Surf Shacks 068

Lyndsey Lee Faulkner
Portland, OR

Matt Titone

It’s tough being a surfer when you live in Portland, OR. Though insanely beautiful and picturesque, the coast is over an hour drive away, the water’s cold, the conditions are shifty, and the lineups aren’t always as empty (or welcoming) as you’d imagine. That said, a little shop called Leeward Surf is making life a whole lot better for the local surf and creative community in Portlandia. The cozy shop boasts a well-curated collection of goods, plus a wide range of boards reminiscent of the colorful racks at Mollusk, but also some unique shred sticks by local PNW shapers. Its owner, Lyndsey is a true proponent for the urban surf community in Portland, bringing unique and relevant brands to her shop hub from afar, while also using the business to support local surf artisans and initiatives. A graphic designer by trade, she moved to the Pacific Northwest from Florida fifteen years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, Hello! I am Lyndsey Lee Faulkner. I am a graphic designer / art director and surf shop owner. Leeward is my main project and where I spend the majority of my time right now. It’s a small surf shop in Portland, OR. Our mission is to create a space where surfers, shapers, designers and artists can feel supported in their endeavors. We’re trying to encourage exploration in surf craft and to be a resource at the intersection of surf, art and design. We also try to use the shop as a platform to rally folks around causes we believe in, which include environmental activism, sustainable manufacturing, and utilizing surfing as a tool to create positive change in people’s lives. We hope to inspire our surf community, be curious, dig a little deeper and think more critically.

Where are you from? How long have you lived here in Portland and what drew you to the area in the first place?

I was born in Florida, and then spent ages 1-8 in Palm Springs, CA of all places, then moved back to Melbourne Beach, Florida for my formative years. I moved to Portland in 2007, straight out of my undergrad program in Jacksonville, FL. My folks moved to Seattle around 2004, so I was spending time in the PNW and I pretty much fell head over heels in love with the landscape, the people, and culture.

Coming from Florida, how was the transition to living in the PNW?

I definitely had to learn how to properly layer, and how to wear socks, boots, beanies and rain gear. That said, I don’t remember the weather bothering me a whole lot my first few years. Probably because I was so infatuated with the city and everything that was going on at the time. Right out of the gate I landed a job at a record store, and had an internship at a great little record label called Hometapes (now Endless Endless) and was attending graduate school, so I had plenty to keep me busy.

Portland was still relatively cheap back then, and so everyone was able to work just enough to get by, and then make art and music or whatever in their free time. There was always a free basement show, art shows and happenings. Winter presented an opportunity to hunker down and make shit, and summer is the time to be outside.

As a graphic designer by trade, how did you first decide to open a surf shop in Portland?

A lot of my graphic design work had been in retail applications, and through college I worked mostly retail jobs so I was really familiar with the ins-and-outs of retail operations. My favorite jobs always had a lot of variety, and retail allows me to do design work, art direct photo shoots, curate and merchandise alongside a lot of other (not as fun but important) things. I really enjoy being self-employed, so starting my own business seemed like a good idea. My brother Matt was really supportive of the idea, and agreed to partner up with us to get it going.

I’ve been surfing since my family moved back to Florida in 93. Honestly, I thought I was giving surfing (temporarily) up when I moved to the NW. I sold all my boards except for one to travel with. Oregon is cold, sharky, and the conditions are often fickle and unforgiving. But when I met my now husband, who happens to be from the Oregon coast, and realized I would be living here for the long term, I had two options: 1) Give up surfing except for the odd trips to warmer climates and suffer in between. Or 2) Suck it up, buy that 5m suit and booties and get after it. I was really lucky to have my husband Marc as a guide. Even though he’s not a surfer, he grew up on the coast and had all the good intel.

Over the years I have been seeing more and more folks in the water here. It seems totally natural, there are just more people moving here all the time. Many are here for Portland’s proximity to outdoor activities. As the lineups filled in, what I saw lacking in the Portland community was a resource that provided a space for community and culture. I was meeting other surfers — a lot of them coming to surfing from snowboarding or skating, later in life that didn’t have the cultural context I grew up with. I wanted to fill that void with a business that would aim to guide Portland surf culture in a direction that was thoughtful, respectful (especially when it comes to our coastal communities and environment), interesting and unique.

Curating the shop has to be a fun challenge. How do you decide what to carry in Leeward?

I probably should have some strategy or specific criteria for this, but honestly I like to keep it kind of open. I enjoy that we have a collection of vinyl records, exclusive bags made from a ream of velvet I scored at an estate sale, Made-in-USA swimwear, vintage apparel and home goods, fins and hand-shaped boards all in the same space. It’s quite an eclectic variety of goods. I am personally obsessed with design and surf history, so I suppose that probably comes across in our selections. I feel like it’s important to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.

I do care a lot about quality, especially when it comes to apparel. I believe less is more. I want pieces that are unique and last a long time — that is probably why we stock a lot of vintage apparel. We try our best to work with brands that strive for sustainability in their manufacturing, whether thats using organic fabrics or manufacturing domestically—we carry brands like Mollusk, The Seea and Banks Journal.

What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in pursuing this passion and starting your business?

Our biggest challenge so far was a lack of start up funding. Portland has grown so much, overheads aren’t cheap for small businesses and we are by no means rolling in dough. My husband Marc and I have always chosen the “love over gold” path, despite its many challenges.

Many new Portland businesses these days are operating on the start-up mentality, where you throw boat loads of investors’ cash at the business in the first couple years, usually operating at a loss, in hopes of scaling to finally make the business profitable.

The primary reason I wanted to avoid this method was I knew I would work harder than ever on this project, so I wanted to do it on my terms and with integrity. Surfing in the PNW is something I love so much, I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I would be pressured to sell it out to meet investors expectations. For us being independently owned was the ideal, but it comes with big challenges. We had to hit the ground running because we don’t have an endless well of cash to pull from. I am still doing freelance art direction and design work to supplement my income because of this.

As Portland grows, the retail landscape has also become increasingly competitive. A decade ago there was much more of a community vibe, a rising tide raises all boats mentality. And now-a-days its increasingly cutthroat which bums me out sometimes.

On the flip-side, what have been the greatest successes so far?

We have been able to pull off some really rad events at the shop since we’ve opened in support of some great artists, filmmakers, shapers and projects.

The first big art show we did for our opening was with Yasmina Dedijer-Small  and it was amazing. I loved seeing the shop full of her wonderful work. We hosted legends Marc Andreini and Tatsuo Takei this past summer which totally blew my mind. We’ve opened up our community to some amazing films with our summer film screenings that they may not have seen otherwise—films like Hot Generation, Morning of the Earth, Free Jazz Vein and Church of The Open Sky. We also hosted the launch party for Sea Together, a great women’s surf magazine based on the Oregon coast. I loved that event because it brought such a diverse group of people together all in support of women’s surfing.

We’re also just really proud that we have made it this far on a shoestring budget. I believe we’ve created a really tight knit community around the shop. I know I have met so many wonderful folks through the project, and hope that’s true for everyone that supports us.

Matt Titone

Your husband, Marc has a pretty interesting job, tell us about what it’s like being a firefighter in the PNW.

Haha, yes. He’s now retired from the Forest Service and moved on to other things, but I know he misses his time in the wilderness and hopes to get back to it at some point. Before I met Marc he was a wilderness guide in Alaska. He did 3 seasons in Denali National Park, living in a wall tent and hiking and rafting tourists around. He’s basically a walking encyclopedia for NW flora and fauna. He has some amazing grizzly encounter stories.

After we met he started working for the Forest Service, first building and maintaining trails in Misty Fjords National Park. He was based in Ketchikan but they would get taken out to the park by float plane or boat and spend weeks at a time working in the wilderness. Film photography is one of his hobbies and his photos from this time are amazing. The landscape shots are so beautiful, but he also did a series on the tourists he would see in Ketchikan coming and going from the Alaskan cruise ships that are fascinating.

He started working fire shortly after that. It is backbreaking and critical work—firefighters are dispatched for two weeks at a time, and work insane schedules (like 16 hour shifts) while they are on the fire. Often times they sleep on the ground in makeshift camps. Marc once had to get his sleep on the elementary school soccer field of a tiny town in Central Oregon with no cover, during the day, in the hot sun, before heading right back to the line. Despite all that, and all the poison oak, he loved it. With him and so many of the folks I met through him that do this kind of work, they get addicted to it, to the rush of it. It’s the same way surfers are addicted to surfing. They get the same twitchy look in their eye when they hear of a dispatch. Just like surfers get with a word of a swell. It’s wild.

How did you guys first meet?

We met at a bar… hang on, it gets better. I told Marc that I was working at the record store during our conversation at said bar. A few weeks later he came into the record store and asked me on a date to see (what happened to be) one of my favorite musicians. I couldn’t go to that show, but we ended up going out a little later. At the time a friend of mine was doing a surf film night at a bar called Valentines showing super obscure footage he had unearthed from a guy on the coast, and then he would DJ over the films. That was our first date, and we celebrated our 10 year anniversary this year!

Matt Titone

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

My favorite parts of Portland tend to be the older places that are holding out amongst all the change. I love places with history and character. Bars like the Sandy Hut which hasn’t really been touched since the 70s. I adore Powell’s Books, I could spend days in there. It’s truly a national treasure in the age of Amazon. I love all the old neon signs on Interstate Avenue.

I live in the St. Johns neighborhood in the city’s most northern reaches. The building we live in is actually the old Freemason’s Temple. I am so glad the owner left a lot of remnants of that time, like the old sign on the exterior. I love this neighborhood geographically because its surrounded by water and green space. I can easily walk down to the Willamette River, the St. Johns bridge (which was the prototype for the Golden Gate Bridge!) and Forest Park. Our place is right in the middle of the Main Street in St. Johns so we can walk to the movie theatre, several great little restaurants (including the best tacos and best bagels in Portland!) and pretty much everything we need. It’s also incredibly convenient for getting to the coast. There’s a beautiful little route I take through Forest Park that bypasses all the city traffic that makes my coastal commute a breeze.

What are some of the biggest changes to the area since you’ve lived here?

Oh man, so much. When I arrived here in 2007 it was already changing quite a bit, but the rent was still relatively cheap. It was such a great place to be because you could afford enough time and energy to work on your passion projects, and still make your rent. That’s becoming more and more difficult as the cost of living goes up.

Like most anything, there’s good and bad that comes with the growth. Portland gets a lot more exposure nationally and internationally than it once did, which is good for tourism that generates a lot of dollars for the city and it’s small businesses. On the flip-side, it’s become really difficult to make ends meet for a lot of people who have been living here for a long time. It’s frustrating to see the people that invested so much into building a thriving creative community get pushed out because they can’t afford to be here.

So much of that creative energy that was swirling around Portland has been channeled into commercial work, which is fine, it’s just different. I am glad for everyone that has been able to make that transition. I just hope we can collectively appreciate and give value to Portland’s history and character, rather than replace it ALL with super slick steel and glass minimalism. And I hope we can grow as a city that is inclusive and celebrates diversity in all it’s forms rather than be a place that’s exclusively for the wealthy.

What’s it like being a surfer in Portland?

To be a surfer in Portland, you have to be committed. The conditions on the coast are fickle, so you spend a lot of time reading reports and checking the weather. Putting a little time and energy on learning what spots work at what tides, periods and swell directions will save you a lot of frustration. If you’re driving 1.5+ hours to surf, you want it to be worth the trip. I literally used to keep a notebook in the van where I would keep track of the conditions on any given tide / period / swell. That said, when you do get skunked, you still get to get to spend a day at the coast, and that ain’t bad.

What got you into surfing in the first place?

My whole family surfs. My dad and brother took it up when we lived in California and would make trips to the beach. When we moved to Florida we settled on a barrier island, so I was never more than a mile from the beach. My hometown is about 10 miles from Cocoa Beach, and 10 miles from Sebastian Inlet. Surf culture is THE CULTURE on the island. My dad started pushing me into waves when I was about 8. By about 12 I was riding my bike to the beach by myself with a board under my arm.

What are your goals for Leeward in the future?

We’re taking it one step at a time and all about that slow and steady growth! Hopefully we keep evolving and improving all the time. We’d really love to focus more on creating our own goods, expanding our board selection to offer more variety to our community, and continuing to host great events. I’d like to find more opportunities to do creative work under the Leeward umbrella, whether that be collabs, consulting, creating content and offering art direction and design services. I like to think of Leeward as fluid, as an experiment, so we don’t box ourselves in. Gotta keep it fresh and fun.

Matt Titone

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Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL 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, CA 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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