Stab Magazine | Nike To Make Their Way Back Into Surf
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Nike To Make Their Way Back Into Surf

But, it’s gonna be different this time.

news // Sep 15, 2020
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the surf industry, cultural relevance and mainstream acceptance can take a decade, sometimes more. A stacked cheque book sometimes works as a business strategy, but when Nike entered the surf space with its 6.0 brand back late in 2010, swinging big made an immediate impact. Their entry was far-reaching and calculated: Kolohe Andino, Julian Wilson, Kai Barger, Lakey Peterson, Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, and Laura Enever all joined the roster. Nike had Daddy’s credit card and surfing’s most promising young stars in their crosshairs. 

If there was ever a case study for money being a catalyst to credibility in surfing, this was it. They rented the best houses on the beach at Pipeline, filled each with a personal chef, engaged the best coaches, dedicated trainers, custom film crew, even surfers had minders — it seemed like everyone was on the take. They traveled on luxury boats in Indo, headlined major surf events, and created unlimited cafe tabs for their team along with their friends and family. 

The impact was widespread. And if you were a brand chasing big-name talent in those days, you had to compete with Nike-money, all of the perks, and their newly introduced million-dollar world title bonus.

For those lucky enough to have a swoosh dancing on the nose of their board, they got the rockstar treatment. Before Nike rolled into surf, surfers were exactly that. Within 12 months, Nike’s strict nomenclature of calling surfers “athletes” was omnipresent across every major surf brand.   

The party lasted two years. 

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Are big events back on the agenda? Photo: WSL

It was December 2012. The entire team was on the North Shore of Oahu for the winter season, and Stab had gotten word that Nike was departing surf. We immediately published the story that the Nike team was no more. The backlash we copped was widespread. Besides one or two surfers, the rest of the team learned the news from Stab that they would be leaving Nike and joining Hurley, a brand that Nike had purchased back in 2002. We reported at the time: “Does it all seem weird that the team can swap over so effortlessly and without legal red tape with managers? Not when you peel the layers back. Built into the contract of every Nike-complete surfer is the ability to be shifted from Nike to Hurley. Anything stated by a surfer’s Nike contract will now be honoured by Hurley. For Julian Wilson, two years into a five-year contract, it’s biz as usual. As well as Kolohe Andino who signed a 10-year contract last year.” 

Following this, Nike via Hurley doubled down on its decision to dominate surf and signed John Florence to create the most stacked team in the history of surfing.  

Late last year, Nike looked like it was done with surfing and sold Hurley to Bluestar Alliance, an investment firm with a clothing focus. Bluestar’s goal, as stated on its website, is to: “identify and purchase consumer brand companies where it can leverage the brand equity and expand its current categories to a broader consumer base.”

Which is a perfectly noble and just reason to be in business. But, to “leverage the brand equity” you need to first identify what that brand equity is costing you. Spoiler: the team roster was fat and it wasn’t gonna end well. It didn’t matter if you owned world titles or had been stacking WQS points—if you rode for Hurley, you soon realised #HurleyOhana was a hashtag and you were officially not a part of the “family.” Salary adjustments started at 50% and surfers like John Florence closed their contract with a kill fee to walk. 

Now, with Hurley no longer being owned by Nike, and almost eight years after Nike departed surf, they’re back in the game. 

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Julian just left Hurley, who was ditched by Nike earlier this year. Could this mean a happy reunion for Wilson and the swoosh? photo: WSL

While details are still opaque, we have seen imagery from the lookbook and hear Nike is already starting to find shelf space in heavy-duty surf retailers like Jacks and HSS. 

This time there’ll be no framing of the brand through a 6.0 lens but rather the straight-up swoosh. We’re unsure of whether the surf roster or contests are on the horizon, or whether it’s going to be looking to start the team roster once again.

A few years back, Adidas looked at the opportunity of moving into the surf. Full disclosure: We worked with Adidas on consulting and identifying pockets that might provide a break. After some slow thinking and careful consideration, their concern is that surfing culture is a delicate ecosystem and that you don’t want to buy your way in. 

Nike’s strategy this time round looks very different. Can it work?  

More to come.

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