When Sean Fell was 22, he dropped out of dental school to surf full-time. It was a risky and possibly irresponsible plan of action that turned out to be an excellent choice. Today, he’s the successful owner of Waterboyz Surf and Skate Shop in Pensacola, Florida and is happily outfitting and mentoring the next generation of Gulf Coast surfers.
The Waterboyz tradition originated with a close-knit gang of elite level surfers living on Pensacola Beach in the eighties. Sean says, “We were cream of the crop surfers and hosted competitions but it was really more about the lifestyle. We took care of each other, worked together, ate together, hosted huge parties and raised hell. We were running our own little show and having more fun than everyone else.”
In 1988, Sean came back from a trip to Melbourne, Florida with a surfboard blank that he hand carved into his first custom board. His friends were impressed and requested their own custom boards. In order to get the funds to purchase more blanks, Sean accepted a grueling winter job installing sprinkler lines in a parking lot with a pickaxe. He says, “I lived in my car with an electric blanket plugged in with an extension cord. I froze.”
The following summer Sean carved custom surfboards for all of his friends and adorned them with the Waterboyz logo. The boards performed well and soon surfers outside his circle of friends started ordering custom Waterboyz surfboards. Sean decided to promote his new ‘brand’ by printing black and white t-shirts on a press he built with a motorcycle tire. His hobby was becoming a business.
Sean says, “We started out by loading up my Volkswagen van with boards and t-shirts and then driving up and down the east coast selling them to surf shops. We had no money and our goal was to have fun.” The first Waterboyz factory was in Sean’s house on the beach. The business soon grew to occupy a two-car garage, then a four-car garage, then a warehouse on Navy Blvd. and then a large space downtown with enough room for a storefront.
Retail sales were brisk so in 1994 Sean moved Waterboyz to Cordova Mall. A few years later, when their lease wasn’t renewed, he built a large shop on his home property. He also built an indoor skate park for his family, friends and employees. Sean says, “It wasn’t long before strangers were dropping their kids off to skate on Saturdays.”
In 2007, Sean decided it was time to “build it all” and so leased a space on North 9th Avenue to house the “Waterboyz world headquarters.” He built a retail store, surfboard manufacturing factory, t-shirt production facility and a metal fabrication shop. More importantly, he built a mezzanine lounge with a snack bar, leather couches, flat screen TV, picnic table and foosball table overlooking an indoor, air-conditioned skate park that doubles as a live music venue.
Since opening ‘Waterboyz world headquarters’ Sean has successfully surfed out the recession and the oil spill. He’s built a community-minded business which supports his family and ten employees. He says, “I love to build quality boards and then watch people ride them. I also like the fact that my job gives me an opportunity to positively influence my community.”
(He certainly doesn’t regret his decision to quit dental school.)