Supplied photo by Michael Sing
Cool Just Is team rider Shane Burn launches an aerial maneuver on the south side of the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier.
Helping young locals and global charities is not the typical impetus for starting a surfing brand, but it is for Bob Benson, founder and owner of CJI, or Cool Just Is.
Benson, who has long frequented Wrightsville Beach, said his successes in life, his hobby of shaping classic balsa surfboards and the desire to give back spurred the launch of CJI.
“I shaped old-school balsa boards and I never sold any, I just gave them away at charity events like Hope from Helen,” Benson said. “As I got into it more I saw a need for some of our very good local surfers that just didn’t have the means to get to the right places and do the things they needed to do.”
The name of the brand came from the pages of Rolling Stone where, in an interview between Johnny Depp and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Depp asked Richards how he could be so cool.
“And Keith Richards just said, ‘Cool just is,’” Benson said. “You can’t try to be cool, you can’t tell everyone you are, you just are if that is the way it is.”
That ideal played into Benson’s choice of his team surfers — Darsha Pigford, Shane Burn and Tyler Faulkner.
“I look for surfers that get it from an ego standpoint — the surfing industry can be egocentric with a lot of goofballs,” he said. “But I have found three that are just incredible kids.”
An East Coast National Scholastic Surfing Association champion and University of North Carolina Wilmington student, Pigford has been a part of the CJI team for three years.
In September, Faulkner, a Carolina Beach native, won the Eastern Surfing Association’s Eastern Surfing Championships.
Among other top results, Burn won the Chris Crocker Memorial Surf Contest to benefit the family of Crocker, a Carolina Beach surfer and father who died prematurely of a heart attack.
It was Burn’s decision to donate his winnings back to the Crocker family that epitomizes what CJI is all about, Benson said. “That is the spirit I love.”
Along with helping his team riders compete in regional and local contests, and providing access to quality surfboards and travel opportunities, the proceeds of CJI T-shirt and hoodie sales benefit the Amani Children’s Foundation in Kenya that shelters abandoned infants. So far Benson said he has been able to make two donations to the foundation to take care of two abandoned children.
The Wounded Warrior Project is another charity CJI benefit. Benson said the brand created a special standup paddleboard in conjunction with Kevin Murphy and Ocean Cure for wounded veterans who no longer have the use of their legs. Cable drives attached to the board’s fin allow its rider to turn the board with his or her arms, Benson said, adding that Murphy is currently using the board for Ocean Cure events.
CJI T-shirts and hoodies are available online and through the brand’s exclusive surf retail partner, Aussie Island Surf Shop. Benson said he wants the brand to gain traction but at the same time remain true to the original mission.
“I want to be this brand where people say, ‘I’m wearing this because it means something,’” he said.