I met Nabil one Friday morning in the carpark at Surfrider, Malibu. We both love First Point despite the crowds as it’s undoubtedly one of the best looking waves in Southern California, well I guess the world. Nabil is an entrepreneur, a surfer and all round ‘nice & cool’ guy. Nabil to me seems like a kind soul who’s ambitious but on his terms and at his own pace, constantly evolving with the times. We caught a couple of rides together and got into some politics with the locals. Mahola Nabil!
MW You’re a native Californian, tell me a little bit about growing up here and the different places you’ve lived?
NS Yup. I grew up in the Bay Area. Los Gatos to be exact. It’s a beautiful place… you’re a ten minute drive into the Redwoods and a 30 minute drive to the beach in Santa Cruz. Family weekend outings were trips to the most often cold and cloudy beaches in Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay, where we mostly got bundled up in all our clothes and hung out and had a picnic with all of the family. We would complain about the cold as kids, but looking back now those are some of my best memories.
I’ve also moved around quite a bit (nothing quite excites me like a move). I went to university in Santa Cruz, lived in Berkeley for a while, I did an early retirement in Hawaii for about a month (does that count as a move?), then New York for about 4 years where I started SALT SURF, back to California where I moved to Encinitas and now here in LA where I have been for about 3 years!
"Inclusivity in particular has always been important as we felt this has always been something the surf community has struggled with"
MW Your parents are also Iranian immigrants living in NorCal. Can you briefly tell their story?
NS My parents moved to the US from Iran around 1977 or ’78, right before the Iranian Revolution. They actually met here in California though. But their individual stories of leaving Iran are pretty wild… essentially picking up and re-rooting everything in their lives in a matter of months. Leaving a lot of possessions behind, and starting over from scratch. They’ve both never been back to Iran since.
Every time I think of their story, I give them a lot more credit for turning out to be such well adjusted adults, who really did everything they could to provide such a good life for their kids. Its pretty incredible… not something I’m sure I could do myself with such grace.
My dad’s family used to spend a lot of time at the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran. I think this is where I got my love for the water. It’s in me. And for the record, Iranian beaches (before the revolution), look just like ours. sand, water, waves, and I recently found a picture of my aunt hanging out in a bikini!
MW When did you first conceive of Salt Surf and what primarily was the brand rooted in?
NS Fun fact: SALT SURF launched on 11/11/11. But was conceived in June 2011. It was more of a fun project between my roommate at the time (Tyler Wolff) and myself (although he left the business about a year later). We had both just moved to New York from California and Hawaii, and wanted to bring the kinds of surfboards we both knew from the places we grew up to New York. We partnered with a surfboard shaper, and made a small batch of surfboards that we thought would be perfect for New York surfing. Originally we thought we would just sell them on Craigslist, but needless to say that idea didn’t stick.
We wanted to create something that was straightforward, clean, simple and most importantly inclusive. That is what the brand was built on, and continues to promote. Inclusivity in particular has always been important as we felt this has always been something the surf community has struggled with. Surfing is for EVERYONE, and I want people to see that when they look at SALT SURF.
MW How are you seeing your business develop over the next few years?
NS Great question. I’ve never been much of a planner. Everything that has happened thus far has happened organically, and there is something I’ve always enjoyed about that. I live my personal life the same way… I see what doors open along the way, and decide which path to take as I approach it.
However, some goals I do have in mind are to collaborate with more artists and creative people, and continue to push the idea of inclusivity in the brand as much as possible.
"I feel very lucky to be living in LA and surfing here as much as I can now"
MW I notice you’ve been helping out with some local charities?
NS Yes, this was something I started when Covid hit. I was at home a lot, bored, and found that there was suddenly an increased consciousness about others (which I think a lot of us were experiencing at the time). I used my personal Instagram and Venmo to fundraise each week for a local food bank, and bought groceries to donate each week, with the money raised. It was also a really fun way to fundraise. I thought about what tools I personally had at my disposal to do what I could to help out… and quite frankly social media was the first thing that came to mind. It also allowed a lot of my friends and family to get involved that might not have been able to do it on their own.
MW What about some of your own personal surf experiences? Favorite spots? Current quiver?
NS I hate to say it, but surfing First Point is my absolute favorite. Every time I surf there I still can’t believe it. It feels like such a piece of surfing history to me. I remember watching a surf video that I rented from Blockbuster as a teenager, and watching Kassia Meador surfing Malibu, and thinking how awesome it looked and how one day I would surf there! I feel very lucky to be living in LA and surfing here as much as I can now. Still surreal for me sometimes.
As far as my quiver, I have somewhere around 10 boards, but I really just surf 2 or 3 of them to be honest. I think thats all the average surfer really needs. I’ve never been one to get too technical. I’m all about just surfing and having fun.
MW If you produced one-off boards with a few shapers who would they be?
NS Alex Knost and/or Robin Kegel. Both the coolest surfers, and both amazing shapers. They’re spontaneous in everything they do, and that keeps things interesting and evolving all the time!
MW Anything about your latest collection and design inspiration for upcoming drops?
NS Well, Im currently working on producing VERY small “collections” of just 4-5 pieces that will be released every 6 weeks or so. When each piece sells out, thats it. It’s much less daunting as a designer and business owner to produce these smaller collections, as opposed to two collections twice a year with more pieces. It also allows you to be more current… if I feel inspired to make something, I’ll do it, and it can essentially be out in the world in a matter of weeks! I’m much more excited about running my business this way. Essentially owning a brand for me, is all about expression and sharing with the world. I’m finding that if I can do this in the quickest way possible, without over thinking it, I’ll feel the most connected to what I am doing.
MW Five hidden gems in LA?
NS Those mobile fruit stands. Yes, they’re EVERYWHERE, so they’re not really hidden. But, I think they’re often overlooked. They’re one of the most uniquely LA things I can think of. To me they’re a great representation of the way Mexican and Central American culture IS so much a part of this cities culture.
The second is similar, its the Taco Trucks you see parked throughout the city. Some of the best food around, so authentically LA and a great way to experience a different culture right in your neighborhood.
Arcana books. A great collection of art and design books, right here in Culver City where I live. You could get lost and spend hours in there.
Surfing in Manhattan beach. OK, so this isn’t much of a hidden gem at all… but for those of us surfers who always go to the point breaks like Malibu or Topanga, it’s just a good reminder that there are amazing waves (ok maybe amazing is an overstatement… but good) in other places. I’ve been surfing in Manhattan Beach quite a bit lately, and I’m enjoying it in a different way than I do surfing in North LA.
And finally the last ones too good of a secret to share ;)
MW Life philosophy?
NS Listen to the nudges that the universe/God are sending you. They are there, you just have to listen.