Interview with Tyler Breuer of SMASH

Our friend, Tyler Breuer, is synonymous with NY surfing. He’s one of the founders of SMASH, he has his hand in all the major local surf contests, usually announcing the heats along with the judges, and supports multiple surf charities and organizations such as WAVES for Development, Surfrider, and the Long Beach Surfer’s Association. If there’s a surf-related event you can usually bet Tyler will be there. I talked with Tyler about his families’ rich history in the NY surf scene and where the current and future state of NY surfing is headed.
Your family has been in the NY surf scene for over forty years. How did they come about surfing in NY and founding Sundown Surf Shop?
Well, my father came over from Germany on the boat in the early 1960’s. He spoke no English, had some family here, and thought NY was just going to be a short stop over. One of his passions was for skiing actually. He started working for Emilio’s Ski Shop in Forrest Hills. Emilio De Turris, the owner, took a liking to my father and took him under his wings. Eventually my father, Winfried Breuer, had become a manager at Emilio’s. Then Emilio decided in 1966 to open a surf and ski shop in Levittown, NY and had asked my father to run the shop.

Sundown Surf Shop back in the day.

At that time Levittown was a booming suburb where all the GI’s returning from WWI had settled and found affordable housing to raise their families and thus, a large amount of baby boomers were coming of age during the 60’s.  The store was very successful. At one point they were selling well over thousand boards in a summer. We all think this surfing boom is big now but, imagine back then, with surfing numbers going from just a few hundred to thousands within a summer or two? My father ran that store and bought a house out in Levittown and moved in with some of the best surfers to come out of NY during that time period. Guys like Jerry Gippetti, Eddie Mccabe, and John Schneller. Emilio’s was the only Hobie Dealer at the time on LI. Hobie Alter and his whole team would come and stay with my dad when they came through on promo tours.
My dad has some amazing stories from back then. I’m often very jealous of that time period and all the incredible surfers that would stay with him. After years of running the Levittown Emilio’s, my father was made a partner and then eventually bought Emilio out and turned the store into Sundown in 1975.  Since then, the store expanded, we opened numerous locations and have explored other products to sell. We were one of the first shops to carry snowboards from Burton and Sims. I have an incredible amount of respect for him and what he and his partners have accomplished. They have steered their business through multiple recessions and trends. There is an incredible amount of knowledge there. You probably should be interviewing him instead of me. HA.
Tell us about your first wave.
I had been body boarding since before I can remember. But, I remember clearly the first 3 major waves in my life.  The first real proper wave ridden was at age 7. My parents had just separated and my father took my brother and I out to Ditch Plains, Montauk for the weekend. My brother was the one who really wanted to surf. So, he had just got an Aiken epoxy molded surfboard. He caught his first standup wave while I body boarded right next to him from off the jetty/rockpile all the way in. A lot of things changed that day.

The next wave was at Lincoln Blvd. in Long Beach, NY later that year. My brother pushed me into a wave. I remember it was a sunny day, and taking in everything around me as the board pushed in to shore. I stood up and that was it. Didn’t surf for another three years. I don’t know why. But during those three years, my brother brainwashed me and made me watch every surf movie he could get his hands on and made me memorize every surfers style… Then at age ten, my father took my brother and I out to California to see some family friends and surf. We were surfing Ocean Beach, San Diego. I was on a Corky Fun Stick. (Corky Carroll Surfboards). I was just floundering and then I paddled for a ball of white water. I caught it and stood up. As I stood up the wave reformed and I dropped down the face of a waist high wave and totally freaked out! After that, I never looked back.

Tyler showing that wave who’s boss!

You’re a huge supporter of the NY surfing community. How do you go about selecting what initiatives to support?
To be honest, it depends on a lot of different things. It depends on the people involved. They have to be genuine and fun to work with. Or, it could be for a good cause or something that I really believe in. Sometimes it has to make business sense. For my shop to be involved, it’s probably a mix of wanting to get the name out there and wanting to be involved with something fun and something I think could be good for the community. It all really depends on my availability, and whether I get a good feeling about the event I guess.
When I grew up surfing here in NY, there weren’t a whole lot of events and opportunities for the surf community to get together. Surfers were considered outcasts for a long time. I remember having to sneak into Robert Moses to surf because surfing was banned from those beaches. A lot of older guys stood up and fought to get access for us surfers and so I feel a sense of responsibility to give back and put in my time, whether it’s for the LBSA and expanding the surfing beaches in Long Beach or a fundraising event for WAVES for Development.

You started SMASH, a surf production company in 2010, as a way to educate new and established surfers about the history of surfing through art, movies, and shaping. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of the company and where do you see SMASH going?

First, I started SMASH with my good friends Adam Cannizzaro and Michael Machemer and those guys have been contributing to NY surfing for years. Working with them and collaborating on ideas can always be gratifying. There have been a lot of great and fulfilling moments. It’s kind of hard to put one above the other. I really enjoyed our Surfer’s Studio Interview with Jamie Brisick. I got to spend a few nights leading up to the event geeking out with him and talking surf stories until he was sick of talking about them. HA! The Surfer’s Studio events on board design were really fascinating. We got to do a comparison of one week with Richard Kenvin and Josh Hall on backyard shaping and design and the following week we got to then interview Mark Kelley of Global Surf Industries about mass production of boards and the business of board building. I found that to be really enlightening and informative. I think the best was the partnership with The Surfrider Foundation and Nouvelle Vague party we did in September last year. That was pretty amazing getting Slater show up and also getting to show a lot of our friends’ artwork to such a huge group of people and being able to bring the surf community together in full force.

King Kelly at the SMASH + Surfrider Nouvelle Vague party.

As for the future, there are a lot of different things cooking. It seems like there are a bunch of surf events happening all the time and it kind of feels a bit watered down at the moment. So, I’m thinking for SMASH to be a bit more selective in 2013 and try to do events I’m really passionate about. We will be organizing a screening of El Mar Mi Alma in November, which should be pretty great. That film is beautiful and has a great environmental message. It’s been doing the festival rounds and getting great reviews. The Director will be in town for the screening, which I’m really excited about.  I’m also focusing on more interviews and content at the moment. I’m really enjoying interviewing filmmakers and shapers about the business side of things because all of that is changing so fast, it’s interesting to see how these guys are adapting.

Q&A session

You’ve seen the NY surf scene change over the years. Where do you see the future of NY surfing heading?
Fragmented. More sub groups. More crowds. More creative people doing incredibly inventive projects. To be honest, I think all the fun events are cool but I hope more surfers actually get involved with groups like Surfrider Foundation and the Long Beach Surfer’s Association to force politicians to open up more surfing beaches and to push for better environmental policies. I’d also like to see all the new surfers learn to respect the local surfers who grew up surfing NY beaches and be more aware of the rich surf history we have in NY.
I see the increasing niche groups in surfing. People are getting more and more specialized. You have people who are exploring all different directions in surfing and I think that is pretty fun to watch but it’s also breaking up the community to a certain extent. But then again, the surfing population is growing and that’s probably just a natural thing to happen. Maybe it’s reached its critical mass. The community used to be a lot smaller and so everyone kind of knew everyone.  Now, there are so many people surfing that it’s hard to know everyone.  That’s not a bad thing necessarily.

The drawbacks to the growing community I see are more crowds in the water and government starting to regulate surfing more and more. More rules, and more greedy people trying to take advantage of surfers for their own gain.
Anytime a certain population grows, it’s just a given fact that there are going to be more jerks involved. I’d say those are the downsides of the future of NY surfing.

I think there is going to be some positives and some negatives, like many things in life. The question is, does the positive outweigh the negative? I believe so. But I’m an optimist.
I believe we are going to see a growing local surf industry and I believe you will see that emerge more and more. That is pretty exciting.
You are going to see more groups and organizations pop up around NY and motivate us to take action on expanding surfing beaches, create better environmental policies, and eventually be taken seriously as a voting group.
I see a greater opportunity to meet more interesting and diverse people. I think surfing can play an important role with our youths. I think you will see more programs introducing “at risk” kids to surfing and giving them a lot of opportunities they may not normally have. Surfing is a great way to expand your mind and see things through different angles and perspectives.
Surfing is a good thing for people. It’s a great way for all of us to relate and connect to a common experience and that can be good for all of us.
Where’s your favorite break in NY?
Can’t say ; )
What’s in your quiver?
Let me first say, I have to thank my wife for being so patient and understanding of my surfboard quiver. They take up a lot of room in our apartment and I’m very grateful for her being so wonderful. And it’s not just the boards. It’s the smelly wetsuits and old salty towels… I’m very lucky.
I like to experiment with my boards. I’m not a snob when it comes to surfboards. I’ve got everything from locally made boards to China made mass produced boards.
6’0 Canyon China Quad Fish: So much fun. So fast and loose. For $399 retail how can you go wrong.
6’4 Sugar Mill Keel Fin Fish shaped by Mike Walter out in Cali. I love Keels! So fun and drivey!
6’4 experimental stringerless eps shortboard shaped by Mike Becker out in Sayville. It has a carbon strip down the middle bottom of the board and then an overlapping carbon tail patch on the deck. It’s got a lot of flex and snap.
6’8 Long Fish by Josh Hall. It’s a Skip Frye replica. Josh is a good friend and a Skip protégé. This is my favorite all time board! If I could only ride one board forever, this would be it!
6’8 Sunset Stinger Single Fin: Bought this in mint condition for $240 at our surf swap sale. Nice little bit of history with that board.
9’6 Hannon: This is my most prized possession. John Hannon is one of the first surfboard shapers in NY. He made some pretty respectable shapes back in the 60’s. A lot of the Californian shapers respected his designs and him. He was a grandfather figure to me growing up. He worked at Sundown for years and taught me a lot about work ethic. One day, when I was 15, he gave me this board. It was a pretty emotional moment for him. I had always treasured this board. But I found out a few years ago while talking to John’s son James that I had the last board John had ever shaped. So, that board is amazing and special and I love riding it.
Thank you, Tyler for taking the time to talk with us. We are looking forward to what is coming next from SMASH and see you at the next event. 

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