Happiness Interview: Doug Pate, Co-Founder of Isle Surf & SUP

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Leaving behind a steady paycheck and benefits demands a hell of a lot of courage.  For this reason, people who ditch their 9 to 5’s have always fascinated me.

These “quitters” so to speak, are oftentimes the Ariana Huffingtons, the Donald Trumps, and the Steve Jobs…s of our world.  I am in no way saying that everyone should be an entrepreneur, but I do think some people find themselves in the wrong  field, position, or work environment.  And I do think its critical to get out.

I’m also starting to believe that you can make the most money doing what you’re good at, rather than what’s practical, or logical.  And what you’re best at and what you love most often are the same thing.  Win, win, right?

Doug Pate, co-founder of Isle Surf & SUP (standup paddle boarding for all you kooks), understands this.  He quit his out-of-college job in investments; took a surfing sabbatical in Costa Rica for one year; and came back to start one of the largest standup paddle boarding companies in the world.  He made it seem easy, and reassured me with his message: it doesn’t happen overnight.

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What’s your advice to 20-somethings who are trying to find their way?

Anything you do that’s worthwhile is going to be difficult.  If its easy, its not worth doing.  Its the confidence thing: once you find your confidence in yourself, it gives you the courage to go try things.  The more things you try, the more likely you’re going to fall into something that you like, or that you want to do.  If you never try, nothing is ever going to happen.  If you don’t have a lot of confidence, you try one time, you get knocked down, and you say, ‘Well, I’m done.  I’m over it.’  Especially now.  The economy is not booming, there aren’t jobs everywhere.  Its the person who is persistent, who battles it out that succeeds.  You’re not going to do that if you’re not confident in yourself, and you have that confidence in your abilities.  As a young person that’s not easy to have.  My advice to them would just be go out there and get it.  Take it.

What makes you happy? 

You know, I read your blog, and I knew this was coming.  I’m not philosophical at all, so this is something I really don’t think about.  But I read your blog, and thought, ‘Hm, what is happiness to me?’  I think that’s about as far as I got.

But, I have a three month old and a two year old, so that’s changed how I would answer this question previously.  My family makes me happy.  Just spending time with them, and realizing that there is more important stuff than you, yourself and going and having fun.  Before you have kids, its sort of all about yourself.  So for me, just spending time with my family makes me the most happy right now.  Just watching them grow, and playing with them.

Besides that, just looking back, you kind of have to be happy and content with yourself to be happy.  Which for me, isn’t always that easy, because I’m always thinking.  When you own your own business you’re never just sitting back relaxed, sipping your Mai Tai in Mexico, without a worry in the world.  You’re always like, ‘Well, shit.  What if this happens, or that happens, or if I lose my business over this.  If board sales start declining, then what am I going to do?  And now I got a family… ‘  But once you get kind of comfortable with yourself and your abilities, even if things go wrong here, you’re going to have the confidence in everything else to pick up and go there.  Once you have that confidence, I think happiness is easier.  You can relax and enjoy the time you spend with your family and friends, which is happiness.  Just hanging out with people you like, relaxed… I can’t really think of anything happier to do. The little pleasures in life and being able to enjoy them, and not being stressed out or always thinking about this or that.  Take a step back and appreciate what you have.  But, its an ongoing thing, right?  You’re never like, ‘Oh, I’m just happy.’  Certain days are better than others.

I noticed on your web site that you originally were in investments, and then you took a year off and went surfing in… was it Costa Rica?  

Yeah, Costa Rica.

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Then you came back, and you started Isle Surf & SUP.  Was it because you didn’t like investments?  

I was working with San Diego County Employee Retirement Association as an intern and got hired in their healthcare department.  I did that for a year before I was ready to strangle myself.  That’s when I just quit and decided to do something else for a little bit.  So yeah, I went down to Costa Rica and sort of cruised around with my friend for a couple months.

Before I left, I’d always looked at Ebay.  It was kind of new, and they sold all these products in the industry: surfboards, skateboards, snowboards.  I started seeing what they sold for, and started doing research on brands and manufacturing.  If I got all the parts to a skate, how much could I make it for?  Could I create my own skateboard brand?  Ebay is an immediate way to reach people, so it was super interesting to me.  I didn’t have to go and build a site and spend money on marketing.  Once you get on Ebay, you’re in front of millions of people.  That was always in the back of my head while I was working for the County.

I met up with Mark (co-f0under) basically right when I got back, and he said, ‘Hey, I’ve been selling all these used surfboards on Ebay.  We need to find a supplier.’  I had already done a lot of research on Ebay and about suppliers and stuff, so we just kind of just teamed up.  And luckily, its just kind of worked out.  We started super slow on Ebay, and it kept growing and that was 10 years ago.  We kind of got lucky in a way, because we were so early on the surfboard sides of things, that we did well with the surfboards.  And then you know, foam when out of business…

Clark, or whatever? 

Yeah, when Clark went out of business here, board prices sort of spiked.  But we had a supplier from Australia, so our prices didn’t.  And the whole stand up thing.  In the last four years, every year SUP has just been growing, growing, growing.  And we were already established, we had a relationship with the factories.  So it wasn’t like we had to start from scratch on this new company or take advantage of the new market.  So we kinda, not necessarily lucked out by any means, but we were kind of in the right place at the right time.  So fortunately, I’ve just been doing this for ten years, which I can’t complain about.

They don’t make foam boards anymore, right?  When Clark went out of business, did they keep make foam boards? 

Yeah!  Yeah.  So just like with anything else, when one guy falls, ten people popped up to try to replace him.  That was a very interesting operation he had going on there.  People didn’t really understand or respect it.  All these business guys who read the paper one morning, said, ‘This guy was making 500 blanks a year, 20 bucks a blank, 50 bucks a blank,’ and they thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this.’  So all these little foam factories popped up and they all pretty much failed – except the ones that exist now.  There’s probably three in the U.S. and one in Mexico.  So they’re still doing foam, but it was really good for the industry because it kind of forced people to look at change.  When Clark was around, everyone had a fiberglass board.  No one was looking for new materials.  They were thinking, ‘This is it.  This is all there’s going to be.’  Once that disappeared, people were like, ‘Oh.  We have to find something else.’  So then came epoxy and EPS.  EPS is the blank material, its non-toxic, you know.  You can eat it, its more buoyant.  So it was kind of a good change.  All these people were forced to go that way, and never went back.  Performance-wise, people still like fiberglass boards, but the life-span is so much shorter.  Unless you’re the 1% or 5% of the guys who surf for super performance, who get new boards all the time, its not really worth it.

Kind of in the first stages of building Isle Surf, when you were thinking, ‘Well is this a good idea?  Is this going to work?’ Did you ever have any moments of doubt?  If you did, how did you sort of pass through those?

That’s kind of an interesting question.  So I came back from Costa Rica and didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before, so I started, like everyone at some point in their life – I was just parking cars downtown through ACE Parking.  So I was doing that, just kind of goofing off, all my buddies were still in town, and I was just kind of having a good time more or less, but supporting myself that way.  I was doing this on the side.

Mark was in the financial field full-time, like 50 hours a week.  He was pretty miserable and pretty over it.  So I was doing the parking cars thing, and we got the boards we had ordered in, and we both were just too nervous to quit our jobs.  I still had to have that income coming in.  Yada yada.  So we were down here at night, packing the boards.  Exactly like you’d picture it.  Getting cardboard, wrapping up them up like Tootsie Rolls, no idea what  we were doing, just throwing them all my Dad’s warehouse.  I just called my Dad one day.  I told him I had a 20-foot container full of 200 boards, and said ‘Can you move your cars out of here, I gotta find somewhere to put these things.’  So we just stacked them up to the ceiling.  We didn’t have boxes or anything – we used all cardboard.  We were shipping the boards on Greyhound buses.  Picture, just two knuckleheads, like ‘Fuck, what do we do?  Someone just bought a board.  How do we ship this thing?’

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So that went on for a little bit of time, and then oddly enough, it was actually kind of lame, but I actually ended up getting fired from ACE Parking.  I miscalculated the hours and rounded up.  I forget what I did exactly, but it was literally a dollar that I overcharged this guy, but he worked for the company.  It was not on purpose or anything, but it was sort of blind luck.  So I was like, ‘Okay, I have absolutely no choice but to do this full-time.’  So I just built a weird little office in my Dad’s warehouse and started.  I ran Isle Surf for like a year, and then Mark finally pulled the plug.  But we both were just scraping by.  Kind of the classic story.  You don’t want to jump in full-speed, but then you just kind of get pushed in, and you make it work.  Fortunately, we were still so early on the game, that we didn’t really have a lot of competition.  So we niched out our own little niche in the business.

You said on your website that there was sort of a lightbulb that went on for you, when you decided to change careers?  Could you talk a little bit about that? 

For me, its always been about thinking outside the box.  I could never picture myself at work, because work meant that if I was there, someone else would be benefitting from it more than I was.  I thought I’d try to do something on my own.  Even when I was working for the County, I was spending half the time doing things for my outside projects.  Looking at stocks… just anything.  The wheels were always turning, and with Mark already selling the boards on there, we were like, ‘Okay, we gotta just try this.’  So literally, we just ordered a container of boards, and no one had really done it before.  It wasn’t necessarily like, me surfing in Costa Rica, and boom, I’m going to become an entrepreneur.  The wheels were always turning on different things.

Is there a happiness mantra that you live by?

Finish what you start.

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Isle Surf & SUP has extremely reasonable boards and Doug is awesome.  Check them out at:

Isle Surf & SUP
340 W 26th St
National City, CA
(888) 569-7873

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2 thoughts on “Happiness Interview: Doug Pate, Co-Founder of Isle Surf & SUP

  1. Great interview. I think he speaks to the trials of taking that leap of faith within yourself very well. I found myself nodding my head as I read and relating. Inspiring.

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