Marketing Tactics: How To Sell A Soft Top - Stab Mag
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How To Sell A Soft Top

The limp marketing tactics of soft decks.

Words by Jack Mutschler

Everyone and their mother sells soft top surfboards. Can you blame them? A little extra cash from selling a board that has limited performance expectations? That’s a hard offer to pass up on.

The idea of mass-producing cushy decks is nauseating. They’re disposable surfboards with an average life span of a few years; A complete contradiction to the eco-friendly memos professional surfers preach from their Instagram bios.

For many of us, our hatred for those floating yoga mats dissolves as soon as we get one underneath our bellies. They make paddling effortless, and there’s no pointy nose to gouge my eyeballs out. “This thing ain’t the devil,” we think as our fins smooch the sand of hazardous shorebreak.

Hate ’em or love ’em, soft slops are here to stay. What was once a forbidden concept has blossomed into a fully functioning market—one that has no problem sweeping novice surfers into their target demographic. They are board brands that thrive with or without support from core surfers.

Today, countless companies compete in the fun-based business, with new ones sprouting up daily. It raises a puzzling question, “How are they selling all of these damn things?” Let’s put on our rash guards and break it down.

We’ll start with the real shameless player in the soft top world. Do me a favor and head on down to your local Costco. Walk through the door, grab a 32 oz. soda and hotdog, then keep moving. Pinball around from sample stand to sample stand—do you see your board yet? 

I’m talking, of course, about the mass-produced Wavestorm—an undeniable icon in the surf world. The Wavestorm marketing plan? They have none. With a board priced so low, they don’t need a complex retail strategy. 

They’re not selling boards to culturally astute surfers; they’re pawning off oversized esky lids to people who want to buy Gushers in bulk. “Only $100? Maybe I’ll learn to surf this weekend!” the consumer thinks as they walk away, wrangling their new stick and wiping hotdog grease on their shorts.

Wavestorm doesn’t need team riders, and they don’t have to advertise their product (in fact, other people do that for them…for free). The price tag speaks for itself. Do you want to surf? Here’s your cheapest option. 

The most hilarious mistake (or amazing play) Costco made was throwing a name like Gerry Lopez in the mix. Not sure what they were smoking during that meeting, but put me down for an eighth.

As we move up the totem pole, you’ll see less cringey soft-tops. I’ll use Softech for this example. Softech gives more attention to detail when it comes to performance (for instance, they have a functional rail). They also have an active marketing plan—it’s not a strong one, but it exists. 

Softech has boards for team riders such as Mason ho, Eric Geiselman, and Filipe Toledo. Notice anything similar about these three surfers? They’re all good-natured (and they rip). 

While normal shortboards focus on the aspect of performance, soft tops target fun. Softech didn’t pick their amicable team on accident; they recognized three talented surfers synonymous with a contagious grin and lassoed them onto the product. 

A slick concept, but the execution isn’t there. I can’t think of any Softech promo vids I’ve seen (they exist but don’t ring any bells). I honestly forget sometimes that they have team riders. There is no point in having a lively task force if no one can see it.

As we climb the ladder of cushioned consciousness, we find Catch Surf. These fellas know what the fuck they’re doing. Selling boards in a local shop is one feat, but the jazzed-up crew at Catch Surf doesn’t leave any money on the table; not a fucking dime.

On top of holding extensive inventory in your local shop, they have their own brick-and-mortar stores set up in Malibu, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, and Encinitas. The shops are exclusively loaded with Catch Surfboards and apparel, in some of California’s most wealthy beach towns. They produce plenty of product, and it doesn’t sit on shelves too long.

Like Softech, Catch Surf has an organized crew of endorphin-crazed surf rats. The only difference is they execute the marketing side of the mission. Their team posts on social media platforms constantly. Kalani Robb, Tyler Stanaland, and Johnny Redmond are never not rubbing CBD on their fins, and Raw Beefs hasn’t missed a clip since 2014. Also, they have Pipe veteran JOB packing bombs on a hot pink log and Blair Conklin doing floaters over Mason Ho at the Wedge. 

The Catch Surf crew has fun, and they make sure the world knows it. Their inviting Youtube presence has helped them connect with kids of all ages, which inevitably generates sales. The team is vlog heavy, constantly smiling, and severely talented. Good surfing and consistent media output have fueled this legion of soft decked warriors.

At the top of the squishy totem pole, you’ll find a company called Drag. Drag is an Australian board manufacturer that is a bit of late arrival to the party. Their team riders include Chippa Wilson, Craig Anderson, Harry Bryant, and more. 

While they don’t have Catch Surf’s commercial success (yet), they do have one thing that money can’t buy: they’re fucking cool.

Like Wavestorm, Drag doesn’t seem to have a marketing plan. Sure they make the RIP films, but they don’t rely on social media algorithms or clickbait to promote the product. Having the best free surfers in Australia get horizontal on foam contraptions is an advertisement enough. Plus, a Vans collab never hurts.

Drag’s commitment to the “I don’t know, fuck it” mentality connects well with younger generations. So much so that my 22-year-old self hesitated with the Speed McDraggit board in my cart for a few minutes. I typically don’t mind throwing money towards my favorite surfers, but the US shipping cost kept my finger off the trigger.

Those sick cunce at Drag understand (or maybe they don’t) that the best way to market towards cool surf teens is to not; make something cool and let them connect with the brand independently. The best products can sell themselves, as long as they are precise with their public perception.

There are many proven routes for those looking to sell soft top surfboards. You can look the other way and hope the cool kids follow, you can target the masses on YouTube, and you can even do nothing but lower the price tag. Please, for the love of the few things left that are holy, leave Gerry Lopez out of the equation.

Pick up the foam baby; the world’s gone soft. Break out your wallet, leave the wax at home, and knee-board the next set wave. We could all use a soft top-induced nipple rash.

One from the archives, guilty as charged. Hot dog combo and all. Photo by Mum.

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