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We quietly celebrated our 2-year anniversary of Kekoa on November 20th. At this time, I was en route to Austin, TX to spend Thanksgiving with our son, Nick and his fiancé, Taylor. 

As usual, I am rather reflective when I am away from Kekoa for any long period of time. This time, my flight was long and arduous. With many layovers in random airport lounges, I had plenty of time to replay the last 1,051,200 minutes (2 years) regarding Kekoa. The only word that keeps coming back in my mind is “miracle.” Please allow me to share it with you.


Miracle #1 – The birth of the Kekoa Commustore


We signed the lease with one of the oldest, original outdoor malls in Honolulu – Ward Warehouse – to launch Kekoa. It took us two years of searching feverishly to find the right location with the right size and rent factor. Finally, we had an opportunity to present our concept to Howard Hughes (the giant real estate company with an asset of $6.7 billion and who happened to own Victory Ward Center). We pitched the idea four months prior, but we did not hear anything back. Suddenly, we had a call from our broker who informed us that HHC wanted to meet again. This time they showed us the only available space for our store. They were perplexed by our concept because in the history of retail leasing, they had never seen any company use the space for a non-selling activity (Jiu-jitsu). Traditionally every inch is used for selling product. In the retail world, every square foot being rented must provide some revenue. As for us, our vision was to build a community of liked-mind and -hearted humans. To achieve this, we wanted to have a mat space where there would be no politics, just a space where passions for rolling collide…and it must be free. For two weeks, we negotiated the deal. We signed a temporary lease in the hopes that we would achieve our sales goals and then renew it for a longer term.

Attaining a building permit was almost impossible due to the explosion of the real estate industry in Honolulu. There are more high-rise condos being built at this time than at any other time in the history of Hawaii. Our state bird is called “nene,” the Hawaiian goose, but it is now being replaced by the colossal yellow construction crane. I see it every day when I am surfing in Town.

We built the store within six weeks with the help of our friends. We opened our doors on November 20, 2016. The The second day of business, we decided to close the store so all of us could help feed the homeless at Palama Community. For us to truly understand the concept of service, we must first learn the true meaning of gratitude.


Miracle #2 – Karol Riboud, Breath of Life #1

Three months had passed. We opened right before Christmas, thus our sales were rather hopeful…but then January came along, and sales dove down the chart like the Dow Jones on 9/29/2008. Our sales were less than $5,000 a month, which was nowhere adequate to cover our rent. By Spring break of 2017, we were running out of cash. The rent was being paid later and later as each month passed. To make matters worse, we barely had enough to produce our second collection. We were unwilling to compromise on our quality, and we decided to keep our production in USA and continue with eco-friendly ink and fabrics.

By July, South swell began to reappear. We were hopeful that sales would slowly start to rise as the swell began to show, but it was not so. Our store was literally 1000 yards from one of the best surf spots in the world…Bowls, Kewalos, Big Right. August rent was due within 12 days, and we were doing less than $100/day. By this time, I has already emptied my first IRA account. What I am about to write, I can recall vividly...

I checked my emails every morning as I sat on my lanai having my cup of coffee. Sleep, during this time, was a rarity. I was stressed beyond words. All of the sudden, I had a FaceTime call on my I-pad; it was from Karol. Karol is Frenchman who was born and raised in Paris. We met when he was 18 years old and an intern at Quiksilver for the summer. After I discovered that he was living alone at Extended Stay America, I invited him to live with us. He knew no one in California, and his English was just like mine – broke-ass, so I thought we could learn Frenchglish together!

Summer passed, and fall had arrived. Karol decided to extend his internship. His love for surfing grew deeper and deeper. I took him to every store staff meeting. He sat in on all of our meetings, including new hire interviews. We surfed after work and on the weekends. Usually, we ended up in our back yard jacuzzi, arguing about world politics and philosophy. After a year, we said our goodbyes, and he headed back to Paris to continue his search for the meaning of life. He was then 19 years old. When I first met Karol, he had no desire to go to college. He just wanted to surf and travel the world. He came from a pedigree of highly educated and successful family members, and as the only son, they had huge expectations of him.

The last I heard from Karol was when he graduated with an MBA and was starting a business in Lima, Peru. He now speaks four languages fluently!


“Hey Donguey,” (my nickname is Donger at Quik), “how are you?” Karol asked.

“I am surviving, and I think I F*&^%$$%$#@UP! I did not plan enough for operations cash flow, I also F*&*^#@UP on my projections…sales are shitty, and we are way behind on rent!” I panickily replied. 

“I know I know, I was in the same boat when we launched our company…it’s ok! It’s normal…you just have to go out looking for investors!” he said.


In my mind, I was thinking time is running out, and so is my bank account. The fear of failing and the fear of disappointing my Jenny and my children were consuming me every second of the day. No one would know it from the outside, but internally, I was living in fear.


“Shit! I don’t even know if we can last another month?”

“You will be fine! This will pass, but you must not give up. I have $13,000 in my bank, and I can wire it to you today!” Karol said.

“Are you serious? I will pay you back…every penny of it, I promise!” I cried.

“I don’t care about that. I wish I had more to give you, but that’s all I have right now,” he said


Not only did we make it through the summer, the Howard Hughes Corp. relocated us to a new location where we are today. Now, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Since then, I have read more books and listened to more podcasts than I have ever in my entire life. Yes, we have been looking for investors, but it’s not an easy feat. It’s funny how rich people perceive the value of money. Our business concept is not your typical concept where founders/owners/CEOs would attain riches and the golden parachute. It is based on using profit to help alleviate suffering in communities, and hopefully the world. We believe in it so much that we’ve created a by-law where none of us can earn more than 12 times that of the lowest paid employees in the company.


I guessed I have learned many lessons over the last two years, and I am sure many more are coming…but for now, here they are:


  1. Do NOT start a business strictly for money. The “going” is going to get tough, and if you do not have passion and purpose, you are more likely to quit!
  1. I love this quote from Plato that Ben Marcus always said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I have no idea what I have done for Karol, but whatever it is, it touched him deep in his soul.
  2. Fear and struggle are there as a personal test of our commitment to our wishes. Our job is to rise again and again. We cannot rise and remain standing without the love & support from our loved ones, but it is up to us to take that first step.
  1. Failure is guaranteed if you QUIT!
  1. Whatever happens to you is meant to happen to YOU, so embrace all of it, even if it’s shitty…there’s a lesson in it somewhere.


Some call this journey luck, and some call it divinity; as for me, it has been a blend of both. The power of karma and the universe is real. I am now witnessing it. Maybe all of this is really out of my hands. It is only now that I am learning to truly accept the flow of life and all its gifts. Karol Riboud, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, and I love you! You will earn 6% on your loan. It just might be a while until you see any of it J


D.J. SanMarco

You guys are so inspiring, what you’re doing for what you love, for others around you. I have enormous admiration for you Aubrey and Dewey. Hugs, D.J. :)

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