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The Next Generation of Stewart

Posted on October 15 2022

You might’ve heard the news that Bill has passed the torch on to a new set of owners, his daughter Ashley and son-in-law Erik Leines. Well, it’s been over a year since they took over as owners, so it’s about time we told the story of how the next generation came to be running the family business.

Bill Stewart surfing with daughter Ashley on the nose of his longboard, 1984

Bill & Ashley share a wave at San Onofre, CA - 1984

Growing up on the beaches of San Clemente, Ashley enjoyed some of the best rides of her life perched on the nose of Bill’s longboard (starting at just 2 years old!) and spent countless hours at surf contests cheering on her dad. She has worked for Stewart Surfboards on and off throughout her life, sweeping the floors of the new (current) retail location at age 5 and working in retail sales as her first job at 15. 

When you’re born & raised in a special community like San Clemente, you just can’t know how good you've got it until you move away and experience different places. So, after high school, Ashley went to college, first in the desert of Tucson, Arizona and finally in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado where she loved to hike, snowboard, and study business, ultimately earning her Business Administration degree with an emphasis in Marketing from the University of Colorado. During college, she met her future husband, Erik Leines.

Originally from Minnesota, Erik spent the winters of his most formative childhood years in Utah, shredding the country’s best powder alongside his parents and two older brothers. Strapping his Sorel boots into his first snowboard during the winter of 1987-88, Erik was instantly hooked and started competing in local contests. He soon qualified for nationals and finished 2nd in the nation in 1992.

By the late nineties, Erik had established himself as one of the top professional snowboarders in the world, competing in slopestyle and big air events like the X-Games, filming for major video parts like Veeco Productions’ Escramble, and representing top industry brands Volcom, Vans, Nixon, and Oakley. His travels took him all over the world, from Austria to Japan, New Zealand, and Chile. But the destination that turned out to be the most life changing was Encinitas, California where he and his friend JJ Thomas decided to spend the summer of ‘99 learning to surf. Not only did he learn to surf, but he met and fell in love with the surfer’s daughter.

Erik Leines hitting a 120' jump, Chad's Gap, Utah

After college, Ashley moved to Utah to be with Erik and landed a job as an Account Manager at a top-tier advertising agency in Salt Lake City. When the 80+ hour work weeks became too much of a grind, Ashley transitioned to marketing consulting. Her main client was Sport Court International, but she also did work for Erik’s company, a snowboard accessory brand called Celtek, which he started with his brother Bjorn Leines. And later, she consulted for Stewart Surfboards from time to time.

After nearly a decade of living in Utah, finishing out Erik’s snowboarding career, starting a business, and starting their family with the birth of their daughter Emianna, Erik and Ashley decided it was time to get back to the beach! They moved to San Clemente in 2010, settling in the Southeast part of town, near Ashley’s family and within biking distance of Trestles. Erik seamlessly transitioned his obsession with sliding on frozen water to liquid water, surfing several times a week and quickly progressing his skills under the (occasionally harsh!) feedback of the master, Bill Stewart, himself.

Erik and Ashley enjoyed putting down roots in their local community as they completed their family with the addition of two more girls, Vivia and Ellery. Raising a family in Ashley’s hometown, where they can share their passion for surfing and an active beach lifestyle with their kids, while also sneaking away to enjoy the mountains of Utah with Erik’s family, has been a dream come true.

In 2016, Ashley was a stay-at-home mom with a side gig teaching outdoor preschool classes when her dad came to her for help. Although his exit strategy had always been to work til he died, “Suddenly, I see why people retire at 65,” Bill said. He was tired of the daily grind of running all aspects of the family business and wanted to get back to what he was most passionate about, designing and shaping boards, creating art, and inventing. So when Bill asked Ashley if she had any interest in returning to work at Stewart Surfboards, she jumped at the chance to break out of the monotony of motherhood and put her business degree to good use.

Initially hired to manage surfboard production, Ashley quickly learned all aspects of the family business from buying and merchandising to analyzing P&L statements. Taking on more and more responsibility until she was running most of the day-to-day operations, Ashley grew into a small business leader under Bill’s coaching and direction. She found that she loved working with her talented dad and became passionate about carrying on the legacy of this iconic brand. “We’re so lucky to be in the business of bringing people joy!” She said, “There’s nothing better than the surf-stoked look on a customer’s face after their first session on a new board.”

The Leines family, Trestles trail, 2017

The Leines family can be seen biking to Trestles on most weekends

As Ashley was learning the ropes at the family business, Erik continued to run his company, growing it to millions in sales with dealers around the world until some financing issues forced it to close. The end of Erik’s business opened up new opportunities to work, learn, and grow at industry-leading brands, as a Product Merchandiser at Stance and then on the product team for DC Shoes. But Erik is an entrepreneur at heart and welcomed the opportunity to join the family business in 2020, during one of the most challenging moments in the history of Stewart Surfboards. 

The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic caused Stewart Surfboards to close its retail doors and uncertainty loomed as to what the future held. Fortunately, several years prior, Ashley had transitioned the entire company to a new sales platform, which included a robust online store, so Stewart was able to sell & ship boards worldwide throughout the shutdown. As people began to appreciate the outdoors more than ever, and an estimated 3 million new surfers entered the water, Stewart Surfboards was there to provide the high-quality, high-performance surfboards that we’re known for.

Erik was quick to jump head-first into all aspects of the business, working to remodel the shop interior and then moving into surfboard production. Starting out with the basics, Erik learned to route fin boxes and is studying the art of surfboard shaping from the master of precision and efficiency, Bill Stewart. But Erik’s primary focus in the business is sales, and you’ll see him in the shop just about every day talking surf with the stoke and enthusiasm of a grom.

Weathering the pandemic chaos with a clear head was undoubtedly a challenge for Ashley and Erik, but getting through it proved to Bill that they have what it takes to navigate the family business through any storm. As Bill neared his 70th birthday, he and his wife Chris were happy to finalize the transition of ownership over to Erik and Ashley and to have more time for the things they love. 

Stewart/Leines family in front of the Stewart Surf Shop

You’ll still find Bill in the surf shop from time to time, stopping in to check on things, shape a new board model or customer order, give some sage advice or maybe just joke around with the staff. But mostly he spends his time creating art in his man cave or landing his next big catch in his boat, secure in the knowledge that the legacy of Stewart Surfboards is in the capable hands of the next generation. It doesn’t get better than that!