Alliance: Is Key Largo your sister city? If so, how often do you listen to the Beach Boys?
Watersports West (Steve LeVine): We are not in the Keys we are in the Tampa Bay area, Largo is a town between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, but you are guaranteed to hear some Beach Boys and reggae playing in the store.
A: Watersports West is a big shop in the Tampa area. When did you guys open and how did you get to be so big?
WW: We opened in July 2001. Our goal has always been to evolve the store into
a comfortable setting for our customers. I’ve always believed that if we treat our customers the way we would like to be treated ourselves and keep the prices competitive and the stock big then we would be successful. We are constantly evolving the store and researching new gear.
A: Happy Ten-Year Anniversary! What did you do before running your shop? What’s your history in watersports?
WW: In 1962 my father opened a bait shop, and I loved working with him, I was three then. At five my dad taught me how to ski, I’ve been hooked ever since. The store evolved into diving and then we started selling skis. After college my dad and I worked together for 20 years in the family business. In 2001 I decided to open Watersports West.
A: You guys dabble in just about every watersport activity, what watersports equipment can be found in your store and when did wakeboards become a part of that?
WW: The day we opened we had wakeboards, the other sports we do are kiteboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, surfing, standup paddle boarding and wakesurfing. We more than dabble in these, each sector of our business is one that we are committed to and just like wakeboards we are full service and hands on.
A: Being in Largo you have access to fresh and saltwater. What are the benefits of both and which do you prefer?
WW: We ride mostly saltwater as our store is only two miles from the Gulf of Mexico and the inter-coastal waterway. In the saltwater there are tons of places to find good riding conditions as well as islands to hang out on or camp on, lots of restaurants and marinas are accessible on the water, so the Gulf is the key to my personal boating paradise. We also have some of the best spring-fed lakes in the Tampa area as well.
A: Being a shop in Florida and in the center of the largest wakeboarding community, how does Watersports West stand out among the rest of the big Florida retailers?
WW: Our main advantage for our customers is that we have the knowledge to make sure the customer gets the right stuff, we put the equipment on the water with our demo rental program and we stock a huge quantity and assortment. We are the full service pro shop equipment source for all aspects wakeboarding, wakeskating, wakesurfing and waterskiing in the Tampa Bay area. All of our employees ride.
A: Tell us a bit about the program you guys have with the local wakeboard/ski school.
WW: We work with our Liquid Force team rider Aaron Abel and his partner Brian Rourke, they operate All American Wakeboard and Waterski School on Lake Seminole. It’s only two miles from the store. They are at 813-508-5777. They offer all of our up and coming riders great instruction, they run camps and ride every day all summer.
A: What’s been the biggest challenge for the shop over the past ten years?
WW: We opened two months before 9/11 and that hurt, but we service a large area and we know if we treat our customers right that they will help us survive. We mail order and will meet or beat all authorized dealers that actually stock gear. Many people can’t believe our huge inventory and once they find us they become long-term customers. We offer a very aggressive demo and rental program on most gear as well, and we fix most brands.
A: What’s the best part about owning and operating an independent watersports store?
WW: Controlling my own destiny, being my own boss, having my family involved and meeting some awesome customers that become friends along the way.
A: What wakeboard brands can the Floridians expect to find when they walk in your shop?
WW: Our major brands are Ronix, Liquid Force, Jet Pilot, Quiksilver, Straightline, and O’Neill.
A: You’re in the Tampa area… Miami Heat or Orlando Magic?
WW: The Tampa Bay Bucs, Rays, and Lightning!
12900 Walsingham Road
Largo, FL 33774