Looking California, feeling Minnesota: Homegrown style at Cal Surf

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You wouldn’t guess it by looking at him, but Scott Cheschnick, gave up Stanford to run a snowboard/skateboard shop called Cal Surf. When he was younger he completed some career testing that told him he should become a forest ranger, marine biologist or professional athlete. But the board “spoke” to him.

The store was started by John Kokesh and Gary Wiebuch in 1988 at the current location at 1715 West Lake Street. Cheschnick, owner since 1999, has worked for Cal Surf since 1991. He started out as the company’s “lead” errand boy which meant he got all of the garbage work i.e. inventory, litter and cleaning etc. But very quickly he was able to identify key improvements to workflow that caught the owners’ attention. Soon after that he was asked to move up to full time status. At the time he was considering a graduate degree in physiological psychology. But outside of the school culture, that idea gradually receded into the distance. It was a crucial point for Cheschnick. If he chose more school, it would have meant spending the rest of his life in a cubicle working like a scientist. So, staying on at Cal Surf, he later decided to buy the shop in 1991 and do what he loved.

It’s a natural fit because he loves people and with two kids of his own he’s never outgrown that sense of discovery and spontaneity that goes with being a parent. There’s no shortage of personalities in this culture either. Cheschnick leverages his love of the sports and the people involved to be continually involved in the day to day operations. And that’s what keeps it fresh.

“Simultaneously challenging and exciting, being the owner,” says Cheschnick, “isn’t easy.” Because he owns the shop, this makes him a bit of a celebrity to his customers. And that status translates to an all-day barrage of questions from almost all of his customers. He enjoys it but it makes it very hard to get anything done around the shop. He says he’s no different than any other store owner. But it’s the business of boards that makes him a magnet. “You don’t see joe blow walkin’ into J.C.Penny to talk to the manager just to say hi.” The nature of this business generates the hype.

And this he says, keeps him busy with shop stuff even in a slow year like this one. But the shop is still healthy even with their location. They’re in Minnesota not Colorado or California. You would think that would make snowboards a tougher sell. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Cheschnick explains, “Like snowboards, for instance, kids don’t want sharp edges and don’t need wax. It’s not about the racing, it’s about the urban stunts.” They don’t need the high-tech stuff. If they’re in the city riding over concrete barriers or sliding down metal railings–the dirtier the better. Boarding over ‘urban furniture’ gives the sport its next infusion of creativity. This makes Minnesota a destination for winter boarding. Just when college kids are embracing the long board skateboard as the new trend, film crews are traveling here, to Minneapolis, to film the next urban hero of the stair rail or building dive. Minneapolis is big,” says Cheschnick, “because riders all over the country can count on it being cold and snowy.” On top of that, kids are hauling spent ice shavings from local ice rinks and building jumping and landing ramps around these obstacles.

On the other hand, skateboarding in Minnesota is a different story. When asked about the various skateboard parks built by cities around Minnesota he responded with this, “The organizations responsible for building those parks rarely consult real skaters. The result is that the parks don’t meet the needs of any skater except beginners. For example, there’s this misperception that a 20’ tall U-ramp is dangerous. And a rail at 1’ off the ground is safer. The truth is beginners can’t get way up on the ramp until they get practice. Also the “U” shape of it catches them in their fall if they do. You won’t believe it but you’ll probably see more skaters injure themselves on that low 1’ rail. So these parks end up being meet-up locations at best.”

So the nexus of skateboarding is still California. If kids want to make it big, they’ve got to move there eventually. On the other hand, contrary to expectations, not only can snow-boarders make it national from Minneapolis, but many rarely spend winter outside the state anymore.

To be part of this action, Cal Surf sponsors two teams, a skateboard and snowboard team. Davis Torgerson, pictured on the cover, is one industry favorite on the skateboard team here in Minnesota.

Other ways Cheschnick is involved is apparent in the shop as well. Both industries have a reputation for attracting kids that like to buck authority. And sometimes the kids take it on as a badge. But Cheschnick knows where to draw the line.

He knows that parents are part of the picture. And he knows that most parents get it. The sports are not without their bumps, spills and injuries. But parents know that their kids are exercising outside and this keeps them pretty busy for the most part. They’d rather see them doing that than spending their time with drugs, alcohol or excessive video gaming.

If he gets dropouts that ask for a job he encourages them to complete their education. And one day he actually told a kid he wouldn’t sell him a board. “The kid had been mouthin’ off and downright mean to his mom. Even after his mom brought him here and would be paying the bill. I told him to go apologize to his mom or I wouldn’t sell him the board. He did, and we kept a customer.”

For more information see www.cal-surf.com.

Bruce Cochran is Art Director in charge of production for the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in CARAG.