Riding the Wave

Eric Elliot (B.F.A. '03) channeled his love of surfing into building the Southeast’s largest board sport retailer.

There’s no surfing in Woodstock, Ga.

It’s more than 2,200 miles from the surfing meccas of California. For Eric Elliott — 16-year-old San Francisco Bay Area transplant, surfing acolyte and new member of Etowah High School’s class of ’97— this was a problem.

Eric and his twin brother Lee were enraptured by the surfing culture early. At the age of 12, they scrounged up $10 and bought their first board at a garage sale.

“Surfing was more than a hobby. It was a passion, almost like religion: the communion of my feet on the board, riding a wave of energy from the sun,” Elliott said.

When they couldn’t get a ride to the coast to surf, Eric, Lee and their friends would hit the shops that catered to their passions. After a day of hauling Eric and Lee around to their favorite spots, their stepfather, Chuck Morrow, joked that he was going to open a store that sold clothing, music and surf gear so he’d only have to take the twins one place.

Imaginations stoked, and Eric and Lee silently thought, “What if?”

Picking a college was a challenge for Eric. He wanted to go to art school but also wanted a college experience. Plus, going away to college was out of the question: He was about to open a store.

eric2With a dream they’d carried across the country, Eric and Lee — with their stepfather’s backing —opened Ambush Boarding Company in June 1997, two weeks after their high school graduation.

When they’d moved to Woodstock in 1995, the geographic and cultural distances between north Georgia and the San Francisco Bay Area were roughly equal: about two-thousand miles apart.

Eric soon found kindred spirits in Little Five Points enclaves like Criminal Records and Stratosphere, and at live music venues like the Masquerade. As with his favorite Bay Area haunts, it wasn’t really the products that attracted Eric; it was the sense of community. These spaces were where he socialized, discovered and connected with others like him.

That was his dream for Ambush.

Weeks after opening the shop, Eric enrolled at Georgia State to pursue his art degree. He spent his weekdays downtown in class or in the studio, at odd jobs and internships, or assisting art professor Matthew Sugarman. On the weekends, he was in Kennesaw working at the shop from open to close.

Six years later, Elliot graduated debt-free with a bachelor of fine arts degree while Ambush, an early adopter of e-commerce, was growing at a steady clip.

“With the microeconomy I’m in charge of and the jobs we’re able to provide, I’ve got more to offer here than I do in the art world,” Elliott explained. “Ambush is my life’s work.”

Ambush has grown from a 1,500-square-foot skate shop into the largest retailer of its kind in the Southeast — a major online player in its sector and the proprietor of a 12,000-square-foot showroom.

Though metro Atlanta has changed immensely in the last 20 years, a surfboard in north Georgia is still as useful as a space heater in summertime. But surf-, skate-, wake- and snowboarders seeking gear and peers can find what they’re looking for at Ambush Boarding Company.

Photos by Ben Rollins