Kerry Schwartz discovered surfing at a young age growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. “Surfing was always my passion,” he said. “I even had a little surf shop in Brownsville in the 60s when I was just a teenager.”
Today he owns and operates Island Native Surf Shop on South Padre Island, which he opened in 2003 when he retired. After college Schwartz lived in the Houston area where he had a successful career working in sales. He also started and sold several businesses. As he began to grow weary of a fast-paced corporate world, the lure of surf and sand enticed him to leave that behind for a more peaceful pursuit.
“I wanted to open a surf shop again,” he said. “I wanted to have some fun.” He scouted locations on the west and east coasts before settling on South Padre Island. “I could have gone anywhere.” He found the east and west coasts were pretty saturated with surf-oriented businesses, although he seriously considered locating in the iconic surfing hotspot of Malibu, Cali. “I came close to choosing Malibu, but after some soul-searching I decided I’m not a Malibu kind of guy.”
So his search ended up on the familiar beaches of South Padre Island. With the help of a marketing company, Schwartz developed a business plan and designed the storefront that would become Island Native. The colorful shop on Padre Boulevard is stocked with everything from beach attire for women, men and children to surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, skateboards and bicycles.
“Surfing is always popular. Stand-up paddle boarding is getting more popular,” Schwartz said. “We are a full-service surf shop. We do everything. What we are really selling is a healthy lifestyle.”
Island Native also rents surfboards and offers surfing and stand-up paddle board lessons by appointment for beginners as well as people who used to surf and want to get started again. But the retail aspect of the business is the shop’s bread and butter.
“We sell a lot of hard goods, big ticket items,” Schwartz said about merchandise like surfboards, skateboards and bicycles. “Clothing is behind hard goods but the margins are better. That’s where the money is. We have become pretty diverse in what we offer.”
Schwartz keeps an eye on the ebb and flow of interest in different products and adjusts his inventory to meet that demand and the season. For example, he carries more fishing attire during the summer. “We sell everything from gentlemen’s wear to skateboard wheels. If surfing gets soft, we pick up something else. In retail, you always have to be flexible. It’s constantly changing.”
At one point Schwartz opened a second shop that concentrated more on clothing, Island Native II, just down Padre Boulevard from the original store. “I did that move when Toms shoes were on fire.” As the demand for the trendy Toms casual footwear began to diminish after a few years, he decided to give up that store when another Island clothing retailer lost his lease and needed a new space. “I finally figured out branches are for trees. I am happy where I am.”
Active in the South Padre Island community, Schwartz can often be seen at city meetings that involve Island business and tourism. One of his more recent interests is the development of a skate park on the Island, an attraction he has advocated for years. He serves on a committee working on the design and funding of the proposed park.
And Schwartz is still in love with surfing, although he has been out of action for several months recuperating from a tendon injury he suffered while riding waves in Costa Rica. “I will be back in the water soon. I am free to go.”