Board Retailers Association Chairman George Leichtweis and Roy Turner. SES file photo.
Roy Turner has enjoyed a career in action sports surrounded by what he’s been doing since he was a kid: surfing and skating.
“I’m pretty blessed that throughout my career, something that I started for fun was able to open doors so I can have a career doing something that I really love,” said Turner, who is currently Surf Expo senior vice president and show director. “Who would think you can make a living as an average surfer and an okay skater and you can end up making lemonade out of it? It’s not a bad gig.”
It hasn’t been bad at all with Turner working a variety of jobs in surf and skate shops while in college before partnering with Mark Allison to open the store Surf City. He’d later go on to throw ASP contests in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in a move that helped solidify the East Coast’s presence in surf. Later in his career he helped to start up the Board Retailers Association before taking on his current role leading Surf Expo.
The totality of those 45 years has earned Turner the Cecil Lear President’s Award from the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. He’ll join a group of honorees as part of the annual event’s Class of 2024 that will be inducted next week during a ceremony Wednesday at Surf Expo.
“I think what’s been special to me is that there is still a sense of community, no matter how big we get and no matter who owns who,” Turner said of what’s kept him in the industry for so long.
His career has taken him many places that have allowed him to take in the industry’s expansion, along with its ups and downs, through a unique lens.
“Obviously there are some things going on in the industry right now that have to do with ownership, but I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing,” he said. “I think that’s just the evolution of business in general. I think that there are still young ideas and I think that there’s still opportunity. We’ve got more people in the water than we’ve ever had.”
Roy Turner. Courtesy of Surf Expo.
Turner’s plunge into the water was a natural one: his brother surfed and his family had a summer home in a small beach town in North Carolina.
He recalled first picking up a board around the age of seven, taking on surfing and skating around the same time.
He’d go on to cut his teeth in retail working in different surf- and skate-related jobs while studying sociology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
“I was one of those college kids that was just trying to make a dime work and also didn’t want to have to pay to skate and I wanted free surfboards, so I worked at a skateboard park where I’d check people in and then, when it was empty, I’d get to skate for free,” Turner said.
His first surf shop job came from Woody Styron at Surf’n Stuff. Styron, who passed away in a boating accident, was a mentor to Turner.
“After (Styron’s passing), I thought it’s time to grow up and get a real job and I was getting ready to do that and then decided with a long-term partner, a guy named Mark Allison, to open a retail shop. And that got the ball rolling in my early 20s,” Turner said.
The Wrightsville Beach business they created was Surf City, which established itself as a resource for world-class surfboards from around the world.
Wrightsville on the Map
Wrightsville attracted Turner for its sense of community – a common theme that stuck throughout his career.
“It was a really small town,” he said. “If you wanted to go for a five-mile run, we just ran the entire island. It was real Southern hospitality. Don’t tell anybody, but we also get pretty good surf and it was just a great local community. And, luckily, that community embraced what I was doing.”
The two business partners, along with friends from record stores, also organized ASP-sponsored contests that helped raise the profile of Wrightsville within surf.
“It was a catalyst and the fact that we could do it, I think that was instrumental and pivotal to our business’ success at the time,” Turner said. “It also pushed attention to the East Coast, which has some of the best retailers.”
Surf City was later sold in 2000, when Turner decided to try his hand working in technology and e-commerce.
He never strayed far from the action sports world and in 2003 started the Board Retailers Association with Mike Duncan.
“We just felt like the small specialty retailer was possibly being overlooked as a lot of the larger brands started to impose their DTC strategy or maybe were filtering their products into big box stores,” Turner recalled of the impetus behind BRA. “The idea was to bring us all together and realize the competition wasn’t among fellow specialty retailers, but the competition was the distribution of our products outside the marketplace.”
Turner’s still bringing people together.
He joined Surf Expo in 2007 taking on a position he calls his dream job, where he sees many of the same people he’s admired and called his heroes walking the show floor he now leads.
“I mean, I’ll walk down an aisle and there’s Bob Hurley,” Turner said. “I knew Bob when he was a shaper and used to sell his surfboards. There’s Paul Naude who I respect as a businessman and a waterman. There’s Shaun Tomson. All these guys are my heroes and I get to work with them, and they know my first name. Pinch me. That part’s been special and along the way, bringing people together at Surf Expo, we’ve been able to do some amazing things.”
Interestingly, Turner didn’t grow up around retailers or entrepreneurs. His grandparents owned a private business and his father was an engineer. The sense of community in action sports was so strong, it ultimately inspired and propelled his multi-decade career.
Turner puts his jump-start in retail a bit more simply: “Right place, right time, right community, and a lot of luck.”
The East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024 also includes Baron Knowlton, Falina Spires, Noah Snyder, David Spier, Mark Neustadter, Darrell Jones, Tom Warnke, Bill “Holmesy” Holmes, Ricky Carroll, and Kem McNair. This year’s induction ceremony takes place Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. in room W304A-H of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.
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