In seeking enlightenment through higher education, how often is student-loan money actually used to fulfill this goal? More often the money goes to the things needed to get through the pressures of the learning experience, like beer consumption and other stress-relieving activities. Yet in Sacramento, California, a brainy lad named Dave Sher put his leftover college checks together with his passion for snowboarding, and in 1989 opened Mountain and Surf Pro Shop.

His love affair with snowboarding started in 1982, while riding with friends Bob Klein and Terry Kidwell. This wasn’t the first time Sher bombed down a snow-covered hill. Prior seasons had him ski racing and patrolling at Squaw. But after trying snowboarding Sher says, “It definitely put the challenge back into the hill for me.”

Sher saw the need for a good snowboard shop in Sacramento and took the initiative. Mountain and Surf opened downtown, four blocks from the State Capitol, on a foot-access-only mall. Because it’s on the second floor of the building, a small sandwich board and a six- by eight-foot window plastered with stickers is the only outside clue to the shop’s existence. “People really have to come and find us,” says Sher.

So why set up a shop here? Sher’s dad owns the building and out of fatherly love, let him rent 3,000 square feet to start something. Even with “the three most important things in retail being location, location, location,” says Sher, “I’ve defied the odds.” Support has been excellent, far exceeding expectations. Last season’s equipment sales grew approximately 70 percent over previous season’s.

Even with its challenging location, Mountain and Surf has had to set themselves apart from newer, more accessible shops in the area. Sher believes service has been the distinguishing factor. “Our commitment to customers doesn’t stop when they leave the door after they buy a snowboard,” he says. “If they have a problem, we’ll help them. We’ll fix it.

“If there’s a warranty, we’ll spend our own money to ship it back, and we’ll give them a board to use in the meantime.”

Sher bases his business philosophy on customer service: “I think it’s more important to make sure that everybody gets out on the snow and has the best time and equipment possible. It will all come back to us in the long run.”

To make sure that Mountain and Surf stocks the best equipment, Sher and his employees attend all on-snow demos in the Tahoe area, as well as national trade shows. Separating himself from what he feels is an abundance of hype in the industry, Sher focuses his buying efforts on quality, function, and value.

Carrying thirteen hardgood and seven softgood brands, his key lines are: Burton, K2, and Mervin Manufacturing (Lib Tech and Gnu) in boards; Burton, Sessions, and Swag in clothing; and boots from Airwalk and Burton. Sher feels the K2 Clicker will soon be following in their footsteps.

“In my eyes, the Clicker is revolutionary,” he adds. “It’s going to be the new standard in binding systems, and that’s after trying it. The ease and simplicity of it is worth its weight in gold.”

Although primarily a snowboard shop, measures must be taken to pay summer rent. “I might as well stay open and stock equipment for stuff that I like to do in the summer,” says Sher.

Being in Sacramento, the shop is centrally located in Northern California. Snow is less than two hours to the east. Surf is an equal distance west. Concrete and water are all over. One can pick up surfboards, skateboards, skimboards, or wakeboards from Mountain and Surf during the warmer months.

Carrying crossover-sports equipment also allows the shop to serve a larger public. Still, maintaining customers and attracting new ones is an ongoing process. To lure new clientele, Sher advertises on the local modern rock station, supports many of the area’s contests, and is present at all the ski and snowboard swaps.

“Our more successful promotions that really help kickoff the season are movvie premieres,” he says. “The Hatchetts, who produce Standard Films, are friends of ours, and we show some of the new snowboard movies when they come out.”

Another unique shop offer is free rentals to parents. “Anytime they want to go up and spend the day learning to snowboard with their child,” says Sher, “we’ll set them up. Hopefully this lets them share more time with their kids and shows them that snowboarding isn’t that hard.”

Store offers must constantly be updated to keep things fresh. Sher recently turned the entire back of the store into a “previously enjoyed” section. In other words, dedicating it to secondhand boards, boots, bindings, and clothes, which he says are very popular in his area. In addition, “Women’s and kids’ clothing and boots are definitely something that any shop has to be aware of now,” he says. To fulfill this end, the shop will be carrying a wide selection of both.

Backcountry is another direction Sher is going. “It’s basically where snowboarding started. I think a lot of people are missing out entirely or really haven’t had much experience.” To remedy this, Sher will be selling telescope poles, life-link shovels, avalanche safety books, snowshoes, and providing words of wisdom to all interested in hiking.

So in all, what makes Mountain and Surf worthy of recognition? “We’re ‘core, not corporate,” says Sher. “We’re not in it for the fast buck. We were here in the beginning, and when snowboarding becomes unpopular with MTV or the mainstream and everybody else starts selling other things, we will still be here selling snowboards.”

By Andrew Blumberg