2009-04-17 / Top Stories

Controversy Follows FTW Surf Shop Owner

'Marketing Tool' Worries Many Locals
By Howard Schwach

Bobby Vaughn uses his gangsta persona as a marketing tool to bring kids into his programs. Bobby Vaughn uses his gangsta persona as a marketing tool to bring kids into his programs. When Bobby Vaughn left his murder trial in California behind and came to New York City to change his life, he believed that he was leaving controversy behind.

Then, he came to Rockaway and spoke with some Neponsit surfers and began a chain of events that would lead him to open "FTW," a surf and clothing shop on Beach 116 Street and eventually to a New York Times reporter named Corey Kilgannon and more controversy.

The story about Vaughn and his trip from the gangsta surfing beaches of California to the more mundane beaches of Rockaway hit the stands on April 5, and he has not heard the end of it yet.

In his piece, Kilgannon writes, "Vaughn says that the Rockaways in Queens have all the ingredients to be the next Santa Cruz: good waves, public housing projects and a growing surf culture. His main problem with the Rockaway surf scene is that it has not embraced its inner gangsta."

Vaughn was cleared of the California murder of his good friend and is presently serving probation on a New York gun possession rap, and Kilgannon says, "Mr. Vaughn's ideal surfer is fearless, tattooed and rides an expensive top-of-the-line surfboard decorated with gang tats."

Local surfers Savatore Falcone (left) and Matthew Alessi met Vaughn at Beach 90 Street and now work for him at FTW. Local surfers Savatore Falcone (left) and Matthew Alessi met Vaughn at Beach 90 Street and now work for him at FTW. He quotes Vaughn as saying, "Rockaway is ready for a surf scene and this store has the edge that the hard-core surfers here are looking for."

Those statements about gangstas and housing projects and the lack of an "edge" in Rockaway surfing circles brought some anger in many Rockaway circles that was perhaps summarized by one anonymous female caller to The Wave who asked, "Why do we need California surfing gangsters in Rockaway, don't we already have enough of our own?"

Vaughn, however, told The Wave on

Tuesday morning that he was misquoted at worst, or at least "misunderstood."

"I tried to make the connection between California and Rockaway not because I want the surfers here to be living in cars or on the beach, thugged out and outlaw, but because I saw them change when they were given a chance to get some sponsorships and make some money.

I saw them become more professional and grow," he said. "That's what I want for the surfers I met in Rockaway. I want them to be able to win contests and get sponsorships, to grow in the same way."

He admits that he had his problems in California. He was into the fast life, he says - drugs, low-rider cars, surfing and the gangsta life.

He helped to start the Von Dutch clothing line and then lost millions to his partners, who he says "stole his share of the money" and took the business away from him.

He says that his murder arrest came about when a childhood friend, out of his mind on alcohol, tried to kill him and he defended himself.

A California jury agreed and found him not guilty of the murder.

He says that his problems followed him to New York, where he was arrested on a gun charge and given five years probation, which he is still serving.

"I had a party that got too loud in my Manhattan apartment," he said. "The cops came, and they asked me if there were any weapons in the apartment. I had a gun licensed in California locked in my gun safe, and I gave it to them. They arrested me."

Vaughn says he came to New York so that he could change his life, but he did not come to walk into the Rockaway surfing scene and take it over.

He explains that he was watching some local kids surf at Bay One in Riis Park when one of them started to speak with him and offered him the use of a board.

Despite the fact that he had not been on a surfboard in three years, Vaughn managed to impress the local youths with his style. That led to more waves and to the funding for FTW.

He admits that both he and his store have a hard-core, gangsta look. He sees it as a "marketing tool." "We want to be the bad guys gone good," he said. "You can't attract kids without using something they're interested in, and today, that's rap and the gangsta look. That's the way things sell. Look at movie stars, look at rap stars, pro athletes. It's become part of the American culture."

Vaughn says that he was never a gangster, and he doesn't want Rockaway surfers to be gangsters.

"I am anti-gang, anti-violence," he argues. "FTW is a marketing tool to get the kids interested and involved."

"From my point of view," he added, "it could mean Fix The World, with all the problems we have - terrorism, poverty, and people like Bernie Madoff. The world is crazy and people are worried about FTW."

Vaughn says that he has a plan and has already discussed it with the 100 Precinct.

"I am going to use action sports like surfing and skateboarding to get the kids off the street," he says. "The kids were turned off to lots of things, and nobody here was addressing their needs. I am going to do that."

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Thanks for thinking outside of the box that our supposedly politically correct society has stuffed us into, and sealed.

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