Surf Shacks 019 - Colin Tunstall

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By Indoek / Published by Indoek
Colin Tunstall is a busy guy. Since co-founding Saturdays Surf NYC with his two buddies Morgan and Josh, Colin has been taking on a constant whirlwind of projects surrounding the brand. From multiple stores in New York and Japan, to product and artist collaborations, a full clothing line, a magazine, and even their own blend of coffee, Saturdays has redefined not only what it means to be a surfer in NYC, but what it means to be a surfer in the modern age. Saturdays has changed how the surfing lifestyle is perceived to a new, wider, metropolitan audience. Colin’s apartment is right down the street from the Saturdays office and is bursting with creative inspiration and a growing art collection.
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What led you to making the leap and starting Saturdays? How did you meet Morgan and Josh?

When I was in LA, I met a guy named Mike Townsend, who knows a lot of people. He was planning on moving to New York and I was like, "When I’m done with my gig here, I’m going to move back as well." So when I came back to NYC, we met up and that’s how I met Morgan and Josh, my two business partners. We all hung out, we were all into boardsports in general, we were all single at the time and just kind of having a good time—just going out and taking advantage of some of the good things NYC has to offer. I was in a period where I wanted to do my own thing and get out of my editorial job. Mike had a side business where he was doing a couple of different things. Morgan was working sales at Acne. Josh was in between some jobs doing sales at G-Star and J. Lindeberg. One day we all hopped on the Long Island Railroad and went out to Lincoln Street in Long Island for a surf. I was just completely fascinated by the New York surfing experience. Growing up heavily invested in snowboarding and skateboarding, I was hooked immediately and just wanted to get involved. So I had conversations with them on the train ride back. I was like, "How can we do something here?" Because there’s something that’s not really represented in New York. We talked about the idea and for me it kind of works this way: when you get something in your head, whether you want to do that thing or not, it kind of somehow entered into the universe. And so just through that conversation, certain opportunities got presented to us—like a friend of ours was working at an art gallery and he’d overheard us talking about it. He told us about this guy that had an art gallery on Crosby Street who was closing it down, but he still had a lease for a couple of years. We went by and immediately fell in love with the space and just took it without a business plan or a real strategy in mind (other than we thought we had a cool concept and we’ll just make it work). From there it was just a lot of scratching and figuring out how to come up with a name for Saturdays—or for this project of ours. One day Morgan came over to my house for some beers ready to open up and just start throwing around ideas. I just said, "Saturdays"—it was like the first thing, and he was like "Ok sounds cool. Alright done." I spent the weekend designing a logo and put that together pretty quickly. That was the easy part, and it’s just been a struggle ever since—a lot of "one thing leads to the next."

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What have been your biggest challenges so far in starting a brand and maintaining it?

I never worked in retail; I never worked in fashion. So my biggest hurdle, which I think maybe ended up being on the bonus side, was just not really understanding how things worked and just figuring it out on the fly. I think that part of our luck—a lot of it is luck—is that it came in this kind of natural way. It felt authentic, you know? In the surf industry there’s a lot of talk—there are a lot of attitudes and just a lot of different styles. A lot of different mentalities, but we’re all sharing the affinity of riding waves in different ways. At first people just didn’t understand what we were doing. Some people were just scratching their heads and it took us just not really responding to that stuff and just keeping our heads down and moving forward, hoping that everything works out, you know? That’s all you can really do. And it’s worked out and been fun. Just trying to not be somebody else or trying to look at somebody and be like, "Oh I want to do that." I mean, we are obviously influenced by other people, that’s undeniable, but it’s just taking that stuff and trying to repurpose it and find a new perspective on it. That’s been the fun part. I also didn’t realize how this game works at first though, so we didn’t pay ourselves for a while. We kept on reinvesting and doing other odd jobs on the side. We had events at the store; Kahlua used the space for like a drink demo and we did these other things like that, which would help pay the rent. A friend was talking to somebody from Beams [a department store in Japan] and was like, "What’s happening in NY? Any cool stuff?" They were like, "Yeah, you know this little surf/coffee shop opened up on Crosby Street. You should go check it out." She came by and was like, "Do you guys make T-shirts?" They wanted something they could sell in their store. I called up my business partners that worked in the wholesale business and they were like, "Beams, no way!" Just flipping out. So I designed a couple of T-shirts over the weekend and put them on a line sheet. They placed an order and that was our first opportunity to get Saturdays-branded stuff in our store. That was I guess the start. It was all these different kinds of circumstances blending into one another. We just kind of figured it out. There was also something in our struggle that helped communicate to people what we were trying to do.

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There’s always been a strong surf scene in New York, but Saturdays made it unique, stylish, and relevant. That seemed to become a catalyst for this larger surf lifestyle movement in the city.

Yeah, I mean it seems pretty obvious now. It didn’t click for me before though. I guess it was because nobody was doing it right. It was just like, Quiksilver has a store in Times Square and a store on Broadway, and they have these high-profile surfers like Kelly Slater, for instance, and there’s a lot of appeal there—and that was what surfing was supposed to be. I would just look at it, like watching the waves, and there’s just something that would draw me in to that, but at the same time it was just very foreign, you know? You’d walk around the city and every once in a while, you’d see a surfboard in somebody’s window or somebody skating down the street with a surfboard and you’d get excited, like, "Ah, that’s rad!" You know, that’s cool to see because it’s real and relevant. The juxtaposition is something that we played off of in the beginning: It’s a city, you can’t surf here, but you can work here and it’s a place to congregate and share ideas. There wasn’t a place that embraced it here for New York, so that was the idea for Saturdays—we’re living here and this is us.


This article was originally published on Indoek as part of the Surf Shacks series, featuring the homes of creative surfers from coast to coast and overseas. See the full interview and photo gallery here.