Stab Magazine | A Bad Sponsor Might Spell The End
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A Bad Sponsor Might Spell The End

“Come here son, come sign your last contract.”

style // Oct 21, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There comes a time in the lives of most pro surfers when their contract is not renewed, and they’re relegated to shopping themselves around.

And there comes a time in the lives of most surf brands when their street cred ain’t what it used to be and they’re resigned to sign C-list talent.

When said pro surfer inks a deal with said surf brand, more often than not it’s a relationship of diminishing returns.

For purposes of illustration, let’s look at the arc of Keanu Asing’s sponsorship arrangements over the years. As a shit-hot kid at Kewalos, Billabong picked him up early. They saw the potential. He was a Hot 100 grom winning Pro Juniors. He was going places. Then he got lost on the QS and they gave up on him, because after all what value do you bring to the table if you’re not winning?

https://player.vimeo.com/video/22227550

Then, perhaps, a bit unexpectedly, Keanu fought his way on tour. He’s always been capable of punching above his weight class. Remember the mantra: “Heart over height.”

The moto/lifestyle brand Fox picked him up. In a brief flurry, they also picked up Bede Durbidge, Bruce Irons, Ian Walsh, Chippa Wilson and Caroline Marks. For a moment, before the company hired a CEO from Boston, they seemed like they may have dialed in some odd chemistry.

Like a lot of poorly managed action sports brands, as sales slumped at Fox and the CEO leveraged his “vision,” the brand was forced to start offloading excess inventory at big-box retailers. Obviously, it’s hard to be core when you’re shit is on the rack at Marshalls or some other discount retailer.

The Fox surf program was shuttered. Keanu lost the sticker on the nose of his board, and while he’s still got the support of Local Motion, he has yet to be able to recover that vital revenue stream—even after his herculean effort to get back in tour.

Bede didn’t fare much better. He was also a Billabong acolyte in his early years on tour. At one point he stood shoulder to shoulder with Parko, Andy and Taj in two-page spread ads in the mag. Then he got clipped. Then he rode for Matix for awhile. Then Matix died. Then came Fox. About the time Fox cut its surfers, Bede retired from the tour. Now he’s a boss with Surfing Australia, but nonetheless, lacks a big-name sponsor.

Bruce, Ian and Chippa faired a bit better. Bruce had a rebirth with RVCA a couple winters back. We’d love to see more of him. Ian landed with Patagonia and Chippa’s with Brixton. Caroline was on her way up at the time and was never going to stay with Fox long. She’s with Roxy and Red Bull now. All of them successfully upgraded their arraignments.

http://vimeo.com/153856202

Another example is all those Maui kids like Granger Larsen and Clay Marzo. Granger was a Bong kid, Clay was with Quik. Both were dropped towards the end of their early twenties. They dabbled with lower tier sponsors—Granger signed with Airwalk, Clay with Carve. Currently, Granger is unsponsored and Clay’s rocking the logo of a CBD company on his beak.

This whole subject came up recently in a Stab editorial meeting after we noticed all of the stickers on Sally Fitzgibbons’ board. She was a marquee Roxy and Red Bull girl when she was younger, now she’s got Almond Breeze and Burt’s Bees on all her boards. For Sally, who’s a fitness freak, it’s probably by design, but it was still an odd turn when she signed that deal with Piping Hot.

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All we can say is, it ain’t the end for Wade’s World.

Speaking of Piping Hot, lest we forget Wade Carmichael. Ol’ Wade has overachieved like nobody else on tour this year. He’s a Piping Hot guy…and he’s sitting seventh in the world right now. But will he ever be able to upgrade and get the support of an A-plus brand that can help foster his talent even more? He seems ripe for a deal with a brand like Patagonia, but is the stank of Piping Hot too hard to wash off? Time will tell.

Surfing has been and continues to be governed by the rules and illusions of adolescent high school boys. Only the cool kids wear the cool clothes, everyone else is just a kook. And in not-so-subtle ways, that concept continues to dictate who’s got what sticker on the front of their board.

Airwalk, Fox, Piping Hot, Mambo, Julbo, Carve. What other brands will give your surf career the kiss of death?

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