Vans World Cup

Koa Smith Ups the Buzz-Factor on the North Shore

Anna Dimond

Koa Smith is known more as a freesurfer than a coffee connoisseur. But that might soon be changing. Just a few weeks ago, the North Shore transplant, along with with his brothers, Travis and Alex, and friend, Koa Rothman, opened the Sunrise Shack, a one-stop-shop for a pre-surf snack or jolt of caffeine, spiked with natural fats -- the growing trend known as Bulletproof coffee. Cleverly, they opened their stand across the bridge from Sunset, just in time for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

Koa Rothman entered the event as an alternate and competed alongside brother Makuakai in Round 1, Heat 4. Photo: WSL/Heff Koa Rothman knows what it takes to be ready for the day, especially on the North Shore of Oahu. - WSL / WSL/Heff

Amid the activity going on at Sunset Beach, Koa took a quick break to talk shop.

Most people know you as a freesurfer, where did the coffee shop idea come from?
My brother, Travis, my middle brother, lives in New York. He started a little bit of a coffee shop, he'd go to food fairs with the same kind of concept. We saw the opportunity on the North Shore and how many people come here for the Triple Crown. We're here all day anyway, so we put our heads together and thought, ‘Let's just do something different,' and take advantage of the resources that we have.

The Sunrise Crew
Kauai's Smith brothers, along with Koa Rothman, just launched a new way to get your pulse pumping, in the heart of Triple Crown action.

What else are you selling there?
Not everyone's a coffee person, so we do a lot of teas. We have a lot superfoods that we put in them and herbs to add. So we mostly serve teas and coffees, as well as organic snacks. The best popcorn in Hawaii, papaya bowls, where we slice up a papaya and add granola, bananas, berries and honey.

Alex Smith lost out in Round 1 of the Mens Pipe Invitational. The Smith brothers may be North Shore transplants, but they know their ways around the local waves as well as anyone. Pictured above: Alex Smith at Backdoor. - WSL / KC

So far, what's the biggest challenge in trying to run a business, especially since this isn't your only career?
I think, especially because this isn't our only career, that alleviates a lot of pressure. But that hardest thing was getting people to start. But we found through social media and all our friends, the word is spreading quickly. But we're trying to figure out, for people who have never been to Oahu, why are they going to stop at our stand? So we're trying to harness that and attract those people. But so far, it's working. The Shack keeps getting cooler every day.

What's the best part of being a budding business owner, so far?
Building something and watching it grow, and having it with my brother and my best friend, it's fun. I feel like I'm making the most of things, which feels good.

Alex Smith, preparing for his Round 1 heat at the Vans World Cup. Alex, preparing for the Vans World Cup last year. He last competed in the HIC Pro earlier this month, where he competed (and won) against his brother, Koa. - WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Who's been the most surprising customer so far at the Shack?
I don't know about surprising, but Jamie O'Brien comes every day, twice a day, without fail. Same with Kalani Robb, he's hooked. Chris Coté as well. It's funny -- we're selling something that's addictive, so people keep coming back.

Koa Rothman entered the event as an alternate and competed alongside brother Makuakai in Round 1, Heat 4. Photo: WSL/Heff Koa Rothman takes after his big brother, Makuakai, in his proclivity for the heavy stuff. - WSL / WSL/Heff

What's your near-term plan for the Shack?
I think we're going to try to build it up so it runs on its own, and see how it goes from there. The goal would be to have it year-round; we're trying to make it a destination on the North Shore. A place you can go and get your papaya bowl, your cute Instagram picture, and you experience the Hawaiian North Shore.

Will your coffee make me a better surfer?
It will make you a faster surfer, you'll get more energy.