Surf Gear Shakedown
There's no doubt that the surf world is not what it was in the early 2000s. Several cycles, trends and one big recession later, things in the industry are different. The good news is that none of this effects what's really important -- you can still go surfing and have as much fun as you ever did. For better or worse, there are a few "drivers" in the industry. Some of them have freed us up to surf any craft we choose. Others are dictating what we wear and who we follow on Instagram. Some of it's real, some of it's superficial. But if you're a consumer, here's what you can expect to see around the beach this spring and summer.
JJF isn't for sale. Sorry. We don't need marketing departments to tell us that John John Florence is the ultimate triple threat of air, power, and tube riding. But as far as products go, the industry is associating all the latest big things with Florence. Hurley has him in the Fusion wetsuit. He has his own dope signature fins with Future. Spy has been using him to sell shades like the Yonkers, Haight, and Helm for almost ten years. And he's still the surf and skate poster boy for Vans, who could sell checkered flips flops to an Eskimo.
Surfboards are colorful
Did you ever think you'd see the day? It wasn't long ago that you'd see nothing but racks and racks of pearly white shorboards. Maybe there would be some smattering of paint, but for the most part, they were white. Sprays were used on longboards and resin tints were reserved for retro fish. But the artistic canvas is back on shortboards and grovelers, as we see pigment in the glass of boards across the whole spectrum. Color is fun.
Well, not exactly square, but after six decades of curves with a pointy nose, most of the surfboard companies now have at least one model that looks like a wakeboard. You can thank Daniel Thomas, aka Tomo Surfboards for this. His shapes have been a living revolution. The 29-year-old surfer/shaper who lives between San Diego and Lennox Head, Aust., has made an impression on the entire surf industry. Versions of his "twin tips," hydrofoils, and planing hulls can now be found in most 2014 lines including stand-up paddle boards.
A few decades ago, a surf shop sold boards, baggies, wax, wetsuits, and t-shirts. Hard to believe there was a time that surfers wore fishing hats, Lee jeans, or basketball sneakers. But at some point in the '80s, the surf industry realized that they could outfit a surfer from head to toe. Reef developed surf-specific sandals. Rip Curl offered a warm wetsuit and an equally warm jacket for after your session. Skate shoes became big business. You can get a scarf from Brixton or Roxy. Quiksilver makes underwear. Got a wedding coming up? Buy a suit from Volcom. Every single thing you wear, both sexes, is now made by a surf/skate company. But no one had thought of one thing we all wear. Then a few years ago, this company called Stance comes along making cool socks, marketing them directly at action sports kids. It was the last frontier; head to toe. And this year, your favorite company has socks -- argyle, stripes, prints, anchors, you name it, they got it.
Not simply a collaboration; this year you'll see some of your favorites from outside the surf and skate world making their way onto surf and skate products. Quiksilver did it with NFL trunks and slaps. Volcom sang along with Yo Gaba Gaba for the kids. Star Wars is a big one in 2014. Both Vans and Santa Cruz will be harnessing the Force this year.
Life is better in ...
Billabong made headlines in Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Finance last year. We've heard it all by now, about how 'Bong is bankrupt, sold off Nixon, the stock is worthless, and all that. It's only a matter of time until ... Well, Billabong is still around. They're still doing business. They're still getting PX1 Sonar Boardshorts out to shops. They're still sponsoring three events on the World Tour this year. Joel Parkinson just signed a new multi-year contract. Occy, Ian Gentile, and Pete Mendia still have jobs too. Too big to fail? ... at least for one more year.
They say, "Out of death comes life." A certain head of Billabong's US Operations who is famously known for notching his bedpost for every barrel he got on corporate trips to exclusive surf paradise, abandoned ship to start a new surf company called Vissla. With years of experience and some of most creative marketers, talented young surfers, and wily sales names in the industry, Vissla will essentially be three companies -- one apparel, one juniors apparel, and one eyewear. This is the first move like this since Bob Hurley founded his namesake brand in 1999.
Like it or not, stand-up paddle is here to stay and growing. Most surfers have tried one at this point, and admit that they're fun for playing on small days or messing around on flat water. I personally like the idea of having specific beaches where they can congregate. Segregation should not be based on the color of your skin, but whether or not you have a paddle. And it is a huge market right now - with specialized performance boards as short as 7'6, teched out 14-foot open water race boards, giant slobs for newbie tourists and everything in between. The good news is that the performance boards are getting so short that there won't be any wave-catching advantage soon enough even with a paddle.