Interview & Portrait By Luke Dimech
Job: Owner of Freeriders Surf Shop, Falmouth
I’m going to start this interview with the phrase ‘as humble as they come’, as I think it’s the best way to describe the experience I had whilst talking with Keith.
Keith is a man who has followed his dream, living by the motto – ‘do what you love’, and has quite simply achieved it.
Freeriders is a perfect example that hard work pays off and allows you to build something great. Before opening the store Keith was a builder – a joiner by trade, he decided that he could instead put all his hard work back into something he loved – surfing.
Surfing has been a part of Keith’s life since he was 3 years old. When I asked him if the prospect of leaving his job to run his own business in surfing had frightened him, he said that he wasn’t:
“It felt natural to open the shop, surfing has been a part of my life for so long it just felt right”.
This didn’t surprise me as earlier in the conversation he had informed me that he feels more comfortable out in the sea then he does on land. And it is clear to see that despite the many hours he has spent in the water, he is still as passionate today as I can imagine him to have been when he caught his first green wave.
Keith is very proud of the fact that Freeriders, even though Falmouth is not particular well known for its surf, is the longest standing independent shop town. If anything, for me, that is a sign of its success. The only thing he wasn’t prepared for was the internal politics of the surfing world. In fact, Keith has created his own brand of clothing simply because he felt that trying to sell overpriced goods to customers, when he could supply products of equal quality to them for half the price was a better ethos and quite a simple choice. For example not once during the entire interview did Keith mention money or profit. This attitude is the embodiment of one thing – that if you want people to return – treat them right and they will. Retain good morals and people will trust you – a business plan that is doing very well for Keith and his shop.
Freeriders makes sure that it can appeal to all – everyone from pro’s to complete beginners can shop here.
“Not everyone wants to spend a fortune on a board, so we try to cater for all”.
They provided an array of new boards of all sizes, along with the option for a custom build and, at the back of the store, a mass of second hand boards. These are not just the stores’ but also for others – perhaps those who wish to have a place to display a board they are attempting to sell, instead of it collecting dust and taking up space in their home – space where perhaps they wish to place a new board.
He reminisces about his days surfing back when there was only half a dozen surfers, that on some good days Gylly had surf and he was the only one out there. These days local beaches are crowded with surfers, but you wont see him complaining – these surfers keep his shop alive and his passion strong.
I asked him what changes his shop has had to undergo during the many years of being open:
“The internet was the biggest change. I don’t really like the internet, not because it takes away business, but because it takes away the personal touch of buying. Also the internet can’t give you sound advice for the best ride for you – so many people are probably getting frustrated riding the wrong board simply because they chose to go online instead of going to an expert”.
Keith wants you to have the right gear and says that he would never sell you something just because it’s in store. Honesty will get repeat custom and build relationships with customers.
We stop talking shop and start to chat more about surfing. Keith seems to have done a lot and seen a lot throughout his time in the sea. Here are some of the best moments and the truly scariest moments of his surfing career.
‘Indonesia, 20ft waves, need I say anymore……’
It was a combination of emotions for Keith – it was 1989 and unlike today, no lifeguards were present.
“It was a combination of fear, excitement and exhilaration when I paddled out”.
He thinks back and recalls the moment, telling me that the horizon loomed above him at times, and it was as if the sun had been blocked out – it became so dark all around him. The beaches are also different there, on a reef break, out at sea.
You loose all perception of space around you and the sea just seems massive. He tells me that despite the fear this was a moment that broke a barrier and gave him a great confidence boost.
A day at Porthtowan at just 17 years old. The waves had started to build and his friend and fellow surfer had decided it was getting too much and headed back to shore.
Keith remained, but on a terrible wipeout was pushed down to the bottom, where it felt like he was being pinned down. Wave after powerful wave kept him there, as he tried to fight his way back up – he figured his time was up.
He recollects how as he ran out of oxygen all of his fondest memories, family, friends and such, went through his mind as if it on a slideshow. Eventually, he seemed to float to the surface, but didn’t recall how it had happened or how he returned to shore – all he added was that it was pure luck that he is still here.
If he had to give advice to someone who was thinking of starting surfing, he would say go to a shop that you trust and have confidence in – if they make you feel uncomfortable then go elsewhere.
‘Take an expert’s advice when buying a board, suit etc and be honest with your skill level to make sure you get the best gear for you.’
Thank you very much Keith for a great interview and allowing us to come and photograph your store! May it continue to flourish. Catch you in the waves sometime soon.