Morning of the Backdoor shootout, captured by Laserwolf
Has Kelly Slater bought Firewire surfboards?
Kelly Slater has been nesting. As he enters the twilight of surfing’s greatest ever professional career, he’s been busy setting up new businesses. And, making sure he’s involved from the ground floor up. Kelly’s latest acquisition comes in the purchase of a serious stake in surfboard company, Firewire. His plan? Turn it into an eco-friendly surfboard company that incorporates all of the best shapers in the world. Because he bought a majority share, there’s no payday for current shareholders – their shares are now diluted. At least, all that’s according to Stab’s intel. Though when we asked Kelly about it, he played a well-practised coy card:
“I’ll address the surfboard stuff soon,” Kelly told Stab. “It's nothing definite until it's finished and it's a work in progress. But surfboards are a tricky business. There's a certain irony to all of our environmental talk and chemical walk. That's not to point fingers at anyone but myself. I just think it's time to do something about my residue that's built up. The industry focus has been on perfecting the shapes and performance of what we are all used to for a long while now. I'm fond of tinkering and experimenting and evolving. Lessening materials impact is an obligation for me. So... my partners and I are working on something.”
As ever, there’s both conviction, and infinite promise of a brighter world in Mr Slater’s words. But, boardwork will only form part of the footprint he aims to leave on surfing.
Kelly was an early ambassador for GoPro, well before the brand floated. And, it’s rather obvious that he’s been one of the driving forces in the brand’s success. Yep, it’s a wildly good product, but that means nothing if you can’t get your message out, and Kelly is a real good messenger. That barrel selfie is still one of the best surf-centric ads ever created. When you sign up Kelly, you sign up unfathomably good marketing. And that’s because Kelly doesn’t just dance with anyone. He’s always been a lot more than just a surfer. And, while his surfing legacy is untouchable, his focus on a sustainable surf industry is getting more and more clear every day. He wants to leave a different kind of mark beyond most heat wins and whatever else he owns. Early in 2014, Kelly left long-time sponsor Quiksilver to launch OuterKnown, his eco-friendly project with backing from the Kering Group, who own Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint-Laurent, Puma, Volcom and more.
“You’re creating a truly sustainable surfwear brand which is more than just a hashtag,” Stab suggested to Kelly. “Is it a goal to leave surfing in a better place than you found it?”
“Work wise... I'd love to create an impact on the industry in a positive direction,” the Floridian answers (and please, tune tight into the depth of this next part). “OuterKnown really isn't going to be a surf brand but maybe it can help set a trend somehow if all goes to plan. We are just making the clothing we'd love to make, using the sustainable process we'd appreciate seeing used (sourcing and materials, production, etc) and seeing what the end result is. Our brand definitely isn't in the endemic surf price zone, but that doesn't mean it's luxury – it's a contemporary brand. We may have a 'surf' arm of the brand at some point but not in the immediate future. That's a longer convo but basically it can't be done in a financial way that fits the surf market and makes people happy on the levels we're hoping to from production to style to pricing. It's just not that simple or affordable. That surf equation comes down to making small margins on large numbers (of oftentimes inferior and meaningless products) with questionable production, sourcing and sustainability. There are a lot of moving parts and expensive stages in doing it how I believe is the right way. Ironically, doing it 'right' seems to more difficult to do and costly and gives brands more hoops to jump thru that most aren't prepared or even hoping to. I'm sure learning a lot about it and have a whole lot more respect and understanding for all the brands now.”
Kelly sure believes in standards. He’s consistently stayed true to his causes, making it quite clear that he’s about partnering with brands he believes in. Can you imagine over the years the amount of cash he’s turned down by not riding for energy drinks? That’s easily a mill a year, right there, Stab would guess.
“Well... I'm not sure what those energy drinks might've paid because I didn't entertain it,” Kelly asserts. “Maybe it was something, but not worth it.”
2014 did become the year Kelly aligned with an energy drink. But, it was on his own terms: With partner Pat Tenore and Dr Chris Schaumburg, Kelly waged war on GMO and sugar via new sip, Purps. Surfing is becoming more and more health focused, and with Pat Tenore at the helm of Purps, you just know this will be a huge company.
“I helped formulate and launch this brand with Dr. Purps (Dr. Chris Schaumburg) and Pat Tenore to combat the influx of overly sugared and highly caffeinated drinks in the market,” Kelly said earlier this year. “Purps is formulated from water, coconut water and our organic Purple Life Formula (Mangosteen, Maqui Berry, Aćai, Blueberry, Grape, and Blackberry) and sweetened with organic evaporated cane sugar. It comes in three formulas, Hydro, Fuel and Vita. The Hydro has only 2g of sugar whereas comparable drinks generally have somewhere between 28-32g of sugar.”
Owning a company isn’t an easy thing to do. But, Kelly’s tackling it in the same way he’s tackled all things in life: Like a boss. There are ways to make noise. There are online petitions, there’s picketed protests or there’s even the lowest common denominator of whining on social media, which means nothing. Kelly believes in none of those. Using his influence and his contacts, he is creating change from the ground floor. And, we’re big fans.