The first Summer Sessions surf shop was founded in 2002 in New Hampshire by brothers Tyler and Ryan McGill. Since then, the brand has grown to become one of New England’s largest surf shops, with four stores around New Hampshire.
Born and bred locally in New Hampshire, surfing is Ty and Ry’s life and they have both traveled extensively all over the world pursuing their passion. We spoke to Ty about how they got started, the surf scene on the East Coast and why Summer Sessions stands out from other local shops.
How did Summer Sessions get started?
My mom has worked in retail her whole life, and she thought that there was a gap in the surf market in this area for guys clothing. I was a sophomore in college and wanted a challenge so she asked me if I thought I’d be able to set up a clothing store. I said that I didn’t know, but I did think I could run a surf shop. We didn’t know much about the surf industry, all we knew was our own experience on the water and what we like - but we started as a surf shop and we built it from the ground up. That’s the genesis of Summer Sessions.
Were you successful right away?
Well, at first we would open for five months, then shut down and spend 7 months traveling and surfing. We did that for five years, living the surf lifestyle while building foundations for the business. And now we have four shops so we travel a little bit less but we still try to take two or three months out of the country.
What’s great about the surf scene in New Hampshire?
It’s nice to experience it as a busy tourist place in the summer. We run a series of surf camps where beginners can come along and where locals can meet up. For winter, the scene tends to shut down and the place is full of locals. We also get all four seasons. Right now the weather is beautiful and perfect for learning how to surf, but in winter it’s ice cold and even unsurfable on some days. That tends to weed out the weak of spirit in the water!
Fall and Spring can be really nice. But you never know what you’re going to find here weather wise, and the surf isn’t always predictable. You and your gear need to be ready for anything.
Best local place you like to hang out in Portsmouth/New Hampshire?
We always like to be near the beach, but one of our local spots is The District in Downtown Portsmouth. It’s right near our downtown boutique and they offer everything from fresh local seafood to vegetarian to gluten-free. Plus they’ve got a great mellow but upscale vibe.
What makes Portsmouth a great place to live - what are some must-dos or sights to see for tourists in town?
Portsmouth has really started to pick up over the last few years. The energy is amazing. It’s right on the water, lots of green space and has a really tight knit feel, but a lot of creatives and culinary people are moving up here. And there’s a lot of buzz. You can find a little bit of everything here in a very classic New England inspired location.
Can you tell us a little bit about the appeal of paddle boarding? How difficult is it to get started and who is it good for?
Paddle boarding is a nice way to explore the rivers, coastal ways and the ocean. You really get a chance to see everything. We’ve seen some amazing nature in the water as it’s a lot quieter than a boat or even a kayak. It’s a great workout and very accessible for anyone. You don’t need a big wave or anything to paddle board so we see everyone from core surfers to kids to grandparents getting out there.
What makes Summer Sessions different from other surf shops?
When it comes to keeping up trends between us we spend six months in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and New York City every year which means that we can introduce a mix of styles and inspirations into the store.
We’re not about just going to the surf trade shows and picking up random clothes - we like to have a broader view of what fashion is like outside of the surf industry and in other parts of the world. We pick and choose from what inspires our lifestyle and try to bring to our customers.
How does Timberland fit in with Summer Sessions?
Our flagship store is right down the road from the Timberland HQ, and we see all the guys from there out on the water, hiking and downtown. We’re all living the lifestyle.
We wanted a brand that made sense for our life, our area and the surf culture. Timberland just fit that mold. It’s interesting to see how many different styles Timberland can cover; they have such a broad range. Sometimes we’re out hiking, sometimes we’re in the city, and we’re always traveling, and we need styles that work.
What’s your favorite Timberland product?
I like the Heritage 6-Inch Premium Waterproof Boots. I took those to Portugal recently and I was wearing them non-stop because I was hiking to waves, and they held up really well! Then I’d just wash them off and wear them when I was going out for the night downtown. It’s functional fashion, and that kind of makes sense for surfers, it’s a little bit higher end but that means you are able to wear it out on the town and at the same time have it be functional for what you’re doing.