Harrison Roach Just Scored His Dream Job
How to pro surfer gracefully.
There inevitably comes a time in the thinking professional surfer’s career when they start to weigh up milking it for a few more years with the likelihood of a career after surf.
The smart ones, no matter how talented they might be with feet on wax, always have half an ear out for future opportunities, and Harrison Roach is one of the smart ones. The talented Sunshine Coast long/short/everything-boarder has recently penned a deal with emerging US adventure/surf brand Roark, which will see Harry surfing and establishing the brand in Australia for, well, that depends on how well it all goes.
Frosty surf exploration’s all beer and skittles when the sun shines.
Harrison’s just returned to the Sunshine Coast from his first brand duties in Alaska when I chat to him, and he’s clearly buzzing. He only dotted the ‘i’s’ on his deal at the beginning of November, and before he had much time to think about it he was in Alaska. Harrison’s been following a fairly regimented travel schedule for the previous few years (albeit a rather pleasant one Oz, Cali, Indo…) and jumped at the chance to go somewhere different for what, he assumed, was one of Roark’s signature, multi-disciplined expeditions. Harry thought he’d get to surf ‘a few times’ but kept his expectations low, so it was a welcome surprise to discover that it was a dedicated surf trip, with cold-water specialist Chris Burkhard leading the expedition. Supposedly the boys “absolutely scored.” And this is coming from a man who’s sampled some of the most perfect Indonesian waves seen in recent years.
Is Alaska a legit surf destination? Harrison says yes (bearing in mind these shots are very much the b-roll).
“I couldn’t think of a better way to start working for a brand,” says a clearly enthused Harrison. “It was definitely one of the best trips I’ve ever been on, I can’t get over how legit Alaska is as a surf destination.” The travel element is one of the primary reasons Harrison says he was so keen to get involved with the brand. Roark approaches retail from the J Peterman angle, with their releases centred around epic journeys to out of the way, often frosty locales. It’s narrative-heavy, quality gear, and Harrison explains that the trip further reinforced the gut feels that he was onto a good thing.
‘It felt totally uncontrived,’ Harrison says of the trip. “I think all professional surfers have felt like glorified models at times, but this trip just felt like we were just travelling on our own, with the camera guys documenting what was going on rather than setting things up. It’s also testament to the guys Roark hire, like Chris (Burkhart) and Ben (Weiland).”
Gear fit to withstand the elements, and one of the factors that got Harry’s signature on the dotted line.
Harrison says that the Roark narrative is another thing that drew him to the brand. Men’s clothing’s tough. Most of us dress conservatively in cut, colour and material, and outdoor gear is particularly monotonous. So for anyone to invest in you or your brand, the threads need to be high quality and have a story. Harrison tells me that wearing the clobber in the harsh Alaskan elements assured him that he can peddle the garments with a clear conscious. And he says that the storytelling behind the brand was on show during their trip, spearheaded by Roark founder Ryan Hitzel. “He’s just a super intelligent, literary guy,” Harrison tells me. “He always had a book in hand, and you could tell that was the direction he always had in mind for Roark.”
Whilst his first duties with Roark were in a regular surfing capacity, Harrison’s second phase is going to be somewhat different. As well as signing on as an ambassador, Harrison is also charged with helping launch Roark in Australia, working with distribution company MLTI. “The only thing I was apprehensive about was getting to my early 30s, getting dropped by my sponsor and having no career because I’ve spent my whole 20s cruising around and going surfing,” Harrison says when I ask him whether he’s anxious about the new, more regular side of his gig. “I’m not going to be happy starting a surf school and pushing backpackers into waves, so I’m just excited that there’s an opportunity with a company that I believe in.” Harry goes on to tell me that this is the sort of role he’s been searching for for some time, and that he’s confident that Australian audiences will take to the brand, despite their plans to start small.
Not your regulation team bonding exercise; Harrison cosies up to Roark stablemates Parker Coffin and Nate Zoller.
“We just want to get involved in regional areas and core stores, get it going from grassroots and not force the issue,” Harrison says. “Australians are pretty outdoor focussed,” before adding, “And the coolest thing about Roark is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” highlighting a key issue for an American brand trying to endear itself to our unique national character. Speaking of which, seeing as he’s perhaps most famous as a longboarder (but genuinely one of the most refined surfers across varied crafts we’ve got) I’m curious to ask where Harrison thinks Australian surfing’s at. He enthusiastically tells me that he reckons it’s “as good, if not better,” than ever. “People are much more open to design, and that’s the most exciting thing for me,” he says. “Shortboarding’s still the pinnacle, but it’s nice not to get called a ‘retro kook’ when you’re walking down the beach with a fish. Surfing’s a sport, but it’s also so much more than that. Aussies definitely get that.”
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