LOCAL BIZ SPOTLIGHT: Meet Freeline Surf Shop’s Tara Mel

Family-owned Freeline Surf Shop, which includes surf-related goods for sale and for rent, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019.

Keeping it in the Family

John Mel opened Freeline Surf Shop in 1969 when he was only 23 years old.

Although John is definitely still part of the business, John’s son Peter and Peter’s wife Tara bought Freeline in 2017 and made some external and internal changes, including renovating the storefront. They updated the backend business model to utilize today’s modern technology and solutions. “Mixing the old school and new school environments has been a fun experience for us and our clients,” says Tara.

Freeline has 10 employees, including Peter and Tara as both owners and staff members. “Peter and I share lots of roles and responsibilities. We run buying, bookkeeping, HR, communications, marketing, and forecasting,” shares Tara. “We also mop, merchandise, wipe down surfaces, and do other general housekeeping practices—and we take pride in all these aspects of our business.”

Their sons Anthony and John work at the shop “along with Grandpa John who pops in to deliver his custom surfboard shapes and chat with old friends and customers on the sales floor,” adds Tara. “We love that, and keeping the Freeline tradition in the next generation, we think it complements the surf culture of this beautiful county.” 

The Mels are true locals. Peter and Tara both grew up in forested areas of the Aptos Hills. “Our families raised us here and we raised our children here too,” says Tara. “It made perfect sense for us to keep the theme going into the family business.”

Surfing is in their Blood

Peter is an internationally known Big Wave surfer holding a world title in that arena. He’s also a World Surf League commentator and has served as commissioner for the Big Wave World Tour. Tara and Peter’s son John, named after his grandfather, is “a champion in his own right winning his first World Surf League North American Event in Mexico before the virus interrupted the World Tour events in March (2020)” says Tara with pride. That Mexico competition was in October 2019, just two days after John’s 20th birthday.

Community Supporters

“Freeline Surf contributes to local schools, after-school programs, fundraisers and community projects of all sorts as they are brought to our attention by the lovely citizens of our county,” says Tara. “We admire and support an array of nonprofits.” They also support the community by selling and/or using products from local businesses as much as possible. Locally made products include Taylor Surfboards, Kalu Coletta Shapes, Super Biscuit Handplanes, Source Surfboards, Mystic Surfboards, and Poncheau (Changing Ponchos). “For shop fixtures, our go-to’s are Alibi Interiors, Patine Textiles, Crawford Antiques, Palace Art, and Warmth Company,” says Tara. “Our biggest job was the shop renovation by Santa Cruz Green Builders,” she adds. “No need to look far: the best services we receive are right here in our county.” 

Favorite Spots

“We love being located in the heart of Pleasure Point at our beloved surf spots, Pleasure Point, the Hook, Privates Beach, we have it all at our fingertips—plus other great shopping, food and drinks,” says Tara. “Our neighbors—The Boardroom, Cliff Cafe, Zen Island, Verve Coffee, and Pleasure Pizza—are some of our favorite haunts.”

What you can Find at Freeline

At Freeline, Tara says, many customers buy ‘their first.’ “Meaning their first wetsuit and/or first surfboard,” says Tara. “We pride ourselves on our customer service, setting up customers with their perfect ‘first experience’ buying gear to explore the hobby of surfing. You could compare it to an auto shop. We set up the ride and put it together. We also offer tune-ups, with new fin set ups, deck pads, leashes, travel bags, ding repairs etc. It’s a whole package of surf shop experiences.”

If you’re looking to rent hard or foam surfboards, bodyboards, or wetsuits for men, women or kids, Freeline has you covered. The store sells surfboards shaped by John Mel, Hap Jacobs, Mystic, and others, and does board building and repairs. Other items in stock include skim boards and swimsuits. Brands that Freeline carries include Quiksilver, Hurley, O’Neill and Roxy. The shop’s most popular items feature their private label brand, Freeline Surf, with tee shirts and sweats shirts emblazoned with “Tropical Sunset and John Mel Retro Logos being cult favorites,” says Tara.