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MEET JOHN TOLLY, THE MAN BEHIND SUNNY DAZE CUSTOM SURFBOARDS

Like many small business owners, John Tolly started Sunny Daze Surfboards with a mix of knack, necessity and passion.

“Buying surfboards can be very expensive, so I forced myself to make my own equipment,” Tolly says. He made his first board in 1997, and opened Sunny Daze Surfboards in 2000. “It began as a hobby and a passion, and it is still my passion today.”

John Tolly3Like many before him, Tolly fell in love with surfing.

“I just really wanted to put myself in that industry. I wanted it. I wanted to immerse myself in the surf culture,” says Tolly, who has traveled all over the world chasing waves. “Two boards turned into four boards, and four boards turned into eight boards, and that’s basically how I built my business.”

This fall will mark the next major step for Sunny Daze: Tolly expects to open a retail location on Arrow Road that will house his apparel, board inventory and workshop.

“It’ll be a place where I can build the boards, but also have a storefront where people can get our apparel and boards,” he says.

Beyond the retail presence, Tolly hopes to eventually get his boards into other coastal locales like Tybee Island, Charleston and Jacksonville, and also pursue wholesale opportunities. Right now, he is the guy to go to if you’re looking for a custom board. There are a few small operators in Charleston, but none of his size and scope.

“For what I do, I’m about the only guy between Jacksonville and Myrtle Beach,” says Tolly, who prefers riding an old-school longboard.

Tolly says he enjoys working with individual clients, and riding with them, to inform the design process.

“Every surfboard that I’ve built is built for the riders’ abilities, height and weight,” he says. “In this sport, people are definitely picky about their boards. That’s part of my profession — knowing the ability of the surfer and what they may need.”

The mild waters of Hilton Head lend themselves to small wave boards. A good small wave board is built so that the rider can paddle fast and get into a wave easily. Making boards that are flat, wide and thick can allow riders to lessen friction against the water and achieve better acceleration into small waves.

John Tolly2For those visiting Hilton Head or those who just want to dip their toes in the surf scene, Sunny Daze offers a variety of rentals. Tolly has a rental fleet of more than 30 used boards, including soft tops, hard tops and paddleboards. Boards are delivered to your door free of charge for three-, five- and seven-day rentals. For one- and two-day rentals, there is a fee of $10.

Sunny Daze also offers a surf camp each summer at Burkes Beach for children ages 7 and older. The cost is $60 for a 75-minute session and $100 for an all-day session. Private lessons are also available.

Riding the Wave

As a longtime business owner, Tolly knows the waters of commerce can sometimes be choppy.

“I’ve had some roller coaster rides [in] retail,” he says. “But sometimes, blessings in disguise have come out of it.”

Sunny Daze is the type of enterprise that thrives on referrals. A good product tends to speak for itself, he says.

“It’s been word of mouth, and people seeing my boards on the beach, and seeing my customers and friends that ride my boards tear it up. Seeing the quality product in their hand usually refers new business to me,” he says.

For those entering a similar business or considering starting one, Tolly encourages simplicity.

“Our philosophy is ‘KISS’ — keep it simple, stupid. Keep low overhead. Location, location, location,” says Tolly. “Find your niche, and make sure it’s your niche. There’s a lot of new businesses that come and go, so follow your dream and make sure it’s something you want to do.”

An Endless Summer

At the end of the day, Tolly loves what he does. And he has fun doing it.

“I have a passion for this. There ain’t no question about that,” he says. “We turn up the music. We dance, have fun. It’s awesome.” 

Sunny Daze Surfboards is located at 144 Arrow Road, near the intersection of Palmetto Bay and Target roads. For more information, contact the shop at 843-338-1894.

THE TOLLY TALLY

John Tolly4Meet Sunny Daze founder John Tolly.

  • He attended the University of South Carolina Columbia.
  • He has lived in Costa Rica.
  • His father owned the oldest furniture company in South Carolina, Tolly Furniture, in Williamston, which dated back to 1865.
  • Prices for his custom surfboards are $500 and up. Longboards range from $800 to $1,200.
  • Tolly’s fastest production time, from start to finish, is 3.5 hours. Some boards might take half a week or more.
  • Tolly and his surfboards are featured in the book “Surfing In South Carolina” by Lilla O’Brien Folsom and Foster Folsom.