Surf Shacks 063

Kyle Kennelly + Becca Mantei
Costa Mesa, CA

Matt Titone

Kyle and Becca are the creative duo behind one of our favorite retail experiences, Daydream Surf Shop in Newport Beach, California. Both owners are wise beyond their years and offer something unique to the shop equation and aesthetic — like a yin yang, or left-right brain situation if you will. Kyle comes from a finance background, but is far from the suit you may picture. He also grew up on a hardcore competitive shortboarding regiment, which is hard to imagine given his love affair, bordering on obsession with “alternative” surf crafts (not a single thruster was spotted at his home or the shop). Becca on the other hand comes from an art and interior design background, which should be obvious given the overall look & feel, thoughtful curation and attention to detail of the shop. From the coffee bar to the home goods and vintage clothing selection, to their unique board subscription concept: the Daydream Research Center (more on that later), Kyle and Becca are really on to something and have created their own little world with Daydream. Like the shop, their home also reflects their interests in hippie culture, design and love of vintage relics.

Where are you from? How long have you lived here in Newport and what drew you to the area in the first place after living in SF?

Becca: I was born and raised in the Costa Mesa / Newport area. We both moved to the bay area for college and when we could come back home to visit for the holidays we would notice that there was something missing. Orange County has always been way behind the times in terms of art, food, music, etc. Having been living in such an epicenter of culture we wanted to be able to bring some of that feeling down to our hometown. We wanted to open our shop in Newport because there isn’t anything like it anywhere close by. The idea to have a speciality shop with high quality coffee has been done and million and ten times in LA and San Francisco, but is a totally new idea for our area.

Kyle: I’ve always moved around a bunch so I have a hard time attributing where I’m from to anywhere more specific than California because so many different places have shaped who I am. My mom and I lived in Corona Del Mar until I was 10 and I feel like that made a big impact on me at a young age. My mom would drive me to go surf Blackies every morning at like 5:30am so that whole zone is deeply nostalgic and holds a deep importance in my heart. We moved to Huntington Beach after that, then I moved out of the house after high school and into a warehouse in Costa Mesa which was all I could afford being fresh out of school. I was so broke I could barely feed myself, but I hustled hard, went to Orange Coast College, an amazing community college here in Costa Mesa, and transferred to UC Berkeley. I wanted to get my PhD in Economics, but couldn’t get the grades I needed in the upper division mathematic courses in order to transfer to the PhD programs I had my sights on. I fell back on a job offer with JP Morgan’s Investment Bank, did some training in New York for several months, then moved to San Francisco. Even after all that I still felt like Newport Beach and Costa Mesa was somehow my real home for this stage in my life… That being said, I know Becca and I are going to grow old in West Marin.

What were you up to in SF before you moved back down here?

Becca: I went to the University of San Francisco and got a degree in Design and Fine Art. I was an assistant for an interior designer or a couple years, but I found the industry to be really shallow. I got really disillusioned with the whole thing. I knew that I really loved creating spaces that brought people together and when Kyle and I talked about opening a shop up together one day, it seemed like the perfect idea.

Kyle: I had the worst job of my life followed by the best job of my life. JP Morgan’s Investment Bank wasn’t really the best spot for me — weirdly enough, I thought it was at the time — it’s such a weird, brain-washy, frat house… I was just trying to get out of student loan debt but there’s a price to pay for that. I was totally fried after working 90 hour weeks, throwing up blood from stress, panic attacks, mental breakdowns, all that great stuff. My whole world was falling apart until the best day of my life: the day I was fired from JP Morgan! I knew I wanted to start a shop with Becca but needed to figure some things out before doing so. My favorite shop was, and still is, Mollusk so I went and applied for a job there. I got to meet John McCambridge and Johanna St. Claire, the owners of Mollusk, I told them all about my dream to open my own shop and what an inspiration Mollusk was not only to me but on the macro-surf community, they were really changing people’s perspectives and did so in such a peaceful way! I think they dug my motivation and tossed me all sorts of projects and assignments. I actually still do freelance operations work for them once a week.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Kyle, you have a background in finance and Becca, you have a background in art and interior design. Tell us more about your professional backgrounds and how they led you to where you are now. When and why did you start Daydream Surf Shop and how did the idea come about, etc?

Becca: Having worked in interior design I was able to get some good experience bringing spaces to life from just an idea or doodle. I started drawing up imaginary floor plans years before we ever stepped foot in what would be our shop. We were able to really hash out all the design details while still living in San Francisco. We opened our doors in December of 2016.

Kyle: I had way cooler aspirations before my lame ass career in finance. I wanted to do economic research, bask in the realm of theory, and conduct research driven problem solving! I worked my tail off in school, had a few gigs as a research assistant, and even had a published piece that I was credited assisting with my Macro Theory Professor, Yuriy Gorodnichenko. Sadly, I wasn’t smart enough to make the cut (as I mentioned earlier), but I feel like I still carry the same research driven principals in terms of how I’ve shaped the Daydream Research Center. The goal of the Daydream Research Center is to get to the root of understanding design theory contextualized with surf history. Understanding why surfboards work the way they do is extremely complex and it makes matters worse that its virtually impossible to conduct a solid randomized controlled trial of any kind so we’re doing our best to make conclusions off of empirical data which comes with a whole slew of psychological biases. Finance is where I learned all the bad skills that I’m still trying to delete from myself including my drive to overwork myself, my inability to listen to my true self, my drive to put everything before my needs, amongst others. But it was during my career in finance that we really hatched the idea for the shop. I’d be sitting at my desk miserable, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life, and I’d do a little doodle on my note pad of my shop and just daydream about it for a little before going back to slowly killing myself with stress. It was the only light I had at the end of a long, dark, depressing tunnel.

Daydream officially started in December 2016. Our goals were to give folks in Orange County an alternative to the mall life — everything down here is either in a mall or a strip mall, it’s so weird. Do a little bit of traveling and you’ll quickly realize that people’s interpretation of “The OC” is that it’s plagued with one of the worst reputations as the ritzy, uneducated, plastic epicenter of California. Since we are the opposite of that, and all of our friends in the area represent a different subset of Orange County, we wanted to try to sway people’s interpretation of the area. Another reason why we opened the shop was to try to bring a humanizing element back into the retail and cafe experience through building a massive following of regulars that we know and love! Regulars don’t have to be folks that come in every day, we have a great deal of friends that do, but we also have regulars that come in twice a week or once a month or everytime they’re in California, the important thing is that we remember them and pick up where they left off. The last goal which I feel like I’ve already talked a lot about is to get people to think about surfing from an academic perspective, it’s a life long study that has an incredibly cosmic history from the ancient Polynesians to Bob Simmons, Greenough, and beyond… so much of surf culture is caught up in this weird, childish, extreme sports side of surfing, there needs to be some alternatives for everyone that doesn’t want to watch teenagers do air reverses.

Matt Titone

What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in starting your business?

Becca: It’s been interesting learning how to manage different people with different personalities. Neither Kyle or I have ever had any managerial experience, so being in a position where people are looking to you for instructions has been a totally new feeling. Also before we even opened, a challenge we found was getting any kind of business loan. We would walk into a bank, and they would see 23 and 26 year old kids with zero experience wanting to open a weird surf shop / coffee shop, we would get denied almost immediately. It was really discouraging. But I get it, we looked super risky, and super unconventional. It forced us to get creative and work with what little means we had.

Kyle: My biggest challenge is dealing with myself and trying to unlearn all the bad habits I picked up from the rest of my life. Working in finance, the cut throat competitiveness at UC Berkeley, and surfing competitively I think have all contributed to me being extremely motivated, dreaming big, and developing an insanely strong work ethic. However, the down side of that is that I have absolutely no self worth. I’ll work myself until there’s nothing left, I’ll put everything before taking care of myself, I’ll always be down to take on more. It’s taught me to have absolutely no self respect. Naturally, this puts me in some very dark places mentally and it can be really hard to see a way out sometimes. The darkness spreads like wildfire to everyone around me so I literally have to send myself home if I’m in an overworked, negativity spiral.

On the flipside, what have been the greatest successes so far?

Becca: The fact that it’s working! We’ve been able to cover our expenses since day one, which is pretty rad and really affirming that our blood sweat and tears are paying off. Every month has been better than the last.

Kyle: Haha, it’s funny that I find this so much harder to answer than the biggest challenges. I’d have to say the fact that the Daydream Research Center is actually working! I’ve put so much time into figuring how to make it work from a business perspective and I’ve got the formula down. We’ve had hundreds of members sign up and I’ve got to know many of them on a very personal level. It’s so cool to watch people find something that just clicks naturally for them in surfing. I can’t get enough of that!

Matt Titone
Matt Titone

What’s it like running a business with your significant other?

Kyle: Working with Becca is so rad, she’s seriously the biggest reason that our shop is making it! She’s the rock that keeps everyone grounded and always sees things from a perspective thats orthogonal to others. It’s also really motivating to work with the person you’re in love with, I care about our other co-workers’ opinions of me but I’ve never tried harder to impress anyone than Becca. I’ll do anything for her!

Becca: Woah, I’m orthogonal?! That’s a pretty epic compliment. Working with Kyle is like magic. We don’t even have to fully explain something for the other to understand what we are trying to do. We get each other really well. We also work together so well because we couldn’t be more opposite. The skills and traits that Kyle brings to the table are so different from what I can do. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without Kyle to balance me out. We compliment and complete each other. If we were the same our business wouldn’t exist. Like Kyle said, it’s totally motivating to work with the person you’re in love with.

What are your favorite parts about Newport and the area in which you live?

Becca: Our community.

Kyle: The waves are insanely fun so many days out of the year, it’s crazy how consistent and clean the surf is in Southern California. It’s also rad that our community is this secret little diamond in the rough, underground, beatnik group of creatives doing cool shit. Everyone that’s in the shop’s orbit is up to something interesting and spinning that traditional reputation of Orange County we talked about earlier. I just get so jazzed off of what everyone has going on!

It is refreshing to see a couple like you in your twenties (and in Orange County) super into vintage art and “hippy stuff” from the 60s / 70s. It’s also cool to see how you have translated those tastes and aesthetic to your shop and the curated range of products you carry. How would you describe your style and aesthetic and where did it come from?

Becca: Thanks! Orange County is a strange place, there is this juxtaposition of people driving flashy Maseratis, tons of plastic surgery, and carrying around $10,000 purses and then there are sandy surf hippies, in an old van, with no shoes. For me, it’s only natural to gravitate towards what’s most natural. I’ve always been interested in vintage, I started going to flea markets when I was in junior high and have been going religiously ever since. There’s something about finding items that have lived a whole life before you find it that is fascinating to me. It’s hard to describe my own style, I’ll describe Kyle’s, he’s like a mad scientist on the beach. Tailored, streamlined, lots of earth tones but a little wacky at the same time. Timothy Leary meets George Greenough.

Kyle: That’s kind of weird to think about, I don’t know how to really describe my style… I know it’s a sum of my experiences, I think I’m just a nerd that’s really connected to the ocean in a metaphysical way, it’s where life evolved from on this planet, and it’s our job to be stewards of it. I just have an academic approach to the ocean and surfing so I think I just dress like I would on campus, like a student maybe? I wear the same thing like everyday: pants, button down shirt, a sweater if its cold, boots, maybe a tee shirt if its the hottest day of the year, I’d probably kick the boots off and go barefoot then too. Since Bex described my style I’ll go ahead and give a shot at hers, I always say that she dresses like a little boy who ran away from home to hop trains.

Matt Titone

Tell us about your Tiki love affair.

Becca: Oh man! Love affair is a perfect way to describe our obsession. I just love how involved tiki culture is, from the ingredients, the atmosphere, the glasses, the design, it’s all goes the extra mile. We were lucky enough to live relatively close to Don the Beachcomber in Sunset before it recently closed down. Every time we would go I would notice a new detail of the interior that I had missed before. I could get totally lost analyzing the little details in a tiki bar. We even spent Christmas at Don’s.

Kyle: Tiki is so rad because it’s all these mysterious mixologists that were coming up with crazy complex drinks in the 30’s and 40’s! They’re the coolest mad scientists out there and there’s so much history behind it. It skipped out parents’ generation so I didn’t know much about it until I really started to get interested in tasty beverages as a whole. These cats were whipping up 16-plus ingredient cocktails with lots of trial and error like rum scientists! Through tiki drinks, you’re bound to get interested in reading about the founders of the tiki culture; Trader Vic Bergeron in Oakland and Don The Beachcomber in Los Angeles, through that you’ll probably find yourself circling back to the ancient Polynesian cultures. So it’s kind of that reoccurring theme of academia, this one being especially interesting because it’s developed out of California and ancient Polynesian cultures much like surfing is. Rum itself also has a crazy cool history too!

Kyle, you used to surf competitively mostly as a short boarder. One would never know that based on your personal collection of classic longboards and “alternative” shapes. What triggered the switch in equipment and style for you?

Kyle: I surfed competitively from the age of 9 until about 18, so almost 10 years, and I went way overboard! I was doing every contest I could get my hands on from NSSA’s to Pro Jr.’s and WQS stuff. I totally fried myself. Surfing was this beautiful recreation that was mutated into a sport that then became a job and it took all the fun out it. From the age of 7 to 9 I loved riding longboards and once I moved to Huntington Beach that became the lamest thing a 10 year old could do, I had ridden shortboards before, so I just stuck to that and had a pretty successful rookie run at competing. I won the NSSA West Coast Championships and placed 4th in the nation. That seemed to point me in the direction of continuing down that path. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to experiment a little with other types of boards. It was a long slow arc from bonzers to single fins then I threw an alaia in the mix but there was one board in particular that changed my entire view on surfboards; it was Greg Liddle’s displacement hulls. It felt like I had blinders up my whole life that narrowed my vision and the hull just dissolved all that and inspired me to become a life long student of design theory and surfing history.

What got you into surfing in the first place?

Kyle: Ya, so that’s a cool story. My mom loved the ocean and whenever she took me to the beach I’d always try to stand up on by boogie board but that didn’t really count… My dad wasn’t in the picture, but I knew he surfed. I had an amazing stand in father figure named Mike, I referred to him as my grandfather because that was just easier to tell people, his son Jon surfed and I always thought that Jon was so rad. One day Jon took me and pushed me into some waves at Big Corona in Corona Del Mar, I was so nimble and light that I just popped right up. Haha, I still have photos of me riding what were essentially rolling swells that weren’t even breaking on a 6’0″ BZ soft top that looked like a longboard on me. Fast forward 20 years and guess who helped us build out the shop? My “Uncle” Jon! He was responsible for building the majority of the shop with me and Becca.

Amazing. Tell us more about the Daydream Research Center, it seems like a fun, unique and relevant thing for a surf shop to do in the age of the “shared economy.” How many members are there? How many boards? Shapers? etc.

Kyle: Ya, that’s my baby! So, I started the earliest stage of this back up in San Francisco in the living room of our apartment back in 2015, it was called the Community Board Share. I think the website url expired, but the Instagram is still out there somewhere. It was pretty hard for folks to take seriously, but I loved the concept and wanted to test it out before incorporating it into our future shop. Now the Daydream Research Center is up and thriving! We have 42 different boards right now across tons of different shapers, it would be exhaustive to name them all but I’ll shout out a few: Liddle, Gato Heroi, Andreini, Campbell Brothers, Tanner/Dash, Tyler Warren, Ryan Lovelace, Fineline, Deepest Reaches, Alex Knost, Troy Elmore, Griffin Stepanek. Right now we have three membership levels, we have a day pass that’s $20 and two month memberships, one that’s $50 and one that’s $100, the $50 level allows you to hold boards for 3 days at a time while the $100 level allows you to hold boards for a week at a time. You can reserve anything you’d like and schedule a day to pick it up or just walk in and see what’s available. We’ve had hundreds of sign ups but I’m mostly focused on the metric that counts the reoccurring monthly members which has been hovering around 30 members month over month. We’ve had some really long term members, some folks will sign up for a year at a time, we’ve had members that have been with us for over a year even! We also have member’s nights where we kick back and watch surf films from our media library along with public events that are largely educational, if its a ticketed event then the members get in free. An example of that would be the historical photography slideshow we did, Jeff Divine: Cultural Observations from Surf History, or the Hull Talk Night with Marc Andreini and Kirk Putnam.

What are your plans / goals for Daydream in the future?

Becca: We would love to expand to multiple locations. I would be thrilled to offer a space for people to get together and share thoughts and ideas with one another. 6 months ago, the thought of opening a second location would seem insane. We’ve got our feelers out there for a location south of San Clemente and north of San Francisco.

Kyle: The network effect from scaling our shop will be cool but the growth needs to be methodical and we need to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time. Certain areas aren’t really at a place where the surf culture will be accepting of what we’re doing. While we wait for the perfect moment to branch out to new areas, we’ll be working on some really rad stuff to keep with the academia theme. I don’t want to give too much away, the most I can say is that right now we’re just a research center but I hope to be an institution one day. You can never stop researching and spreading knowledge on surf history and design theory.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, or sage advice?

Becca: Be cool. I took a metal soldering class a long time ago and my teacher would always tell us to “be cool.” When you’re stressing and freaking out about how something is going, that’s when you make the most mistakes. But if you can just calm down, center yourself, and focus, everything works out. It’s a great lesson I tell myself almost everyday. And when I’m getting caught up in the little details I like to remind myself that nothing really matters, we are so small and insignificant in this universe. Over-reacting is seriously such a waste of breath. There are infinite universes, and whatever problem I’m dealing with is so beyond microscopic.

Kyle: Seek peace, seek knowledge, learn to become mentally strong, listen to yourself, tune out the rest.

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Matt Titone

A goofy-footed designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director before moving west to Venice Beach, California in 2006 where he ended up co-founding ITAL/C Studio and tries very hard to avoid crowds & traffic. While not in the studio, he enjoys surfing as much as possible, snowboarding, paddle tennis, hiking, camping, and watching the Eagles play at Sports Harbor.

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