COSUBE, PORTLAND OR
Coffee, surf, beer. The ingredients for a perfect day.
To get under the skin of Cosube, the surf shop that spearheaded Portland’s recent rise as a hub for the surfing community in Oregon, it helps to understand the evolution of the surfing in the Pacific Northwest.
Before Portland was a thriving metropolis, there were very few people who surfed in Oregon. Alex Morris, founder of Cosube, was one of those few. He first paddled out into the frigid waters of Manzanita as a grom back in ‘86. You couldn’t dream of it nowadays, but the lineups were completely empty. If someone watched from the beach, you’d consider it a busy day. Portland has always been a city for lovers of the outdoors. Traditionally, it was a city for mountain seekers, with Mount Hood’s summit ever present on the horizon. But slowly, over time, the word got out that the Oregon coast had decent waves... and it was only a 90 minute drive from the city.
Fast forward to 2011. Alex had just returned to Portland following a 5 year stint in San Diego. During his hiatus, surfing had gained popularity in Oregon. It was a change that really struck him when he came home. At the time, there were multi-sport outdoor shops in Portland and just one surf shop on the coast. But Portland didn’t have a storefront that was exclusively for surf. So with the rising number of surfers, Alex could see an opportunity to cultivate surf culture within the city and to kit out surfers for their coastal trips.
From its inception, Alex wanted Cosube to be much more than a retail space:
Cosube is my version of a perfect day. Coffee, surf, beer. I knew I wanted to create a place you can hang out as well as shop. To call home, not just buy stuff.
We’re based in the city, so I wanted to give people a pathway to be around surf culture. By being inclusive, we can give people access to the community and culture of surfing, even it they’re not surfers themselves.
At Cosube, it’s the full experience —you’ll feel it as soon as you walk through the door. It’s not just a coffee shop. It’s not just a retail space. It’s so much more. Take our shaping bay, for example. It connects people to what it really means to make functional pieces of art. Most people who watch the shaping sessions aren’t even surfers. For them, it’s crazy to learn that surfboards aren’t made by a machine... it’s a person who sculpts them. To sit down with a beer and watch that sculpture take place is really unique.
Some of the boards that we sell are shaped in the bay right here. We’re in the process of transitioning so that every board on the rack is eco. The ambition is that in one year, all of the boards we stock will be eco and 85% of those will be shaped here on location.
Unlike many surf stores on the West Coast, Cosube needs to function as part of an urban environment. It opens at 6:30am and shuts at 7pm. Early enough for the dawn patrollers to grab a coffee, a burrito and some wax. Late enough to grab a beer after work. Being part of a small urban environment has defined Alex’s approach to the business:
You need to offer something to Portland that no one else is offering, but that sits in surf lifestyle. We don’t order dozens of everything we don’t want everyone in Portland wearing the same thing! And wherever we can, we support Oregon businesses. There aren’t a ton of local surf clothing brands, but most of our surfboards are shaped by local shapers. Plus, there’s plenty of Oregon food companies, so we stock local olive oil, beer, wine, cider, s’mores and more.
When it comes to the surf brands they work with, Cosube one picky curator:
Wherever we can, we want to offer our customers a greater selection of sustainable products. That means working with brands who not only have a great range of products, but who are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment.
It also helps to have brands that have great stories to tell. Roark is an example of this. They’re a travel culture brand. Each year, they go on a crazy trip somewhere that inspires the products they create. So we always try to host events for these brands. It gives them a chance to connect with the local community here, so they can tell their story.
Having lived and surfed around California, Costa Rica and Barbados, Alex has had this fair share of warm water and white sand beaches. So what’s it like surfing in Oregon by comparison?
Oregon is close to the Gulf of Alaska so there aren’t too many flat days. It can get heavy and the water’s cold year round. If you’re gonna come on a surf trip, you’re gonna feel the rawness of surfing on a rugged coastline. It’s an escape from the city. You’re not sitting in the water looking at buildings and traffic. You’re looking at mountains, trees and rock formations. When you paddle out, you feel like you’re stepping off a continent and that’s pretty special. I’ve never had the feeling of what it’s like to surf here anywhere else.
If you’re new to the area, you have to prepare. You’re not walking out of your apartment and onto the beach. It’s an adventure. It sounds uncomfortable, but technology has made it easier.
Just make sure you have a good wetsuit and the right board. Then, pack up with a burrito, a coffee and a 6-pack of beer. There’s 300 miles of Oregon coastline but only a handful of places that people actually surf, so you can be by yourself if you go look for it.
Portland is a small city, but growing rapidly. Cosube opened its doors in November 2016 in a developing part of town — no existing neighborhood or infrastructure to speak of. Alex is optimistic about Cosube’s place in the city:
The reception from the people in Portland has been really positive. We were really only one of two places open in the immediate area for quite a while. We weathered that storm and now things are opening and it’ll soon transform this area into a whole new neighbourhood. It was worth the wait for this place. We almost opened in 2014 in another location, but decided not to do it because of an issue with the lease. Now we’re in the dead centre of Portland, next to the Burnside skate park and the Willamette River, so we’re really connected to the city. Our future is tied to the development of area. We’ll grow with it. Ultimately, we’d love our neon surf sign to be an icon of area.
Cosube is born and bred Oregonian. It’s a point that Alex is proud of. His whole family is involved too. His sister does the graphic design and social media. His brother helped build most of the fixtures. As a family business with such close ties to the area, you can be sure to find an authentic Oregonian coastal experience at Cosube.
Check out photos from the store and shop the Cosube collection below.
Photography by Tom Schaller. Visit his Instagram here.