Originally published in Santa Cruz Waves Magazine.
Julie Cox glides smoothly down the rocky staircase at Steamer Lane. It’s May 27, 2017, and she’s about to compete in the Santa Cruz Longboard Union Memorial Day Invitational for Pedro Point Surf Club. A purple longboard is tucked under her arm, a single fin from the Jule Collection, the line of jewel-inspired surfboards she launched in 2005. In addition to a successful career as a professional surfer, Cox has an impressive track record as an entrepreneur: her most recent endeavor is Traveler Surf & Swim Club, which offers a warm haven from the cold waters of Pacifica.
“I get cold a lot,” Cox admits, noting that she learned to surf in the warmer waters of Southern California. Growing up in Agoura Hills, Calif., Cox participated in the Junior Lifeguards program from the age of 8-16. At 16, she became serious about surfing, joining forces with Kassi Meador, Carla Rowland, and Ashley Lloyd to hone her surfing skills at Malibu and Leo Carrillo State Beach. “Julie has always been one of my best friends,” says Lloyd, who went on to become a surfboard shaper in Santa Cruz. “It’s fun to bounce ideas off of her.”
Alayna Nathe, former owner of the now-closed Paradise Surf Shop in Santa Cruz, recruited Cox as a team rider in 1998. It was Cox’s first official sponsorship and the beginning of two successful career paths: as a professional surfer, and in the retail surf industry. In addition to being the first team rider for Paradise, Cox worked behind the counter at the surf shop. She went on to surf for the Roxy team from 2000-2008, and placed among the top five women longboarders in the world three years in a row. In October 2016, she opened her own surf shop, Traveler, which features products from small companies and female-owned businesses. A UC Santa Cruz alumna with a degree in environmental studies, Cox focuses on brands that have a social or environmental mission. “I have a lot of passion for the brands that I carry,” says Cox, noting that it’s important to her to offer products that she believes in and uses herself.
In fact, the Traveler Surf & Swim Club arose from Cox’s own need for a place to store her board and shower after surfing. She conceived the idea while working a retail job in San Francisco, schlepping her board around the city and often lugging it in to work. One day, a customer from New York who was in town for a business trip commented that she wished there was a place to leave her board in San Francisco. “A light bulb went off,” says Cox. She enrolled in ecommerce and business development classes, applied for a loan, and solicited investment from friends and family to get Traveler off of the ground. “Starting a business is not for the faint of heart,” Cox notes, crediting her wife, Rel Lavizzo-Mourey, as a huge support in the process.
An extension of the Traveler retail store, the Surf & Swim Club opened in February 2017. The club offers surfboard storage, digital code clothing lockers, hot showers with biodegradable shampoo and conditioner, and changing rooms with hair dryers—perfect for professionals looking to get a surf in before work. Additional amenities like a picnic area, barbeque, and vegetable garden encourage members to hang out and get to know one another. Hot tea and a warming bench that heats up to a toasty 120 degrees combat post-surf shivers. A day pass is $15 and monthly membership is $100; discounts are offered for extended memberships and 10-packs. “I don’t think it’s going to be a one location business,” says Cox, admitting that she’s already brainstorming additional locales.
Though Traveler is technically unisex, 80 percent of the surf club members are women. “Most surf shops are oriented toward men even though women are the ones who buy,” says Asi Ghassi, dubbed the shop “gram” (a twist on the typical shop grom). Traveler promotes an oasis of support for women in a surf culture that’s often intimidating. Experienced surfers mentor newbies. Events like yoga classes, happy hour, and movie nights foster a sense of community.
Lloyd, Nathe and Ghassi all remark that it’s not Cox’s bejeweled surfboards, but rather her positive attitude that is her greatest treasure. At the 2017 Memorial Day contest, she takes off on the largest wave of the heat, speeds through a critical section and goes for a daring noseride. The wave morphs unexpectedly and the purple longboard hits a bump, sending her flying. It coasts in to the beach and Cox makes the long swim to retrieve it. Then she paddles back out and calmly takes off on another wave. Slender and long-limbed, she’s graceful as a ballet dancer as she cross-steps to the nose of the board, one foot en pointe. “It’s like butter,” Nathe says of Cox’s surfing. Despite the botched wave, Cox wins the heat.