Punk rock has always run through my veins. My brother and I grew up in the South Bay of Los Angeles where bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Descendents, The Minutemen, Redd Kross, and Pennywise were born. It was normal to hear loud, crusty chords screaming from a neighborhood garage. Instances of punk bands duping unsuspecting bar, bowling alley, and coffee shop owners into booking their acts (and subsequently wrecking the place) were frequent. As a kid, I loved the sound and speed of punk rock, but it really didn’t totally envelope my soul until I began to understand the art form in its entirety. It wasn’t until my teen years that I would figure that out. And, by then, I would live in another bastion of punk rock, the East Bay.
The East Bay of San Francisco is home to punk rock legends Operation Ivy, Rancid, Jawbreaker, Crimpshrine, Fifteen, and the famous 924 Gilman Street venue. In the late 1980s-early 1990s, the scene was perfect for young punks as it centered more around the music and less around drugs and alcohol. The East Bay punkosphere served a larger purpose to give teenage outcasts a place to call home and stay out of trouble. If the L.A. punk scene was about aggression and destruction, the Oakland/Berkeley punk scene was about the community and its youth. One of the habitats most dominated by the punk rock youth was Telegraph Avenue, a swath of road that stretches from Old Historic Oakland to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.
As freshmen in high school, my brother, some buddies, and I worked under the table as janitors for the Cal Berkeley track and field and football stadium complexes. In the early mornings following a track meet or football game, we would arrive at the stadiums to clean up all of fans’ trash. The gig was great. We worked outside in the beautiful Northern California air with all of our friends. And, when the job was done, we got paid in cash as we left. But, the cash never made it home with us.
We would always spend the entirety of our earnings in the shops along Telegraph Avenue. Of course, we would browse through and not buy anything in most of the stores. But, Rasputin Music would suck us dry. In the days before digital downloads, your record collection meant everything. It told the story of who you were, how deep your musical knowledge was, and how dedicated you were to your genre of choice. It became a competition among us to find the rarest, most obscure punk rock album that was actually good. And, accidentally stumbling upon a gem didn’t count.
It helped that Rasputin Music was a massive ode to punk rock culture. Nearly 75% of their inventory centered around punk rock and its many sub-genres. My brother, friends, and I would spend hours looking through endless crates of vinyl and CDs and come home with a stack of new albums.
The initial idea of Ambush was actually born on the sidewalk in front of Rasputin Music. Chuck had just arrived to pick us up and take us home when, in a spell of sarcasm that only those who know Chuck can fully understand, he uttered something about opening up a shop that sold records, surfboards, and skateboards so he didn’t have to drive us all over town. We all paused for a second in our Eureka moment to digest what had just been said. And, for the next three years we would work towards our goal of doing just that.
California was saturated with skate shops, surf shops, and record stores. We knew what we wanted, but had to wait for an opening to make our dream a reality. Otherwise, it would be a short lived REM cycle rather than our life’s work. The following year we moved to Georgia and discovered a blank canvas where the cultures of skateboarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding, and punk rock were emerging, but small. It was our time to make good on the promise we made to ourselves out in front of Rasputin that fateful day in 1994. And, in the subsequent years, we worked on creating a shop that told our story.
It is our hope that our history will be as inspiring to others as the legacies of Honus Wagner, Aqua East, E.T. Surfboards, Dive N’ Surf, Nor Cal, Freeline, and Rasputin’s has been for us. Our goal has always been to serve as a shop that meant more to our customers than just a place to buy board sports products. We aimed (and continue to aim) to be the cultural center of our little community. We strive to endear our customers with a family vibe and instill them with feelings of being at home. We aspire to keep our scene alive and thriving with events, contests, premieres, pro signings, and other goings-on. We hope to offer ourselves and our team as role models for the youth to look up to and give them a place to go where they feel welcomed, respected, and appreciated. We want to be a part of history. And, most of all, we wish to inspire those that may go on to do great things in the future. If we can do those things, we can someday give back in kind to a surf/skate/record shop culture that gave us so much.
We would also like to give a special shout out to all those shops that have greatly influenced our work, but could not be crammed into this blog series. Those shops are: D.T. Skateboards, Vanguard Surf Shop/Oak Foils Surfboards, Huntington Surf and Sport, Jack’s Surfboards, Spyder Surfboards, Criminal Records, Wax n’ Facts, Faith Skate Supply, Skinwerks Tattoo, The Masquerade, and Vertical Urge. Thank you for all you have contributed to the core shop.