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Small business spotlight: Robert Stehlik, Blue Planet Surf

Robert Stehlik received his BBA in International Business from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Shidler College of Business in 1993. What started as a business school project turned into Blue Planet Surf: Hawai‘i’s largest stand up paddleboard (SUP) and foil shop with the simple philosophy of creating surf equipment for surfers, by surfers. What started as a two-man operation on O‘ahu has grown into a worldwide SUP and surf brand.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, Hawai‘i’s small businesses have seen some big changes and obstacles. We asked Robert about Blue Planet Surf and how he is managing to find silver linings and success during the lockdown.

What inspired you to start your own business?

I liked the idea of being my own boss and making my own schedule. Little did I know that the business would soon own me and all of my time!

What do you love most about your work?

I love it when customers tell me that our products or services made their lives a little better or more fun. That is the most rewarding part of my job.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of starting your own business? The most challenging?

I love being an entrepreneur and the freedom and challenges of this lifestyle, but with the rewards comes risk, potential failure, and being responsible for the livelihood of the staff. You have to be thick skinned and persistent.

How has your UH education helped you in your career?

[My UH education] prepared me for doing business and made me think about what I want to do with my life. I wrote the business and marketing plans for Blue Planet Surf for a UH business college project and decided to just go for it. I had little to lose, and it seemed more fun than working at a bank or other jobs for which I applied.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your day-to-day operations?

We had to shut down our retail store since it’s a non-essential business and furloughed our staff, including myself. Luckily, we just got a SBA PPP loan approved that allowed us to put the staff back on full time pay, and we have been busy fulfilling phone and web orders. People are going stir crazy at home, and we have seen an increased demand for our stand up paddle boards, surf, and foil gear as people want to get outside and on the water to exercise. We also used our contacts in China to import face masks to meet local demand. We sell them online and donate a portion to medical workers. I don’t want to sound insensitive, and I know we all need to do our part to “flatten the curve,” but some things are great about the lockdown: traffic is a breeze, people have more free time to reflect, exercise, spend time with loved ones, connect virtually, and we can still get in the surf, so there is much to be grateful for, Aloha!

To learn more about Blue Planet Surf, visit www.blueplanetsurf.com. To browse other alumni small businesses, visit our Alumni Business Directory.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni