by Hugh McCormick
1240 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz2
It’s been a good 44 years for Bill’s Wheels. When industry OG Bill Ackerman opened the first incarnation of his legendary skating emporium on East Lake Avenue in Watsonville in 1977 he was just starting to get into skateboarding seriously. He had always intended on following in his dad’s footsteps and becoming a cop, but the stars aligned and Ackerman dove fully into the skating industry. The demos in the parking lot of Bill’s Wheels (Watsonville) – which he called “Skate Jams” attracted 400-500 kids each month. Ramps were set up and bands played music as groms and skating adults shredded in the afternoon sun. Ackerman brought out walls of sheet rock and allowed local graffiti artists to flex their graffiti muscles. In 1995, Bill’s Wheels opened its current Santa Cruz location, and the Watsonville store shut its doors after 20 good years. Bill’s Wheels has played an important role in Santa Cruz skateboarding culture from the beginning. Just look at the rows and rows of priceless old school rigs that cover its walls. If you’re a skateboarder in Santa Cruz, you have to check out Bill’s. There is an ever-rotating wall of amazing graffiti on the walls outside, and inside you’ll find a passionate crew just waiting to meet any and all of your skating needs. Unmatched selection. Period.
222 Mt Hermon Rd, Scotts Valley
Skate in style! Boasting one of the widest arrays of dope skate clothing and boards on the Central Coast, Cali Style has exactly what you’ll need for a dope day at the park, or in the streets. Hit up the family-owned skating-hot-spot before you head to Tim Brauch Memorial Skatepark (located in Scotts Valley’s Skypark). You’ll find a devoted staff – straight up cool, chill, and ultra-patient – who are happy to dispense advice and guide you to your skating sweet spot. Cali Style carries a healthy selection of boards and all things skate – including a nice little stock of some hard to find items. The shop is straight up homie – packed with lil’ skate rats each and every day. It’s become the vibrant epicenter of skating in Scotts Valley. If you need threads, or require a board or other equipment to shred, Cali Style has got you covered.
Foreverfly Skate and Apparel
442 Main Street, Watsonville
Those living in Santa Cruz’s South County will be stoked to know that there is finally a beautiful little gem of a skate shop in their backyard. If you’re heading to Ramsay Park for an afternoon session, make sure you pop.by Foreverfly on Main Street in Watsonville. Established in 2017, Foreverfly is locally owned and operated and fully stocked with a huge selection of boards and apparel. The humble shop is nicely designed, sparkling clean, and its devoted staff are patient and super friendly.
Free to Ride Surf Shop
110 Capitola Avenue, Capitola
11AM-6PM Monday -Sunday
Not your typical skate shop at all, Free to Ride really caters to the beachy, touristy crowd that flock to the cool waters and white sand of Capitola Village during the summer. Most of the stores in Capitola look like, feel like, and are tourist traps – looking to gouge out-of-towners on chochkies and basic beach necessities. Free to Ride really isn’t one of these joints though, and if you’re near the village and need a new setup, it’s worth stopping by. There’s not a super wide selection ala Bill’s Wheel’s or Skateworks, but there’s a pretty nice selection of long boards, banana boards, and other skates to take a look at. Free to Ride has established itself as the premier surf shop in Capitola Village, but it also carries a nice array of skating goodies too.
1855 41st Ave, Ave. 8, Capitola
11AM-7PM Monday-Saturday, 10AM-6PM Sunday
Most diehard skaters have a love hate relationship with Zumiez. Some call Zumiez, a colossus with 698 retail locations spread across all 50 states and 3 continents, the “Walmart of Skating.” Others are just stoked they have one more place to go when in desperate need of a new deck, grip tape, or bearings. When Zumiez fully burst onto the scene it was just straight up cool. Large cushy leather couches and Xbox’s (Tony Hawk baby!) encouraged shoppers (and skaters) to stay, play, listen to music, and just chill. Today, the couches and game terminals are gone and the chain stores that were once featured walls with impressive collections of decks, wheels, and gear, are mostly full of clothes. Zumiez sold over $927 million worth of merchandise last year, and many skaters criticize the corporation for not giving back to local skating communities (like local mom and pop shops do). Skating is blowing up and going mainstream, and many skaters argue about whether Zumiez is helping or hurting things. Yes, Zumiez does actively bolster the financial stability of many skate brands, but is the publicly traded company really adding anything to skateboarding culture? Buy your next set-up at Zumiez if you want, but I’m heading to Bills for better service, competitive prices, and to support my community.
1502 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz
When the surf isn’t pumping, the pavement comes calling. And it’s time to head to family owned and operated Pacific Wave. Pac-Wave opened up shop on Pacific Avenue in 1993, renovating a cavernous, empty and damaged historical building in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. Its employees like to say that they take the local surf shop mentality to a whole new level. You’ll find every surf-type product imaginable, but the store also boats one of the best skating selections in the County. The shop’s vibe is fresh and so so Santa Cruz, and the always smiling staff all seem to really like working there. And they’re happy to spend the time and energy to get you exactly what you need… so you leave so stoked you’ll want to pop a kickflip.
Santa Cruz Boardroom
825 41st Avenue, Santa Cruz
11AM-5PM Monday – Sunday
Serving Santa Cruz County at the site of the original NHS factory on 41st Avenue since 2008, Santa Cruz Boardroom is one of the largest (and busiest) skateboard shops in the State. Clothes, socks, bags, protective gear, boards (the shop is proud to be “home to 2000 skateboards) …. even dog food dishes made from recycled/retired decks, the retailer has established itself as a monument to all things skateboarding. Check out the Boardroom’s in-house museum teeming with an out of this world collection of rare skateboards and super cool art. Those on a budget should make a bee line to the clearance section, where a gorgeous collection of colorful boards, usually discounted around 30%, awaits.
Skateworks Santa Cruz
131 Center Street, Santa Cruz
Monday 12PM-6PM, Closed Tuesday, Wednesday to Friday 12PM-6PM, Saturday 11AM-6PM, Sunday 11AM-5PM
Established way back in 1988, family-owned-and-operated Skateworks has a long and storied history of serving all members – regardless of age, gender, and skill level – of the Santa Cruz County skating community. Skateboards are the shop’s bread and butter – the cornerstone of what it does. The store’s knowledgeable (and highly experienced) staff are happy to help you navigate through an always-impressive inventory and wide array of sizes and styles to accommodate any skater’s budget and taste. Once you’ve picked out your deck, wheels, and trucks they’ll carefully assemble your rocking setup gratis – during the same visit. And when the cash register dings, you’re ready to take your new bright and shiny toy out into the world. Make sure to give it its first scrape on the array of obstacles Skateworks team has carefully installed outside the shop. Skateworks also features a full-service quad roller skate department and proudly supports roller derby leagues in Santa Cruz and the greater Bay Area. But in the end, really, this place is about REAL skating.
41 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz
Formerly “Ports of Call), Surf City is located in the center of the Santa Cruz municipal wharf. It’s not really a skate shop but carries a pretty healthy selection of boards and other gear. Worth a trip just to scope out their selection and to see if you can find any gems. Surf City has been in its current location since 1971, carrying a nice array of skate and surf gifts and apparel.