Ono Surf Shop
By Wendy O. Dixon
The saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” could be applied to Jim Caldwell. Owner of Ono Surf Shop, Caldwell’s love of water sports, and his love for his community, are what makes him a successful entrepreneur in Seaside. Born in Pensacola, Caldwell has lived in Hawaii, Texas and Walton County, so the water has always been part of his life. While his military father was stationed in Hawaii, Caldwell’s passion for water was ignited, as he spent his years learning to surf and fish. With a long family history here, he and his wife, Jana, now call Walton County home. He runs Ono and Jana manages the social media for the store.
Ono is a Hawaiian word with multiple meanings. Ono, also known as wahoo, is a pelagic fish that lives in the pelagic zone of the ocean or coast. Ono is also slang for groovy or cool. Either are suitable names for Seaside’s surf shop, which primarily carries fun water sports-oriented apparel.
A licensed Coast Guard captain, Caldwell has worked as a charter boat captain and district manager for Columbia Sportswear. His first retail store on 30A was a fishing store in Seaside in the late 1990s, selling kayaks and offering surfing lessons and fishing trips. He recalls that one of his best decisions in life was to move back here from Texas at just the right time. In those days, Seaside was a somewhat sleepy town, which allowed Caldwell to teach hundreds of kids to surf. “I got here just as it was starting to accelerate to what it is now,” he explains. “As Seaside progressed, we scaled down to concentrate on retail. Nobody, except maybe the real estate experts, expected Seaside to become as busy as it is today. The town is still a lot of fun, just different.”
Ono specializes in the latest styles of swimwear, footwear, lifestyle clothing, surfboards, boogie boards, skim boards and beach accessories. One of their most popular items is footwear, as surf brands dominate the flip flop business with high quality, ergonomically comfortable slip-ons. “I watch footwear more than any category,” Caldwell says. “When we buy women’s bikinis, they come in small, medium and large sizes, whereas when I stock footwear, I have sizes ranging from 9-kids to 15-adults. It’s a lot more items to cover, so we invest a lot of time in keeping footwear stocked.”
As the American dress code for professionals, especially in this area, has become more casual in the last few years, Caldwell sees more customers buying casual footwear that can tread on more than sandy surfaces. “With the close proximity to the beach, people are able to wear flip flops to work. With a wide variety to choose from, they can look professional enough for around here.” Brands in Ono include Reef, Olukai and Rainbow.
Living and working in Walton County is a great experience for the couple, Caldwell says. Jim and Jana live in Point Washington, and Jim spends most days caring for his parents, who are 95 and 96, while also running the surf shop. Their dachshund Hubert won first Halloweener Derby dachshund race, held in Seaside, in 2010. “He’s 16 and living the retired life now.”
It’s the spirit of the community, the uniqueness of Seaside, that makes owning a small business in this town so rewarding, Caldwell adds. “Seaside is such a great place for families. Even when we lived elsewhere, we still came here for vacation because it’s such a special place, a tradition for so many people.”
Click on the video below to learn more about Hubert, a retired champion of the Seaside Halloweener Derby.