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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Izzy Coco Tihanyi

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Izzy & Coco Tihanyi Surf Diva

for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom

After seeing Blue Crush a few years ago, I signed up for surf camp. Friends (male and female alike) laughed when they heard. Surfing is hard, they said. Even for guys, was the unspoken part.

Apparently, no one told that to Izzy and Coco Tihanyi, the 32-year-old twins who founded Surf Diva, the camp -- taught for girls, by girls -- that I signed up for. The sisters set up shop in 1996 with $328 and Izzy's surfboard collection. Guys who surfed the same beach heckled their classes and sometimes cut in front of their students. "They thought they had some sort of claim to the ocean," says Izzy (above, right).

But the sisters kept at it, and the business grew. Today, Surf Diva's 50 instructors teach thousands of people to surf each year. Half of all revenue comes from sales of Surf Diva fashions sold at a company-owned boutique and by 50 retailers in the U.S., Japan, and England.

All is not well in the surf-camp world, however. State beaches have begun asking camps for as much as 20% of gross revenue in exchange for the correct permits; cities want up to 10%.

To defend their surf turf, the Tihanyis set up an industry group to lobby officials. "Can the city really enforce this kind of restriction of use of the ocean," Izzy asks, "and can they really force us to open our books to them and just take a percentage like that?" My money's on the divas in this fight. After all, it's their world. We just surf in it.

Alison Overholt

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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