Raglan Surf emporium Celebrates 10 years

Jordan Bastian, an aspiring writer, with a passion for lifestyle writing, is a newbie to Raglan for the summer and potentially longer. With a part time job at Raglan Surf Emporium she is well placed to interview owners Mel and JC as they celebrate their 10 year anniversary. 

Located in the heart of Raglan, Raglan Surf Emporium is a family-run, community-based surf wonderland. With everything from surf essentials, like leashes and ding-repair kits, to the latest trends in surf fashion, the emporium reigns true to its name. But the shop’s real treasure is its genuine customer service. 

Walk in for a quick shop, and you can find owners Melissa and John Clapham working the floor, creating a homey feel – a quality they have valued for ages. While it may only be one shop, it has been creating smiles and good times since its early days.

So, how did this small-town shop gain such a notable reputation? 

After sitting down with Mel, as the locals call her, I heard the story of RSE, from its humble beginnings to the established national brand it is today. It could be argued that it began with a love story, but that’s too cheesy. So, instead, it was when a retail genius met a surfing businessman. At the time, Mel was a brand manager for Burton Snowboards, and JC, CEO of Volcom’s Australian and NZ branch; now that’s some crazy bragging rights. The duo, while prosperous individually, began making new strides as a team. From heading influential projects in the surf/snow industry to starting a family, these two were building a dream lifestyle. 

After years of succeeding within the corporate world, the power couple, now with the addition of their two boys, Kai and Tana, craved a life that flourished at a slower pace, prompting a trip to the North Shore of Hawaii. JC and Mel immediately fell in love with the relaxed atmosphere, and a light bulb went off in their heads. 

“We got our own sort of Hawaii right here,” Mel says gesturing out to Raglan harbour from the local Food Department deck. As we sip our coffees, she dives into the reason for their triumphant return to this world-class surf destination. 

JC is the one with Kiwi roots; having grown up in Auckland and Wellington, he spent most of his youth chasing surf comps up and down the country. However, once he hit Raglan, a sense of belonging and excitement ensued; he knew he had to return one day. 

With the help of Mel, some friends, and heaps of retail and surf-industry experience, this dream finally came to fruition when the family moved from Sydney to Raglan in 2011. But the idea of RSE was more of a distant reality than a deciding factor. 

“It sort of just evolved,” jokes Mel. 

Upon arrival, the two had hands in the then business GAG, with Tony Bruce, or TB, co-founder of local favourite Raglan Roast. With leading-industry ties blended with a passion for ocean and skate, GAG showcased this friendship’s ultimate surf collection, sharing their favourite products with locals, while building the “Volcom Lane.” As more brands decorated the lane, like RUCA and Element, the shop was becoming a central hub, but still something was missing; the perfect name. 

“People wanted Raglan product,” says Mel, as she explains their process for choosing the new title, knowing it had to showcase the town’s name for starters. The next part was making it unique, and considering the shop’s encompassing collection of products, the word emporium came to mind. Thus, RSE was born, and what followed was a decade of booming business, growing brands, and inclusivity above all else. 

Of course, changes have been made since then, with the more drastic ones taking place only within the last five years. From multiple locations including the main shop on the lane, brand pop-ups, and a sales shop down the alley, JC and Mel were plenty busy. As success reigned, soon even Ripcurl wanted in on the action, opening an additional shop with the Clapham clan. 

But it wasn’t until 2018 that RSE found its rightful home on Wainui Road, where all operations and staff finally came together under one roof. While the move was a big one, not to mention the timing of COVID, the new location was a perfect fit and the business has been sailing smooth ever since. 

Mel and JC continue to funnel love and dedication into RSE, ensuring their community is well recognized and appreciated. With many brands under their belt, the shop proudly sponsors the Raglan Junior Rugby Club, and various local surfers, featuring Navryn and Chris Malone, Kora Cooper, Brie Bennett, Maya Mateja, and their son, Tana Clapham (who also runs the shop’s socials; talk about a power family). “We are a team,” Mel states, describing the nature of not just her family but the entire RSE staff.

Down to our last drop of coffee, I ask Mel how she would best describe the store’s overall mission. She responds, “I just want our customers to have a good time;” a trait in my opinion they have not only met but completely blown out of the park. 

As the shop celebrates its 10th anniversary, RSE’s lasting history of community values, expertise, and down-to-earth mentality continue to prove its essential uniqueness. Built by a family for the families of Raglan, the Emporium will have you coming back for more, again and again. 

By Jordan Bastian

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