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Skate/snowboard shop Cal Surf one of the last bastions of old Uptown

Current owner Scott Oreschnick

Current owner Scott Oreschnick James Hancock

Uptown institution Cal Surf is turning 30 this year with a handful of happenings and celebrations.

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The store’s anniversary year kick-off party was a few months ago at the newly renovated Mortimer's during the third to last spring blizzard of the year. Being buried in Mother Nature’s confetti was fitting for an event honoring the cradle of the entire Upper Midwest skateboard and snowboard scene.

As if to prove that point, shop supporters poured through the doors, shrugging off thick layers of snow and reaching for cheap cans of Bud. Three decades’ worth of skateboarders and snowboarders crammed into the steamy space, recalling raucous nights at the Uptown Bar. Chatter and conversation piled up like the drifts outside, friends and mentors reconnected, and glory days were discussed. Over the din, a small group of snowboarders could be heard talking about going out afterward to hit some street spots.

For many, Cal Surf is synonymous with Uptown, both old and new.

“The shop opened April Fools Day in 1988 with this kind of ‘surf the Earth’ mindset. They carried skateboards, snowboards, and even a few surfboards at first,” says current owner Scott Oreschnick, who has been with the shop since 1991 and eventually purchased Cal Surf from founders John Kokesh and Gary Wiebusch. “The surf industry was huge then.”

A lot has changed -- both the scene and Uptown -- since those early days. “At the time I started working for the shop, Uptown was the center of everything snowboarding and skateboarding,” says Oreschnick. “It was: Al John’s, the Alt, and us. People would come from Canada, the Dakotas. Back then you wanted to stand on your skate deck or flex your snowboard before you bought it.”

Cal Surf, street view

Cal Surf, street view James Hancock

Oreschnick has been instrumental in incubating a tight-knit, nationally recognized skate and snowboard scene since the beginning, and thanks to his efforts Cal Surf continues to be a cultural center.

Snowboarder Joe Sexton, who went from local teenage ripper to internationally renowned pro and founder of PUBLIC Snowboards, has been sponsored by Cal Surf throughout his entire career. “[Oreschnick] was really good at letting us all find our own way,” says Sexton. “That’s what a mentor is. He gave me a shot to ride for the shop, helped launched my career, and now he’s selling my brand in the shop. How sick is that?”

That support and inclusion is extended to everyone who walks through the door, whether you’re winning contests or just learning to ollie.

“Several times I've just happened to be in the shop when a kid is picking out their first board,” says prolific Twin Cities skater TJ Moran, who’s been sponsored by Cal Surf for close to a decade. “Watching Scott gladly answer a question I'm sure he's been asked a thousand times and not making the kid feel silly for asking it is probably a huge reason they have been around for 30 years.”

Jordan Michilot, another legendary local snowboarder who has ridden for Cal Surf since he was a kid himself, understands the allure of the core crowd and the edginess of Uptown days of yore. “[The shop] exposed everyone to the urban scene of Uptown: Real skaters, real snowboarders went to Cal Surf. My brother [Jonas] and I figured out grip tape was the cheapest thing we could buy. So, we’d get my grandpa to take us to the shop to get a $6 sheet of Black Magic. We just wanted to be a part of it.”

Oreschnick is reluctant to take any credit for the success of the Twin Cities scene, the shop’s cultural influence, or individual careers that is has launched, opting instead to remain quietly entrenched in the thick of it.

“When I started skating and snowboarding -- granted the scene was smaller then -- it felt like it didn’t matter what your skill set was; you were embraced by the community,” says Oreschnick. “There was no parental or authority figure telling you to work harder, you did it for yourself. People would congratulate you, and encourage you on your tricks regardless of your ability level. Seeing people succeed without that structure was empowering.”

Most of the original Uptown shops from that earlier era are gone, and the skate and snowboard communities are a little more scattered and digitized these days, but the inclusive, independent spirit of the little white two-story shop on Lake Street seems to be alive and well.

As Uptown continues to transform, Oreschnick continues to stick with his plan. “Supporting the community has really been my strategy,” he says.

Mike Munzenrider also contributed to this article.