Stab Magazine | The Surf Biz Is Nothing If Not Interesting
589 Views

The Surf Biz Is Nothing If Not Interesting

On the evolution of the big brand team roster.

news // Jan 6, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Bumping down the rutted dirt road out of San Jose Del Cabo, Dino Andino pulls off to check a little nook and cranny. Whitewater gurgles around a small reef outcropping.

“Archy and I scored right here one time,” he reminisces. 

A prepubescent Kolohe rolls his eyes in the backseat. He’s heard it before. An oversized Red Bull hat sits backwards on his head.

It’s 2009. The trip’s part of a Red Bull project with Andy Irons, Ian Walsh, and Kolohe. We were supposed to go to Barra, but the weather has other plans. Guided by the late, great Surfline founder, Sean Collins, we end up on the East Cape.

At this point in his young career, Kolohe’s facing the decision to resign with Billabong or jump ship to the newly formed Nike 6.0 surf team. Dino’s struggling with the issue: leave a core surf brand, or roll the dice and go mainstream.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/VfcgrO4KkSg

At the moment, Kolohe’s the next big thing in surfing, bigger than John John. It seems like the sky’s the limit, and with Nike looking to run surf ads during the NBA Finals, the upside for the little rascal could be huge. I tell him there’s potentially a huge upside to signing with the sportswear behemoth. It’s the kind of opportunity that could set him up for life.

“Surf marketing’s not fair,” laments Dino. “There are so many good surfers out there. But I guess you have to take advantage of the opportunities when you have them.”

But then, shit, life’s not fair. When it comes to inking contracts, it all comes down to who moves the needle, “it” factor, who directly influences brand interest, engagement, and ultimately, sales. Bruce moved the needle fronting Volcom. Kelly carried Quik. Andy’s Rising Sun trunks were a runaway smash hit for Bong. 

A lot’s changed since that trip to Cabo. For one, sadly, Andy and Sean left us way too early. Then the bottom fell out of the surf industry and it’s never fully come back. In 2017, the arms race to build the most badass, needle-moving surf team sort of feels like an antiquated idea. 

Or has that concept just morphed into something more millennial? A survey of the top surf brand’s current rosters would indicate that they’re putting as much emphasis on personality as they are success in a jersey.

Maybe people don’t necessarily identify themselves strictly as “surfers” anymore. Surfing is something they do, but they also go fishing, snowboarding, dosing acid at festivals, flaring up the Traeger Grill and all that other stuff that works its way into their Instagram and Snapchat feeds. So, when it comes to building a surf team, which is essentially just a marketing device, it makes sense for brands to cater to a wider array of sensibilities. 

But even the biggest companies have to watch what they spend. That’s hit the bottom feeders—the local pros, QS grinders and aspiring “free surfers”—the hardest.

“I couldn’t believe how many good surfers there were on the QS without stickers on their boards,” said a somewhat stunned Jake Marshall in a recent interview with Stab.

The big brands still have their prized racehorses. Hurley’s deeply financially invested in John John, who’s reportedly locked in through 2024. Thoroughbreds like Julian Wilson, Kolohe Andino and Filipe Toledo are right there with him. Gabriel Medina will be repping Rip Curl through 2021. Mick Fanning, Matty Wilkinson, Owen Wright, and Conner Coffin round out their tour offering. 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/R2hLKOgcCEE

After losing Kelly then Dane in the early twenty-tens, Quik’s retooled with a more international approach. Missing a World Champ from their men’s roster, Jeremy Flores, Zeke Lau, Kanoa Igarashi, Connor O’Leary and Leo Fioravanti still comprise a solid core of tour surfers. Meanwhile, Billabong’s sticking with Parko until he decides he’s had enough. Other than that, Italo Ferreira is their workhorse while Jack Freestone is off tour and in baby heaven on Kauai with Alana.

Then there are the “vibe guys” for consumers that can’t wrap their head around why competitive surfing is cool. RVCA owns this department. You can’t go wrong with a triad of Fletchers. Herb, Christian and Greyson bring roots and authenticity that’s probably impossible to find in any other three-generation combo. Al Knost, Bruce Irons, Dustin Barca, Curren Caples, Jay Davies, Luke Davis, they’re well stocked in the personality department. And with Kai Borg and the Sunset Beach Jujitsu connection, Pat Tenore and team are making surfing rad again. 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/205298489

This is also Volcom’s strength. Anchored by Noa Deane and Ryan Burch, ancillary players like Mitch Coleborn, Yago Dora and Balaram Stack add an extra little bit of spice to the anti-establishment enchilada. Rip Curl’s one-two combo of Mason Ho and Tom Curren is a well-played strategy blending irreverence and street cred. Bong’s got Creed McTaggart, Tyler Warren, and Donavon Frankenreiter. Quik’s got Mikey Wright. For Vans, the Gudauskas boys bring the stoke. Dane brings the spice, Joel Tudor and Nate Fletcher the salt and pepper.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/C1oN85LcRpI

The battle for the next generation’s hearts and minds hasn’t been an easy one. Bong hit the jackpot with Griffin Colapinto. There’s a lot of chatter out there right now about how well he’s going to do on tour—big things are in store for San Clemente’s next all-star—while Jack Robinson and the Moniz boys wait in the wings. Jesse Mendes and Michael February anchor Quik’s Young Gun squad. Given Hurley’s depth on the top-tier, they’re a bit light in this department, though Eli Hanneman might just be their next best investment since doubling down on double-John.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/KsaQ60XzOvU

Women’s surfing continues to be a conundrum. Does the savvy marketer go with the top-tier athlete or a young lady that dazzles in a two-piece? RVCA scored a coup d’etat signing Sage Erickson last year, a winner no matter how you slice it. Hurley’s reportedly working on holding onto Carissa Moore for the next seven years. Bong’s still all-in on Courtney Conlogue, Quik would be over the moon if Steph Gilmore won another title, and it would appear Rip Curl’s plenty satisfied with Tyler Wright’s recent run.

It’s a new year. Contracts will be signed, contracts will be terminated, surf marketing and building the ultimate surf team may not be fair, but it certainly is interesting.

Comments

Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up

Advertisement

Most Recent

2:17

Mick Fanning Samples California’s Finest Local Produce

Mayhem at Lowers.

Aug 16, 2022

7:11

What Happens When You Borrow A Pro’s Board?

Joyride: The Shrizz from PANDA surfboards.

Aug 16, 2022

Mountains Died So You Could Surf

The value of sand.

Aug 15, 2022

9:12

UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island

Returning to the best & sharkiest air wave in the world, as seen in Mod…

Aug 14, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Female) Surfers

What the Stab reader survey teaches us about taste.

Aug 14, 2022

2:14

Kelly and Local Gal to Win Teahupo’o?

Local insights and a firing forecast.

Aug 13, 2022

These Are Your Favorite (Male) Surfers

Insights from the 2022 Stab Reader survey.

Aug 13, 2022

16:04

Fear And Loathing in Mainland Mex

Parker Coffin, Harry Roach, and the Roark crew embark on an authentic Oaxacan (surf) trip.

Aug 13, 2022

Tahiti Preview: The End Of The Road For 72% Of The CT

And hello there, blob of swell.

Aug 12, 2022

3:24

While Everyone Flocked To Tahiti, Kelly Stayed in Jbay

...And proceeded to rip the hell out of it on a "borrowed" 5-finned Tomo.

Aug 11, 2022

1:38

Can A GQ Cover Boy Take Out Teahupo’o?

Kauli Vaast is your incredibly handsome Tahiti trials winner.

Aug 11, 2022

Watch: Ramble On With Caity Simmers 

An action-rich tour behind the scenes of her triumphant first voyage to Oz.

Aug 11, 2022

PSA: Surf Filmers Not Welcome In Nicaragua

Cameras and drones are being seized on arrival, Stab spoke with two recent visitors.

Aug 11, 2022

Inside The Alternative Surfboard Marketing Machine 

Two of the biz's best — Matt Parker and Blake Peters — spill many beans.

Aug 10, 2022

The Tragic Parallels Between The Murder Of Ricardo Dos Santos & 8x World Jiu Jitsu Champion Leandro Lo

Two Brazilian sporting icons killed brazenly by off-duty police officers.

Aug 9, 2022

The Pick-Up, Vans US Open: In The Belly Of The Beast

Finger flips, shaping with Zion Wright, slurpees, Hawaiian takeovers, and the king of Surfline rewinds.

Aug 8, 2022

Albee Layer Discusses His Not-So-Budding Acting Career And The Upcoming Film “Sweet Adventure”

"Matt and Nora were tripping a little harder than I was just because they weren't…

Aug 8, 2022

Zeke Lau & Bettylou Sakura Johnson Win The Vans US Open Of Surfing 

Hawaii dominates HB.

Aug 8, 2022
Advertisement