How a Sonoma Surf Shop Owner Spends a Day

Northern Light Surf Shop has welcomed surfers of all levels since 1986, selling apparel, surfboards, wetsuits, and other gear for those riding the waves of the Sonoma Coast.

It’s prime summer at Northern Light Surf Shop in Bodega, where the local community gets together for what co-owner Sarah Dougherty refers to as the “Bodega Vortex.” Friends shoot the breeze about the day’s surf or trips they’re planning, and before long, they’ve entered the vortex and an hour or more has gone by.

Northern Light Surf Shop has welcomed surfers of all levels since 1986, selling apparel, surfboards, wetsuits, and other gear for those riding the waves of the Sonoma Coast. A second Northern Light location opened in Valley Ford in 2018. Here’s a window into her outdoorsy, artistic spirit.

Northern Lights Surf Shop owner Sarah Dougherty. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

5 a.m.

I get up, have coffee, look over emails. My husband [Ben Dougherty, a big-wave surfer and arborist] does a surf check on the websites to see if it’s going to be a surf day. I look at orders we have to fulfill, inventory that’s coming in for the day.

If it’s a good surf day, Ben will surf if it’s big. For myself, it’s got to be smaller waves, on a beautiful, perfect day with warm winds. I’d rather travel to warm water to surf, but he’ll be out there three, four, five hours.

Martin Gilbertson walks back to his car after a morning session surfing the cold Pacific Waters along Dillon Beach. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)
Surfing in Salmon Creek. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

6:30–7 a.m.

Earlier is usually better for surfing because winds pick up later in the day. Certain spots also like different tides. If you can get out before the wind picks up, that’s your best chance. Still, you may not get into the water; you may even wait there until the tide is right and the wind picks up. Summer, fall, and winter are the best times for surfing here. Spring is the worst because of onshore winds.

8–10 a.m.

We open at 9:30, so I’m down at the Bodega store by 8 to begin organizing and pack up online orders. Then I zip over to Valley Ford, since we carry different items at each location. I bring down boxes of apparel that I’ve printed the previous day and make sure employees have hangers, change, and whatever else they need to take care of inventory.

11 a.m.

More locals come through, so late mornings revolve around coffee and talking and surf, the Bodega Vortex. The camaraderie that surfers have is special; it’s fun to hang out with them.

Stickers adorn Northern Lights Surf Shop in Bodega. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)


Sometimes I have to set alarms for myself to eat lunch! But one of our staples is Casino Bar & Grill in Bodega, which makes amazing burgers.

1 p.m.

Printing apparel takes up most of my day. We have our original design plus other collaborations with artists whose work we like or can commission. We run all the screens and just print away in our print shop (which is basically our garage).

6 p.m.

In summer with longer daylight I sometimes work 10 hours, but I have a flexible schedule. It’s a pretty organic process of when I get into the print shop and when I leave.

6:30–7 p.m.

Sometimes there are evening surfs this time of year, then we catch dinner on the way back. Our main beaches are Salmon Creek State Beach and Doran [Regional] Park.

Eric Austensen walks along Goat Rock State Beach looking for waves to surf. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Catching the wave

Northern Light Surf Shop is a mainstay of Sonoma’s surf scene, offering boards, wetsuits, and clothing, including co-owner Sarah Dougherty’s original screen-printed hoodies and tees as well as collaborations with local artists.

17191 Bodega Highway, Bodega and 14435 Highway 1, Valley Ford. 707- 876-3032,