North Avalon would not be ‘North Av’ without Wato and his ‘Beach Without Sand’. I think it’s fair to say that Wato has become a local icon in the Avalon surf community.
For thirty-six years Wato has owned and run the local surf shop ‘Beach Without Sand‘ which remains a cornerstone in the life of Avalon. I chatted with him about Avalon’s surf culture and how his community-driven business has continued to flourish through the decades.
Everyone knows you as “Wato” do you have a formal name?
Ha! My mum wouldn’t have been too happy if I was officially named ‘Wato’! David Watson is the real name.
You’ve been around in Avalon a while… in 1983, thirty-six years ago, you opened ‘Beach Without Sand’, what was your original vision?
Well, I’ve pretty much always lived north of the bends. I’m 61 and a half and I’ve lived here for 61 years!
Back before we opened, I was an Avalon surfer who had surfed for a long time and there wasn’t any surf shops in the local area. There was ‘Wicks’ down at Collaroy and Nat Young’s in mona vale, two shops on the beaches and nothing up at our end of the world. Anytime I had to get surf gear I had to head south. I thought there might be an opportunity, so along with friend Michael Beaumont we opened ‘Beach Without Sand’. After a few years Michael moved on and I took over from there.
Chris Friend, ‘Kong’ we call him, has been on the journey with me for 30 years. Kong and my daughter Bec run the shop along with Tommy Hodge – they do most of the day to day running of the shops. Until recently my son Sam (Bec’s twin) also had a long involvement running the shops… we are family really!
What was the surf culture like back then in Avalon?
Surf Culture was a bit more hard core, mainly just for surfers. Surf fashion hadn’t taken off to the mainstream yet. Rip Curl, Quicksilver and Billabong were the brands surfers gravitated to. If you wore surf clothing people knew you were ‘a surfer’, it made a statement about your lifestyle. It was also a bit more tribal.
Avalon has always been known as a really good surfing beach. There are a lot of famous surfers that have come from this area, including Nat Young and also the magazine ‘Tracks’ came out of Whale Beach. There is certainly a strong history of surf culture emanating from around this area, for sure.
What’s your favourite surf break North of the Bends?
North Av of course! I still usually surf most mornings, probably six out of seven and I live at North Avalon, so that would be the first spot I check.
What do you think has changed most about Avalon over the decades?
I’m not sure I can remember most of the decades! But I think it’s definitely got a lot busier, in the last 10 years in particular. The car park at North Av has changed, it was usually only full when there was really good waves but now it’s full a lot of the time. In the last 4 or 5 years I’ve noticed lots of people from Eastern Suburbs finding North Avalon an attractive spot to move to.
What’s remained at the heart of Avalon over the decades?
One thing about Avalon is it has a community feeling, I think that community feel is still strong.
Who are the ‘Beach Without Sand’ customers?
Many of our customers are local people, and I think because we’ve been here for so long we have fairly strong support from the community. There are people who have been coming to us for such a long time and now their kids are grown up they have become our customers. Our North Avalon store is community driven. We have that history now that if people need a leg rope or a pair of boardies they know we’ll have a pretty good range and we’ll be there. I think the longevity we’ve had has proven we are a reliable source for surf gear.
At our Palm Beach store customers come in who are down for the summer period and we also have good support from the Palm Beach locals.
Talking of community I’ve noticed you are a big supporter of some local community charities…
I remember Patagonia talked about 1% for the planet which is their environmental aim, so we thought we would turn that on its head and do 1% for our community because that’s what we are part of. We give 1% of our profits back to the community – to the local North Avalon Surfriders Association and also to One Eighty which is a local charity for youth mental health. We like to focus on giving back and supporting our community north of the bends as we see that as our territory, our turf.
2020 is coming in Avalon… what are you excited about Wato?
I think just being a part of Avalon, which is still such a special place. Being close enough to the ‘Big Smoke’ but enjoying a relatively uncrowded community vibe, I still love that and Avalon is a beautiful area geographically. If you gotta live in Sydney, beyond the bends is a bit hard to beat! Also for me personally I’ve got a bit more free time lately, from a self indulgent point of view, I’m looking forward to that in 2020.
You can drop into Beach Without Sand for all your surf gear at 1 North Avalon Road, Avalon Beach, NSW 2107