In 1984, Ulladulla businessman Joe Pirrello built the small Southern Man shop on the Princes Highway which soon became a destination for surfers from up and down the coast. Kent and Juanita Saunders moved to Ulladulla in 1979 and started in Saunder’s Menswear in the CBD, but it wasn’t long before Kent decided to ‘swap jobs’ with his parents Nan and Joe, and the modern couple with one young child took the helm at the surf shop.
The little store at the top of the hill boomed in the early ‘80s as Australia’s surf culture continued to grow. “Before then, surfers had a board and a pair of shorts – that was about it,” Kent said. “But in the early ‘80s things started to change and people wanted to wear surf labelled clothing. “We steered away from the jeans and introduced more of the bright, colourful surf gear that was really coming into fashion.”
The ongoing introduction of surf boards, body boards, wetsuits and surf accessories meant the shop soon outgrew its space. Five major renovations were carried out since 1984. Kent said the introduction of women’s surf clothing and swimwear was huge for the business. “In the early 90s the big names like Billabong, Quiksilver and Rip Curl became popular with the girls and ladies,” Juanita added.
“They started with shorts and t-shirts, but it wasn’t long before those companies were selling bikinis, dresses and beach clothing for women as well as men. “Surf fashion really took off.” Southern Man Surf Shop became an icon for clothing and surfboards on the south coast.
Kent said people would drive from Sydney and Canberra to visit the store and check out the latest boards and fashions. “We sold boards made by locals, so surfers would come in and talk to the shapers and see what they were working on,” Kent said. “There was a really strong grass roots surf culture in this town.” He said Southern Man paved the way for surf fashion on the coast and opened its doors at a time when surfing was on the crest of big changes in Australia.
About five years ago, Kent and Juanita decided they needed to move into bigger premises to meet growing demand. “We just ran out of room and started to think about moving,” Kent said. “When Woolies was developing the new complex, we decided to work with them to design a modern, bright shop with access from the shopping centre and the highway.” The modern new Southern Man Surf Shop opened its doors in 2012 and is twice the size of the old store. The shop, run by the Saunders family, took out the Fit-out of the Year title at the 2013 Australian Surf Industry Awards and has set the standard for other surf shops and brings a touch of city-styling to the coast.
Kent said the business has diversified and now offers a range of surf fashion, boards, wetsuits and shoes, along with skateboards and accessories. He said surf fashion was still in high demand and was constantly changing, with new styles in store every six weeks. Despite the move and the expansion, Kent said the family-run business continued to operate with a focus on surfing, with the same great service and the best brands still available. “We have retained our loyal customers and we’re still the same, privately-owned coastal country town surf shop we’ve been since 1974,” he said.