“Be Humble, Be Committed, Be Relevant as a Surfer: Tony Giordano”
If you have surfed on the East Coast in the United States long enough, chances are you have heard of Tony Giordano (“Tony G.”). Tony G is an ex-professional surfer and now the owner of Ocean Hut Surf Shop, a local surf and skate shop, located in Lavallette, New Jersey. According to East Coast professional surfers Sam Hammer, Clay Pollioni, and local surf photographer, Mike Incitti, “Tony G is the local legend!”
Tony’s surf/skate shop, Ocean Hut (otherwise known as “O-Hut”), is located in Lavallette, NJ, a historical fishing town at the beginning of a barrier island; which connects to the main land at New Jersey and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Lavallette became a popular summer vacation destination and surf town for ocean lovers since the 1970s. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Surf Mei Mei witnessed most of the town, including O-Hut, destroyed into pieces. Shortly after two years of the disaster, O-Hut came back restored and looking better than ever as the town rallied back to its charming surf town scene.
Surf Mei Mei sat and chatted with Tony about Ocean Hut, surfing, Hurricane Sandy, and life in general, on a casual Jersey winter afternoon. It was easy to understand why Tony is such a beloved human being in the local East Coast community, and it all begins from Tony’s gratitude in life.
“My name is Tony Giordano. I have been a very fortunate individual.”
The day Tony’s father bought a beach house in 1967, it became “either the beginning or the end,” according to Tony. He obtained a surfboard and involved himself in surfing and never looked back from then on. Tony was only 13 years old when he started surfing at Lavallette, NJ. He considers himself a surfer and athlete. Tony grew up with very liberal, open-minded parents—it was because of the influence from Tony’s family to have no fear, which he has strived in life.
“We don’t do things with fear, so we look at things practically.”
Tony surfed as much as he could since he was 13 years of age, and had decided not to go to college, but chose instead to focus on surfing in Hawaii with his parents’ support as they understood that surfing was Tony’s passion. When Tony was 19, he was offered a job at North Shore as a professional surfer and initially planned to reside in Hawaii. Instead, Tony took his father’s offer up on a business deal; he would help Tony open a surf shop right by their beach house in Lavallette. Tony cashed in all of his savings while his father offered to match his savings, in addition obtained a loan from the bank to start the business.
Thanks to his father, Tony eventually owned his own surf shop at age of 20. Tony believes, “That’s the reason why I exist today; to have an open understanding of who I am from my family’s support. I am a father; I have two boys. I am trying to raise them the way I was raised—by giving them all the tools and allow them to do what they are passionate about.”
Everyone who knows Tony still claims to this day that he is the king of Inlet (Manasquan). He and other local surfers like Scott Duerr, traveled all along the Jersey shore from Long Beach Island to Manasquan to Sandy Hook. He was part of IPS (International Professional Surfing), and traveled all over the world with other professional surfers while still overseeing and managing his Ocean Hut Surf Shop back in Jersey.
SMM: Have you always wanted to own your own business?
Tony: “My father owns his business; my uncles and many relatives all own their own business. There’s no fear about it. I don’t really have any company guys [employed by others] in my family.”
Entrepreneurship is what Tony has known through his whole life; everyone he knows carved out their own life via their own way. So it is very natural for Tony to have done the same. “Basically it is really up to me if I wanted to make Ocean Hut Surf Shop my life-long business or not. I am very fortunate. I didn’t go to college. I would make plenty of money during summer time at my surf shop, and go to Hawaii every winter.” -Tony
SMM: Your surf shop has survived many disasters. [Hurricane] Sandy was one of them; how did you overcome them?
Tony: “It was kind of like a giant stumbling block that you had to face. At the beginning, I could not believe that I owned a house that got destroyed, I owned a business that got destroyed, all in a day and half. It is a matter of not wanting to fold the tents that give you the energy to just put it all back together. I mean at the end of the day, this is my home. I still retreat to Lavallette. It’s been a struggle. It is nothing that we cannot get through. Very fortunate, that my wife and I live a very simple life style. We have some resilience in the simple way we live, so that has helped us dramatically [when Sandy hit]. We rallied with our good friends, spent 6 weeks living with friends and family. Solid effort involved by friends and family and getting our house and business back. It’s more like a state of mind. You just have to forget about everything and just look at what you need to accomplish every day. And try to get to that point. You have to take baby steps and just hope a few months go by, those baby steps will add up to a relieve and majority of things being done. That’s how we rolled.
We also encountered 4 recessions. You feel like you didn’t do anything wrong but you have to live through them. That’s part of life. You always have to have faith. There’s going to be some blocks in the road, and you have to face them with pride and integrity as challenges to live through them. That’s all. For me, it is an internal thing. I just have to delegate in my mind, agree with it, and accomplish it. I really don’t want to be the surfer who talks about Ocean Hut in the past tense. I am not ready to let go. Ocean Hut will be 40 years in 2015!”
SMM: You have surfed the world, where is your favorite surf spot?
Tony: “I have been to a lot of places. Indo is very magical; Mentawai Island is a place on its own, Jeffery’s bay is great… I truly love Sunset Beach. I surfed there every year over 20 years straight. I have already told my sons that if I die, I want my ashes to put into the ocean at Sunset [Beach].
In New Jersey, I always did a great job at Casino Pier. As I get older, I don’t need the attention [as part of what a professional surfer needs]. I surf mostly closer by home at Lavallette and just find some sand bars and have some fun. Manasquan, Inlet, and Casino Pier are my home favorite turfs. It’s all about riding the wave, rather than being at the best spot at some point of time. Just being in the ocean and being a part of every swell that comes through. I still don’t miss any opportunities to surf. I get occasional guy trips with the support of my wife. In that aspect, I am not done yet [with surfing]. I am hanging on tide. I am trained to be a surfer, so far so good.”
SMM: What is your goal in life?
“[It is] having to be relevant here. Two things coincide: you have to be here and work every day and you have to be relevant to everything around you. That’s what we strive to be—when still feel that we are very relevant to our surf local community. I have a lot of faith in my neighborhood. Lavallette is a beautiful place for people to live and surf. ”
SMM: Can you give all Surf Mei Mei some advice on business and entrepreneurship? How to become who they want to be?
Tony: “I can tell you that nothing substantial is going to happen in your life until you commit to something. You don’t know what anything can lead you to until you commit to it. That will be my one piece of advice on whatever you want to do. If you put one foot in but never commit to it, you will never find out where that will take you. But, if you put two feet in and actually commit to it everything, it’s going to take you somewhere. You will be able to know exactly what that outcome is. If you put two feet in, and it does not work out, you will be able to immediately go into the next thing without regrets. Once you commit, then all of the sudden, all the chips will fall onto the table. There are ways of making things work, all because of your will. And that’s commitment.”
SMM: Does that apply to becoming a successful professional surfer? What makes a professional surfer successful?
Tony: “Professional surfers need to have the environment, opportunities, and [do] a lot of traveling. Only a small percentage of guys can actually become professional surfers and become successful. And it is all about commitment too without regrets.”
Tony believes being level-headed is important, because it takes talents, luck, timing and clear-headedness to know what is and what isn’t. He has travelled all around the world, surfed with everybody and has received respect by everyone because he is humble and level-headed. “You have to understand your limitations to your environment. Being realistic is important in order to success and find your own niche,” according to Tony.
SMM: What kind of advice would you give to young surfers in terms of balancing life style?
Tony: “It’s all about having fun. When we give surf lessons, I always ask them, ‘Did you have fun? Did that elevate you?’ Surfing just takes you to another place. The first thing [to know] to be a surfer is when you step out onto that beach—[that] this is going to be the best time in your life. Having a good time and having a place to go that is sacred for having a good time is surfing to me. So that’s a balance in my lifetime. I can surf for 3 hours, but not feel tired. It is the pure enjoyment that is part of life, and that’s what it is for me.”
“The pure freedom of riding waves and the fact that you are responsible for everything that happens are what always draw me into surfing. Surfing is so subjective. It is so wonderful that you go out and no one is going to judge you on your ride on your wave. You do the way you want to do it. That’s a wonderful thing. And the actual part that you can be older, be better, pick better waves, and just be a very wise person in the lineup that keeps me at my age. And the quantity versus quality comes into your life. It is an evolving process. Being a surfer [to me]—it is one of the most important things that ever took place in my life time.”—Tony Giordano
Many East Coast surfers may know Clay Pollioni, a New Jersey local pro surfer. You can often see Clay on covers of EMS, Surfline, and Inertia. Ocean Hut plays a special place in Clay’s life because he used to work with Tony growing up while attempting to complete his surfing dreams. Clay is sponsored by companies like Body Glove, Smith Optics, Dakine, and Robert Surfboard. Surf Mei Mei also chatted with this former O-Hut employee, New Jersey surfer, and asked him why he thinks Tony G. is a local legend.
“I worked with Tony for 7 years at Ocean Hut. My father is a surfer and knew I loved surfing, so he told me that Tony would be the best person to learn from. Tony is a wealth of information when it comes to running a business properly. He knows retail very well. Tony has his own business manual, which all employees need to read and follow as a strict policy on customer and retail service. It was pretty cool to learn discipline from someone who has strong values like Tony. It was a good opportunity for me to learn the business because I love surfing so much. Good times.”
Clay got into competing while working at Ocean Hut. He was a regular at the ESA (Eastern Surfing Competition), and became a well-known local surfer with his go-getter attitude and graceful form of surfing while he was in his teenage years. Tony has always been one of his mentors growing up in the surfing industry. He is inspiring to Clay because he has competed in the ISA, did the world tour (of surfing), and became respected by many surf legends, like Kelly Slater. Tony has a professional perspective and clear head about the industry. He is also a family man with great values, which has taught fellow surfers, like Clay, about life and commitment.
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