Kona Boys Surf Shop Owner Traded a Silicon Valley Startup Career for the “Aloha Lifestyle” on the Big Island

 

Coming from a small town in Idaho, Frank Carpenter had no idea his life would revolve around the ocean. The first time he swam in “Big Blue” was on a family vacation in Waikiki, HI. Immediately after resurfacing, he recalls charging up the beach and declaring to his parents that “they needed to raise me on the islands!”  It didn’t happen, but something about his first ocean experience embedded itself in his psyche. Carpenter, now a father of two boys and co-owner of Kona Boys surf shop on the Big Island, reflects on how so many of his decisions in life fed off of that first ocean experience.

It wasn’t until Carpenter was out of college that he made the move to the West coast, taking a job with Xerox selling copiers to corporations in San Francisco.  Happy to be by the ocean, but still working in a suit and tie, Carpenter eventually made the decision to move to Santa Cruz with the primary intention of learning to surf.  Although still working long hours at a startup, he spent as much time as possible surfing and immersing himself in the culture. Eventually, he put a crew of friends together and took a surf trip to the Big Island. It was on this surf trip that he had a life-changing epiphany.  He decided to leave his corporate job, and start chasing a lifestyle that would allow him to have more of these experiences.  Two weeks later, he was back on the Big Island and home for good.

Before making the move, he called a small surf shop, Kona Boys, and asked for a job.  They told him to show up and work for a week for free, and if they liked him they would offer him full-time work. On his second day, no one showed up to work except him… so he broke into the shop and opened it up himself.  Initially the owner was furious, but after Carpenter showed him how much money he’d made the shop that day, it only took a few more days before being promoted to manager.

Realizing the opportunity, he called his like-minded friend Brock Stratton, who had also been on that fateful surf trip. Together, they negotiated with the owner to work for equity, put in the time, and within three years they each owned 33% of the company.  Eventually, the original owner accepted their offer to buy him out completely; and just like that, Carpenter was running a surf shop in paradise with his best friend.

The duo had more than their fair share of challenges, false cracks and critics, but stayed focused on the business, integrated themselves into the community, and learned about the culture. Seventeen years later, Kona Boys is still growing with more opportunities presenting themselves daily. Just as he had set out to do, Carpenter surfs regularly and his lifestyle is one that he couldn’t have imagined while growing up in “the heart of potato country.”

What does an average work day look like for you?

I’m the first one in the shop.  I’ve always believed in leading by example, and I never expect anything out of my employees that I’m not willing to do myself.  The first part of the day is making sure that the shop is in tight shape and that we are ready for all of our tour, rental, and retail guests.  I like to have contact with the customers and make sure the vibes are right, and for us, the morning is the busiest and most critical part of the day.  As things even out a bit, I tuck into the office for a meeting with my business partner, Brock, to update each other on progress and priorities before diving into emails and work flow for a bit.

Most days, there is a break to enjoy some water time; surfing, standup paddle boarding, or more recently “foil boarding” to refresh my spirit and refocus the mind.  The success of Kona Boys has allowed Brock and I to take on other ventures, so I usually spend the end of my work day focusing on new projects and opportunities before heading home to enjoy the evening with my beautiful wife, Hannah, and our two boys, Carver and Knox.

How have your lifestyle choices influenced your career?

For a long time, I wasn’t really making my own decisions.  I was doing what I thought I was supposed to, following a path that I thought was the “recipe to success.”  Maybe I wasn’t sure of what I wanted, maybe I wasn’t sure that I could make it happen… but looking back I’m happy that I followed that path for the time that I did, because I gained the skills and experience I needed to capitalize on my dreams when they presented themselves.

What would your advice be to a young entrepreneur looking to start a business?

Tap into your passion.  You can’t expect to go that extra mile if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and have a true passion for what you are trying to accomplish. Take advice, listen to reason, but make your own decisions. Everyone forges their own path in the forest of entrepreneurship; don’t be afraid to hack your way through some rough terrain, you never know when you’re going to come across a hidden waterfall.  Last, surround yourself with people you trust, who have different skill sets, and who challenge and inspire you.

It was when I made lifestyle my priority that my life truly started to align. It sounds funny, but when I decided that surfing was my priority, made it my lifestyle choice, and started basing decisions around it, opportunities started to open up and I became more inspired, motivated and successful.

What does “Find Your Grind” mean to you?

Don’t settle for a life that doesn’t embrace your style! I feel like it’s a play on words incorporating fun and passion into what traditionally would be a chore.  Finding your grind is about self-realization, being true to what you believe, and incorporating your belief systems and passions into creating your unique destiny.

What is your favorite, and most difficult part about your job?

My favorite part of my job is helping people to connect with the ocean.  People are only going to start taking care of the ocean and what lives within it if they have a personal connection to it.  Hawaii’s clear, warm waters and abundant marine life make it the perfect place to help people make that connection.  The ocean can be intimidating, so safety, quality information and equipment are keys to enabling people to relax, enjoy, and realize the importance of taking care of our waters.

The most difficult part of running the shop has to be dealing with the bureaucracy. Permits, taxes, and politics are all part of doing business and they can be frustrating and cumbersome.  It’s important to remember that there are challenges no matter what you decide to do with your life, and to take the challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Nothing that is worthwhile is easy. I’m so blessed to live the life I do. I give thanks daily and try not to take myself to seriously!

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