Work is always a day at the beach for Surf Diva cofounders, twin sisters and California Bank & Trust (CB&T) clients, Izzy and Coco Tihanyi. The dynamic sisters launched the San Diego business in 1996 and were the first surf schools catered to empowering women in the art of riding waves. Since then, Surf Diva has grown and expanded to a bustling business for anyone looking to have fun while catching some waves.
In college, Izzy competed on the UCSD surf team, won national collegiate rankings and was awarded scholarships from the National Scholastic Surfing Association. Her sister, Coco, worked on the business-side of the surf industry with then-startup, Reef Sandals.
With Izzy’s passion in surfing and teaching and Coco’s expertise in organization and logistics, Surf Diva launched and has since flourished into a successful female-run company.
We sat down with the sisters to dive into the many unique aspects of growing a business and why running a business is a lot like surfing.
Surf Diva: When we started in 1996, women's surfing was just not even on the radar. It was a total afterthought. And if you were a female surfer, you were definitely an outlier on the fringe as it’s a 98% male-dominated. We're one of the only companies in the surf industry owned by women.
There were many kids camps that were great, but there was nothing designed for women that play up to their strengths and honors their questions. We were the first one, which made our school very different. We wanted women to not be afraid to ask questions while creating an empowering and less intimidating environment.
We embraced the uniqueness of a female surf camp and made it our own. By avoiding trying to fit within the bubble, we created our own bubble and it worked.
Surf Diva: We love it. Obviously, there are there are risks. There is stress. But we're entrepreneurs at heart and we love giving people an opportunity to work within the surf industry.
The benefit is that you can really change people's lives. You change your employees’ lives, while teaching them something new. We look to show them what it's like to have fun while coming into to work. After 24 years, we’re still happy to come into work every day. Even on our birthday, we want to surf. We’re truly are one of the last bastions of freedom.
Surf Diva: It’s been amazing. The day we met our banker, Joe Snyder, it really changed our whole opinion on banks and as a result, we grew a lot. Our business is very cyclical and seasonal, Joe was able to understand that. We felt like Joe believed in us and gave us the confidence to grow when opportunities came our way. I think one of the most important things in growing a business is having a relationship with your bank. We still even have a little congratulation note card that Joe sent when we got approved for a loan.
Surf Diva: First, the company’s financial growth is important. If there’s an increase in wages, taxes or permit fees, we need to make sure our business growing.
Second, we really care about every single student that comes through. We want to make sure that each person feels welcome, empowered and stoked about their surfing experience.
The third is to continue to have fun every day. I love our motto as we say, ‘the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun’. We think that applies for when you’re in and out of the water.
Lastly, we try to teach people about the environment and to protect the ocean as that’s really important to us and the longevity of our business.
Surf Diva: We love it. It's all about trust with each other. You need clear descriptions of roles and what you're doing. Previously, we would do everything together and then we’d be working these 20-hour days because of our overlap.
We learned to recognize our strengths and trust each other. Sometimes if there's a major decision like a big purchase, we’ll work together, but we know we're at the same level. We’ve always wanted to be the best in everything we do and, we don’t compete. Our immigrant parents really emphasized to be a team, work together and always told us to protect each other. Even in middle school, we looked out for each other. Our parents always knew we were very different and they celebrated our differences.
Surf Diva: A surfer knows how to go out in any type of situation, have fun and understand that you can work with those waves.
It’s a good lesson in patience, perseverance and determination. Pay attention to the little details and anticipate the unexpected. Like surfing, business is a balancing act.
Surf Diva: We have our own DNA and we focus on giving the best experience to our students. We train our instructors to think of our students as clients because when you call someone your ‘client’, you elevate them to where we're serving them. I call it ‘serfing’. We want to find out what their needs are and demonstrate that it’s all about them. Learning about their goals and what they want to get out of the lesson is what sets us apart from the competition. [cite::171::cite] [cite::172::cite]