Stab Magazine | Mass Layoffs At Hurley As Woes Continue In Costa Mesa

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Mass Layoffs At Hurley As Woes Continue In Costa Mesa

60-plus employees get their walking papers.

news // Jan 18, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The surf industry continues to wallow in its death throes as the ax just came down at Hurley. At the end of the year it was learned that almost all of the brand’s sponsored athletes were getting their contracts clipped, and now the other shoe has dropped as an estimated 60-plus Hurley employees at the Costa Mesa headquarters were handed their walking papers yesterday. 

Employees were reportedly called into a meeting where they were told their positions were being terminated. Marketing, creative and digital teams were among the hardest hit departments.

“I’ve heard and read about some things going on at the company, but truly don’t know, simply because myself or my family are no longer with the brand,” Bob Hurley said in a statement to industry news site “If what I’m hearing now is true, it makes me really sad.”

It truly is a sad moment as there were a lot of passionate, talented, creative people working at Hurley who will now be looking or jobs in an industry where they’re harder and harder to find. 

Founded by Bob Hurley in 1998/99, three years into operation Hurley International was acquired by Nike for an estimated $100 to $140 million (when the surf industry was booming and flush with cash).

Somewhere in the early aughts Nike also launched the short-lived action sports brand Nike 6.0. They spent a ton of money, flared up the U.S. Open of Surfing and for a moment it looked like the Swoosh was going to pull it off. After much internal debate at the executive level, in 2012 Nike decided to get more focused. They folded Nike 6.0 and put all their eggs in one basket with Hurley.  

That same year Bob was brought back on as CEO. He staffed up with what became known as “Bob’s boys” — established, good-natured industry vets like Pat O’Connell and Evan Slater. The company enjoyed a resurgence of stoke and creativity, but in 2015 Bob was replaced by a series of new CEOs. Rumors of Nike looking to sell Hurley began to swirl not long afterwards.

Key personnel like Pat and Evan hung around for awhile, but by early 2019 the writing must have been on the wall as they both jumped ship within a month of one another to pursue other opportunities (Evan at Billabong and Pat at the WSL). In October 2019 it was announced that Bluestar Alliance had purchased Hurley from Nike for an undisclosed amount.

“This is a transformative acquisition for Bluestar as Hurley’s international footprint will enhance Bluestar’s reach around the world,” stated Joey Gabbay, CEO of Bluestar Alliance. “We look forward to building upon the existing Hurley network and expanding to additional countries with the deep relationships that already exist within the Bluestar portfolio of brands.”

Don’t be fooled by the CEO speak. Bluestar is a New York-based licensing company, they have absolutely no footprints in the sand, and clearly, don’t much care about the impact they’re having on the core surf community as they’ve already canned longtime surf team members like Rob Machado and rising stars like Eli Hanneman, and just now gave dozens of employees their walking papers (reportedly with a severance package).

According to industry insiders, the business model that Bluestar is adopting is very similar to what we’ve seen with companies like Body Glove, Ocean Pacific and Gotcha. Which is not a good thing. It’s about mass distribution, not appealing to actual surfers. They’ll forsake the core to get 3rd-party licensed products in as many doors as possible. 

“Yes, this is the exact same model as Body Glove. It is where brands go to die. Hurley could be the next Target brand to replace Mossimo,” said one well-placed executive who asked to remain nameless. “We’ve seen this before with some of surfing’s biggest brands, the licensing game in surfing is an absolute killer.”

Ironically, the actual sport and pastime of surfing is on the up and up. There are more surfers in the water today than ever and the sport is proliferating into new regions at a relentless pace. The Olympics are only a few short months away, which for better or worse, will garner unprecedented exposure for the sport. 

Surfing’s hardly dying, but the business of surf is because of a potent blend of flawed licensing models, corporate greed and mismanagement by the same swinging dicks that inextricably keep making the same bad decisions. Then once surf brands are run by people in boardrooms and not on the beach the end can’t be too far off.

There is no such thing as “to big to fail in surfing.” Surf brands continue to thrive when they’re small, in tune with the community and directly appeal to the dedicated core. Gotcha and OP were both giants of their respective eras that reached atmospheric heights before their long, slow declines into irrelevance and eventual death.

As outside corporations come into the surf space they would be well advised to keep in mind that abandoning surfers and the creative work force that prop them up is no way to run a surf company.


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