this massive shark, but never used it. My dad said he wanted it for the surf shop. They sold it to him for pennies on the dollar, and he was thrilled to put it in the roof.”
One year later, Kirk moved the store 20 minutes north and just a block from the beach in Deerfield Beach.
Kirk's vision for Island Water Sports is still going four decades later. Photo courtesy Island Water Sports
For the next 20 years, Island Water Sports served the surf and skate community. Not only was it a place to stock up on gear before and after a head-high hurricane swell in the fall or low-pressure system pushing through the region in the winter; it was a fun and family-friendly place to cruise with friends.
In 1997, the Cottrell family moved to Cape Town, South Africa, to launch a church called Calvary Chapel and hired a team to manage the shop locally.
By this point, Cheyne had spent years on the Qualifying Series, battling for waves and scores while wearing a contest jersey.
In the early 2000s, Kirk tragically passed away in a surfing accident. Around the same time, the core buyers who operated the store decided to move on. The family had to make a decision: return stateside and run the store, or sell it completely.
Cheyne and his two sisters, Karly and Linsey, decided to continue their father's legacy and run the shop.
Since then, they have done exactly that — and much more.
Today, Cheyne focuses on operations, Linsey focuses on marketing, and Karly spends her time on buying and purchasing.
Step into the store, and you'll be in a two-story surf and skate dreamland: rows and aisles full of tshirts, hats, sandals, boardshorts, bikinis — everything you could need if you were a local or tourist.
Step up a row of stairs in the middle of the store — bumper stickers and decals line the steps — and you'll find a massive display of all kinds of surfboards, whether you're looking for a fast barrel ride during the next hurricane swell or a beginner soft top surfboard.
Follow the bumper stickers and you'll find your next surfboard.
There's no doubt about it: the store itself has the most comprehensive selection of products in South Florida, for all varieties of action sports.
But Island Water Sports doesn't just exist inside 4 walls. Just like Kirk emphasized in the early days of the store, they put on the region's best surf and skate camps.
If you need directions, look for the shark in the roof in Deerfield Beach and you'll find the shop.
With a lot of hard work and smart business decisions, Island Water Sports has stood the test of different economies and is still going strong. I asked Cheyne what his advice was to other surf shops in the area and around the nation.
“You want to differentiate yourself from other stores — not just surf shops," he said. "You want people to say ‘something is different about that store’."
The collective thought around Deerfield Beach is that there is something different about the surf shop, and it starts with having a shark in its roof.