SURFING in Ocean City is a fashion sport as well as a water sport. Heritage Surf and Sport is a big contributor to this, the brand being very well known in the South Jersey area. This is largely due to the work of Barbara Heritage, the merchandiser of the stores from the line’s start and wife of founder Dan Heritage. Barbara’s work within the stores has earned her an induction into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame.
How did you originally get involved in surfing business with the Heritage family?
I grew up in Vineland, and Dan [Heritage] and I met in seventh grade. We had two children. He was playing around with making surfboards in the garage in high school. I had worked in a retail store when I was young, and had retail experience which helped a lot. Dan was the manufacturer and I was the retail.
What did you learn in that retail job?
The marketing aspect – what markups you had to have for merchandise and advertising. We used to change displays and merchandise the product. We would always be changing the racks and displays. My daughter and I did some modeling for the clothes we were selling there. When I got into the retail [of Heritage] I knew what I had to do to make it work.
You are being inducted into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame for your work in retail. What does it mean to you?
It is a great honor for me – I never expected it. I appreciate that they are honoring a lot more women these days for what they have done for surfing.
What message do you hope it sends to young surfers?
If you have a dream and you work hard, appreciate all of the people you meet along the way, you can make it happen.
What impact do women have in surfing?
I think the women in surfing have helped the sport a lot. It is not just a man’s sport – it is for everybody. I see a lot more women out there on boards. It makes me proud that women can get out there and enjoy it.
What parts of merchandising did you enjoy?
I enjoyed being on the floor and meeting new people and becoming such good friends with people. I would merchandise and change the walls – that was the part I liked the best. I think what gave me the most satisfaction was the fact that people liked what we were carrying in the stores.
Heritage started out as “Little Waves Surf Shop.” Why did the store name change to Heritage?
We are on the East Coast, and we always have little waves here. We changed it to Heritage because Dan’s father was a commercial artist. While we were designing he said, ‘Why not just call it Heritage Surf & Sport? It is your name, it is a good name, it will work.’
How has surfing retail in Ocean City grown over the years?
Every year there are more and more options [of clothing]. There were board shorts, wet suits… Everyone wants to look like a surfer! Every [retail supply buyer] is a specialty now. We have broken it down because there is too much for one person to handle. You need buyers for specific things. You have to know what the trends are, what your customers like, and your gut feeling when you buy it.
How has surfing itself in Ocean City grown over the years?
The city has set aside places for kids to surf. Years ago there was not anything. Now each beach has a place to surf, they have contests, give surf lessons – surf camps are really full and the kids love it. I am thrilled to see that happening. Another thing we do is a camp for disabled kids. I think it is great that we have done something good for the community. If you have a good business and people are supporting you, you have to give back and watch your community grow and thrive.
What is the most outlandish product you have put in the store?
We did mopeds one time! We did a lot of things that would be for the winter time or generate business at the time. You never know what is going to catch on. We gave a lot of things a try.
Is there a surfing or fashion trend you wish you could revive or would go away?
Some of these swimsuits maybe need more material!
What is something you are curious about?
People – people fascinate me. What they have been through and how they have built themselves. We only know what our life is like. Everyone has a story to tell.
What is one fun fact about yourself?
I never surfed! I am being inducted [into the NJ Surfing Hall of Fame] because I am a woman of retail. I did not win any trophies or compete. When the surfing got good, and my husband and son went out surfing, guess who had to be in the stores?
What is your day to day like?
I have been out of the stores for 15 years, but I do a lot of the invoicing, the background stuff that needs to be done before merchandising. I also play tennis and I play golf. I have played on several teams in Florida.
Why do you wake up in the morning?
I love to see the sun, hear the birds sing. I love to go out and play golf or tennis in the morning and enjoy the peace and quiet there. And to see my children, grandchildren, and spend time with my husband and friends.
What is the last book you read?
I just finished Gentleman of Moscow. I am reading one on the story of how the Kellogg brothers invented the corn flake. I am more of a doer, though. I like playing cards and games with my grandkids.
What is your favorite card game to play with them?
Gin Rummy! We have all sorts of card games with the kids. They grew up playing cards. King’s corner and a couple of other ones.
What have you learned in the recent pandemic?
I really feel if we got anything from the pandemic we have to listen to others. Everyone has their own opinion. We have to be understanding that we cannot agree on everything all the time. The city and community does that and it is nice to be a part of.
Photos provided by Brian Heritage and Brittany Hennessy
Find this story and more in our September/October magazine