The Woman Behind the Coolest Surf Club in Northern California
By Jo Piazza
Former professional surfer Julie Cox opened the Traveler Surf Club to fulfill her own unmet needs. PRESTON RICHARDSON
I may not be much of a surfer, but I sure like to float on a board on a bluebird day. That's how I discovered the Traveler Surf Club in Pacifica, a woman-founded and operated surf club that offers rentals, lessons, storage, showers, hot coffee and the sweetest little beachside apparel shop for surfers and wannabe surfers like me.
Julie Cox, a professional surfer and former director of the California Surf Museum, launched Traveler in 2017 out of necessity. Even though surfers from around the world have long flocked to the breaks at Linda Mar state beach in Pacifica, the amenities are seriously lacking. Aside from the world's most scenic Taco Bell and a couple of shops, there was no where for surfers to hang, get dry, get warm and chat.
Traveler Surf Club is mere steps from the Linda Mar beach in Pacific. ANNA SIMONE
Julie Cox, a former professional surfer and former director of the California Surf Museum, launched Traveler in 2017 out of necessity. Even though surfers from around the world have long flocked to the breaks at Linda Mar state beach in Pacifica, the amenities are seriously lacking. Aside from the world's most scenic Taco Bell and a couple of shops, there was no where for surfers to hang, get dry, get warm and chat.
"It was partly out of a need to get warm after surfing in the cold waters of the Pacific ocean," Cox said. "Buying a home steps from the beach was not in the cards, so we started to brainstorm on how to create a 'shareable beach shack' experience that could work for other city surfers. The idea for a place to clean up, grab a hot shower and get on to the next activity while connecting with others was the seed for Traveler Surf Club."
It's no secret that the surf industry has long been a boys' club and Cox was well aware of that fact when she opened Traveler.
"We've certainly had our share of guff from some salty surf bros who just want to keep the status quo and crow about how hardcore they are," Cox said. But she's been pleasantly surprised that those voices are actually pretty few and far-between compared to the support they've received. "The upside is that I have clear insight into how many male-focused sports businesses fail to properly serve their female audience. Women command huge buying power, even in sports- so tuning in to that is just good business."
Cox, who has been surfing since she was eight-years-old, has always been a bit of a tom boy and even though the business is woman-owned, she aims to keep the space gender neutral.
Julie Cox, a former professional surfer, has been surfing since she was eight-years-old. LESLIE MUIRHEAD
"It definitely makes for a more open and welcoming environment for both men and women. Surfing can be an especially intimidating sport, but our goal has always been to send out good vibes and promote our love of the ocean and outdoors rather than being highly competitive with our counterparts. I think people respect that and find it refreshing," Cox said.
Even though Cox had worked in the surf and retail industries for most of her career starting her own business was daunting.
"Everything was a steep learning curve including figuring out how to raise capital, learning the building permit process on the fly, hiring great staff and hoping that we could prove out a concept that didn't previously exist. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other and moving ahead until things fell into place. And it worked," Cox said, with no small measure of surprise.
Traveler's motto is "surf more, get warm, be happy" and that translates into solving several key problems for the urban cold-water surfer. Cox's ultimate goal is to make it easier for her members to spend more time riding waves and less time dealing with the cumbersome logistics of the sport. The business woman in her realized that they needed to create a monthly membership model much like any fitness facility as well as day-use passes for folks who are 'travelers' looking to upgrade their day at the beach. I was one of those travelers. I'm a surf novice, used to resort surfing, the kind where a nice man who works for the hotel I'm stayed at paddles out next to me and gives me a big push when a wave is coming up behind me.
Traveler lets you store and rent boards and wet suits. ANITA YUNG
Traveler was incredibly accommodating to my abilities, or lack thereof. And they provided the thing I want most in a surf experience, a warm shower, a sauna and a butt-warming bench in a beautiful Instagram-worthy courtyard post-surf. Traveler may be gender neutral, but it knows how to provide comfort in a way that the male-operated surf clubs I've been to haven't. It's a small difference, but an important one, especially as more and more women are flocking to the sport and the surf industry.
"I tell other women that the surf industry is ripe for innovation and new ideas. I'd recommend thinking outside the box and trying to bring a different perspective to a historically homogeneous market," Cox says. "Similar to when you're out in the water, you won't necessarily have the best experience paddling out into a crowded spot and wait for the biggest waves to come, you have to scan the horizon, keep your eyes open, and be ready to catch the right wave that is coming just for you."