On the small Garden Isle of Kauai, it’s easy to spot Tamba; stickers on stop signs, locals sporting Tamba tees, surfers repping the brand on their boards. The small biz has been around for 16 years and is a core surf brand that many Kauai locals are proud to represent. Now Tamba has made its way to Oahu, setting up shop in the bustling town of Haleiwa. Painted bright yellow and red, it’s hard to miss on Kamehameha Highway, so next time you’re nearby, be sure to stop in and say hi to the friendly dude behind the counter. Saa Ginlack, owner of Tamba, will be there waiting to offer you a smile and a sticker.
1. What is Tamba and how did the name originate?
Tamba is my middle name, it’s African. My parents were in the peace corps and they meet in Liberia, Africa where the chief of the tribe had a hand in hooking them up together. So when they came back to Kauai, got married, and had me, they named me after chief Tamba.
2. Tell us about your roots on Kauai.
I was born on the westside of Kauai, then moved to the eastside when I was in first grade. Pretty much grew up like any typical local boy back then – riding BMX, fishing, diving, playing sports and trying to fight chickens small kine… I started off boogie boarding and then surfing, but it was different back then. You just surfed for fun, it wasn’t so serious like it is now. I think that’s one thing I really miss about surfing – the stoke you share by just having fun!
3. Why did you start a surf shop and what’s life like as a business owner?
I don’t really know why I wanted to start a surf shop, but it was something I wanted to do ever since I was a small kid.
At first it was just a challenge to try and make it happen, not really knowing I was going to be successful at it. I had no retail experience at all, I just went for it, sold my Harley-Davidson and maxed out a credit card and started off with $20k. It was kind of weird at first, I thought you could call up a company like Quicksilver or Billabong and say, ‘hey I’m trying to open a small surf shop and would like to buy your products to put in my store.’ I thought they would be stoked on a new shop, but then I realized I wasn’t talking to surfers on the phone… they were business people. The fact that the surf industry is like any other big corporation was a big reality check for me. I think that is why I only carry my own product in my store. To me, it’s a representation of a real surf brand that’s still owned and run by local people.
4. How does your Kauai shop differ from the Oahu one?
Both stores have pretty much the same concept, but I think the Oahu one is starting to be a little different. On Kauai, I’ve been in business for 16 years now and am very established there. In Haleiwa, we are surrounded by so many killer surf shops already, so the competition is fierce. It’s also different because there are so many tourists, and I’m finding out that I may need to tweak my business a little to try and get their support. On Kauai, 75% of my business is local so I’m still learning so much just by being here (Oahu). But I really like it here in Haleiwa, it reminds me of home a lot, especially in the morning time. It’s really just an old plantation-style town filled with nice local people with a simple life.
5. What’s on the horizon for Tamba?
When I was a bit younger I really wanted to have a bunch of stores and try and shake up the surf industry. But now, having a successful business, I want to try and give back more to my community instead of just taking. I want to receive, and in order to receive you have to give….