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Hurley Turns 25: Back to Handshakes, with Brett Simpson

Huntington’s finest.

style // Apr 4, 2010
Words by Alistair Klinkenberg
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Still-standing surf brands have inevitably had to adapt to survive.

Often adaption turns to permanent mutation, and what your left with is some cursed Elephant Man of a brand not fit for much. However, it’s not a golden rule. And whilst Hurley might’t be able to recreate the halcyon days of surfing that saw it crash onto an already bursting scene, revolutionise the surf market, then get kissed in the dick by Nike. They can re-establish themselves as a core surf/action sports brand that makes technically-innovative products to enhance our favourite leisure experience. 

One person who knows there’s nothing a firm handshakes and high-quality product can’t fix is Brett Simpson. Former world tour (#TOURNOTES!) darling, two time US Open Winner-turned Hurley North American Marketing Director Brett Simpson. 

He’s also someone who’s been rocking a )( on the beak of his craft since he was 19 years old. Seeing the brand grow, quite literally, from the sand. Quite literally the perfect guide to reflect on twenty five years of brand.

“Obviously the transition from pro surfer to this took a sec, but it’s been pretty fun just to be able to work with everyone I do,” Brett explains when we connect, from – where else? – Huntington Beach. 

“Our parent agency is in New York, then there’s still a core group of guys and girls in Costa Mesa that have been around a long time and still have a very good vision of the brand.”

Queen Riss is undeniably one of Hurley’s enduring Crown Jewels.

Most think Hurley and jump straight to the Phantom years of Hurley dominating the world tour. But interestingly, Brett explains that when he was on the up and up in the competitive surfing world and looking for potential backers, he worried that Hurley might be a little too counter culture and not enough stretching before heats for him.

“Hurley came into the surf world from a totally different angle from your Quicksilver and Rip Curls at the time,” Brett explains. “I was so invested in surf it felt like they were almost going a different route. But, I think that part really helped the brand evolve into where they wanted to go as well. The way they grew was different than most, but also with connections to the artists, and great people around the music industry, that worked inside the brand.”

The team was left of centre – Rob Machado, Timmy Curren, Yadin Nicol, Joel Centeio, and the bands and artists – Blink 182 and Craig Stecyk, to pluck two of the most influential – were instrumental in generating the mutual groundswell that propelled the broader Hurley scene to the forefront of popular culture in the western world. 

The dock standing start, the tune, young Dan = surf cinema collectors item.

Another key cog in this emerging industrial powerhouse was Taylor Steele, the surf cinema savant whose social group would go on to dominate the commercial surfing world. 

“Those videos were the first time you saw Hurley on a board,” Brett says. “The Show, Hit and Run etc Taylor’s films made me think, ‘Wow this brand’s growing super fast.’ They had a core group of cool guys, great connections and it just kept spiralling though Australia and Europe. Art and music was always a core part of it – but then the performance realm became a big part of  growing the product.”

Huntington Beach’s influence on the broader surfing world is undeniable. But when it comes to Brett Simpson, and Hurley, and Brett Simpson and Hurley collectively, mentioning Huntington’s unavoidable.

“Gosh, it’s like this little Mecca,” Brett says after pausing for a moment. “You have two of the biggest surf shops in the world on the corner, you’ve got the pier, then when the US Open’s on it’s just a spectacle. You’ve got 1000s of people around. If the industry isn’t thriving here, it’s not thriving anywhere. It’s where a lot of the brains are and a lot of what’s happening next comes from.”

Brett riding high on his best day ever (first time around).

It’s also where Brett grew up surfing – hiking in from the big(ger) smoke inland – and has lived for 20-odd years. And, the site of his most famous victory: the 2009 U.S Open of Surfing (sponsored by Hurley for good measure). Which he celebrated by winning it again the year after. Just for the record: that’s the most monied event in surfing history (US$100,000) which Brett won back to back. Whilst sleeping in his own bed and walking to work. 

“The second year I was just trying to prove that it wasn’t a fluke,” Brett says, earnest as ever. 

“It was kind of similar,” he continues. “I was having these Deja Vu moments where I’d be waxing my board, or just weird stuff was happening and I was just trying not to throw myself off and say, ‘hey it’s happening again!’”

Brett Simpson stuck in Groundhog-Day perjury destined to repeat his US Open winning day is a movie we’d pay good money to see.

We transition seamlessly from reminiscing on the industry glory years to the Hurley’s 25th anniversary of existence. Which features a few justifiably recycled graphics that Brett remembers from the first time around, set to be dropped periodically throughout the year. 

Scotty Stopnik – handsome as sin and on )( since forever…

Highlights include all the pieces with the hand drawn logo and the star, the Phantom Eco block party trunks (18 inches!) and (best-gift-ever) fitted socks

“We’re trying to throw a little 25th out at the wave pool in Palm Springs,’ Brett says. “Then maybe something more towards the US Open in early August this year, because the Olympics are the end of July. It just popped up and we’re kind of reacting as we go, but we’re trying to get everyone together and put out some fun throwbacks for the milestone.”

In a time when it’s genuinely impossible to tell whether people’s LinkedIn personas are entirely AI (who taught y’all to write like that?), it’s refreshing to talk to a brand person who says what they feel and feels what they say. 

“My boss always tells me, ‘Man I’ve never had someone butt heads so hard,’” Brett explains. “But I’m just passionate about what I do and who I’m working with. Business is one thing, but relationships matter. And they’re very family-centric owners; they get it. It’s been fun journey for me in this part of my life.”

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