Pat O’Connell Reveals His Favorite and Least Favorite Parts of Working for the WSL
Plus, a brief overview of his new role at Florence Marine X.
Pat O’Connell left his long-time employer Hurley in February of 2019 to become the WSL’s new Event Commissioner (or in official terms, “Senior Vice President of Tours and Head of Competitions”).
Roughly two years later, O’Connell decided to leave the WSL to “follow other opportunities”. Those opportunities came in the form of leading a new, Hurley-(the family, not the company)-backed surf brand with significant growth potential: Florence Marine X.
Just four days ago, it was announced that O’Connell would be the president of the outerwear brand founded by John Florence and Bob Hurley.
Wanting to know how this all happened, and what it meant for FMX moving forward, we hit Pat with a few questions via email.
Stab: The people want to know: why did you leave the WSL? Or were you ousted?
Pat O’Connell: The decision was entirely mine to leave. I consulted with Erik long before my departure, back in September. It wasn’t an easy decision — I love our sport and I wholeheartedly support what the WSL are trying to do. Ultimately I just felt like there were other opportunities that I wanted to explore.
Did you already have the President role locked up before you left the WSL, or did it happen after you left?
Not at first. As mentioned, the conversations with Erik about me leaving the WSL started in September before I had solidified this new role. I have a really close relationship with the Hurley family and we speak daily/weekly, so once I made the decision to leave it kickstarted what felt like a natural transition towards this new role.
What was your favorite and least favorite thing about working for the WSL?
Favorite thing: The people. For all the crap they get, there are a group of really passionate people who have been working on surfing for a long time. Renato Hickel is one of the best people in the world and has quietly gone about his job for years. I’ll miss speaking with him and other passionate, talented people like him everyday.
Least Favorite: Driving to Santa Monica from my zone down south was bananas. That, and every time I paddled out I’d get the question, “Is it #on?” – Ugh… not sure how KP handled it. Hahaha.
What was your greatest achievement with the WSL? Your greatest failure?
Time will tell. You know, we set some things in motion during my time there that are still seeing their way to fruition. We made some great strides on the operations side of the tours, and I’m also really proud of the focus we placed on regionalizing the QS. It was insane to think that up-and-coming surfers would have to spend money on flights, accommodations, cars, etc. before they actually make a paycheck. Travis and I started this transformation before the pandemic — he noticed that QS surfers weren’t getting the money to travel anymore and we’d need to make changes to ensure the best talent was coming through and getting their seat at the table. But as I said, that transformation is still in progress.
Now, Florence Marine X. Is it just a new age Hurley? Or what type of brand are you creating?
With Florence, our mission statement is: We want to explore, have fun, learn, and challenge ourselves. We’re building things that motivate us to get outside and thrive in the elements, while doing our best to protect the ocean and the land. That was written by John himself and boils this whole brand and what we’re trying to do down to its essence. We’re focused on making great products to help people get outside and not just endure the elements but thrive in them. John’s the ultimate test pilot and we’ve assembled a pretty amazing crew of individuals who have also built their life around the ocean. It allows us to have a fast, expert loop of feedback that results in performance-oriented, durable gear that’ll help you do the things you love. We have a great opportunity to do things differently, and between John and the crew we’ve got, we feel like the sky’s the limit.
What are you currently working on as President?
A little bit of everything, and I’m having a blast learning so much. Right now, we’re really focused on product, our release date, distribution, and a few other things you’ll hear about very soon. We’re a small group, so everyone is wearing a few hats and it’s just so much fun. John’s been in quarantine in Oz and so we’ve been getting through some great product discussions and some other big ideas.
Are you getting some equity in the company? Or is it owned outright by John and Bob?
When can people expect to see some product for sale?
Soon. We’ll be live in the coming month or so. The pandemic has delayed some things but thankfully we’re making our way out of that and gear will be available in the near future.
John Florence is the best surfer in the world, but we know that that’s not necessarily enough to make a company successful. So what’s your strategy to bring FMX to the moon?
Haha, the moon huh? Anything is possible I suppose. Honestly, if we were holding out hope that John’s heat wins and competitive accomplishments were going to be the driving force behind this brand I’d say we were tripping. Florence will be built more on the ambition to get out there and explore. This is a driving force in why John wants to do this, and a really important one to pause on. We have no desire to be only a surf brand trying to cash in on John’s credentials — we think the idea of building products and a brand that can help people get out there and explore, particularly in and around water is a much bigger proposition and we couldn’t be more excited for the future.
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