Blazing Trails: The women’s category leads surf marketing into a new frontier.

The exploding popularity and hype surrounding women’s surfing has opened up marketing avenues in ways that were unattainable, or even unacceptable, just a few years ago. “Women read. Women analyze. Most men just look at the pictures, explains one (male) industry insider of the marked differences between male and female consumers. This contrast has posed a delicious challenge for the sales and marketing departments of brands seeking to evolve their burgeoning women’s lines while maintaining the integrity of their men’s department.

As the women’s sector continues its exponential growth and verges on overtaking the men in sales volume, TransWorld SURF Business asked some of the industry’s leaders to reveal how and why they market their men’s and women’s lines differently, and how the emerging women’s sector will influence their overall marketing strategies in the future. Perhaps no one has a better perspective on the subject than Quiksilver Senior Vice President Randy Hild, who was instrumental in the formation of Quiksilver’s Roxy line. Hild says that although Quik and Roxy share the same basic mission statement—to grow the brand and protect the roots—the similarities end there.

“In terms of building the brand, there are extreme differences between Quiksilver and Roxy, says Hild. “The more focused they get independently, the stronger they become on their own. Early on, Quiksilver dedicated people just on the Roxy product. It funded its own team, its own contests, its own identity. It was clearly a different mindset.

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Billabong Girls Brand Manager Candy Harris also says Billabong’s strategies are different compared to the men’s lines—especially in print and broadstroke marketing: “Women’s marketing is more based on trends than brand loyalty. The women’s side is more fashion-driven, whereas the men’s is more about athletes and action shots. We have to incorporate more fashion into our {women’s} ads.

According to Hurley’s Lyndsey Roach, “The majority of our women’s marketing, with respect to advertising and event sponsorships, targets the masses. We keep the overall brand message consistent throughout the men’s and women’s marketing, but we’re more fashion-forward on the women’s side.

However, Harris, Hild, and others are quick to emphasize that as they venture into more mainstream markets with their women’s lines, their number-one priority remains the continuing growth of their core consumer base.

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The result can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship that strengthens the brand as a whole. “We share the same name with the men’s division, explains Harris, “and their ‘core presence helps our women’s line. On the other hand, our lifestyle approach can have a good effect on the men’s division.

A Hole In The Print?

One reason why brands have reached outside the ‘core surf industry to market their women’s lines is based on necessity—there are far fewer advertising venues for women’s lines in the ‘core arena, especially in print media. “We have a few big events like the Roxy Pro in Fiji, and we advertise in SG, but that’s about the only book to advertise in surf, says Hild. “There are all these other mainstream books like Teen People, Seventeen, and CosmoGIRL!, where I’m able to advertise my brand. I don’t have all the options the men’s brand has, like TransWorld SURF, Surfer, Surfing, The Surfer’s Journal. Within this huge group of magazines available to the core, there are just a few that cater to the women’s side of things. You almost have to go to the other books as well. The ‘core surf girl may read those, but the lifestyle girl, who may not be in the water every day but is influenced by surfing, she for sure is reading those mainstream girl books and sharing them with her friends.

The men are following suit. If the arrival of pseudo-surf lifestyle brands like Abercrombie & Fitch’s Hollister put the ‘core surf industry on the mainstrm marketing offensive, the emerging women’s market is making the transition easier. “We’re starting to see more men’s {‘core} advertising in Rolling Stone, Spin, Paper, Maxim, says O’Neill VP Of Marketing Garth Tarlow. “We did a Super Freak advertisement in FHM. It featured Cory Lopez doing a frontside air. It was all about a totally functioning boardshort, but now people are checking it out on a more worldwide basis.

The emergence of the women’s surf market and its mainstream focus has become one of the industry’s strongest and most effective avenues to validate its expansion into non-surf markets and has all but buried the “sellout stigma so prevalent in the past.

“Juniors’ brands have not been afraid to take advantage of the mainstream opportunities, states Harris. “It allows us to have more success in the future. The juniors’ market has been a good marketing testing ground, and so far we’ve been real successful. I think it makes the prospect for men to venture outside the ‘core market less frightening.

“Hollywood and the mainstream media have driven surfing into places it hasn’t touched before, adds Rip Curl USA Marketing Director Adam Sharp. “While some companies may not want to admit it, that is the next frontier. First and foremost we’re looking to maintain our core account base, but everyone is looking at new distribution points. We’re all trying to grow our business. For us, it’s one step at a time. If it means advertising in publications like Maxim or Vogue to target a mainstream audience across the whole of America, so be it.

Team Scene

One example of the marketing segregation between men’s and women’s is the way brands develop their athletic teams. Across the board, superior surfing ability has been the number-one prerequisite for male surf teamriders, and the same held true on the women’s side until the Roxy Girls arrived. This precedent-setting strategy introduced a new category of team member, the “surfer model—one whose looks and personality, as an embodiment of the surfing lifestyle, is considered as important a marketing tool as her pure surfing talent.

“Our entire men’s team is made up of surfers who are on the WCT or have the potential to get there, explains Hild. “We’ve got a handful of ‘soul surfers’ like Strider Wasilewski, although he still charges Pipe. There’s a much higher level of performance that must be maintained at all times on the men’s team. On the women’s side, we still have that group of girls like Megan Abubo, Chelsea Georgeson, and Sofia Mulanovich who are leading the level of performance surfing. But at the same time, we have girls who are having fun and are engaged in the lifestyle of surfing, which is extremely different from our men’s team. We call them ‘surf models.’ Veronica Kay is a good example. She’s a good surfer, but she’s not on the WCT or WQS. She was one of our first teamriders, along with Lisa Andersen. That’s a good example of the two worlds combining to make a great whole.

Considering women are the consumers of the species and much more fashion-driven than men, it was inevitable that surfing would begin marketing to this untapped feminine gold mine. It could be said that Roxy heralded the gold rush by signing Andersen, who took the torch from predecessors Frieda Zamba, Wendy Botha, and Kim Mearig by bridging the marketing gap with both looks and ability.

“Our first priority is our core women’s surfers, like Rochelle Ballard and Melanie Bartels, explains O’Neill’s Tarlow. “Inside of that platform, we do have women who are categorized as ‘surfer models’—a girl who has great skills and does a lot of our print advertising because our tour competitors are on the road a lot and not as accessible.

According to Harris, “Our girl teamriders play just as an important a role in our brand strategy as our male athletes, especially since the women’s action-sports market is enjoying so much mainstream media attention. Supporting female athletes is what makes us different from fashion brands that feature a board in their ads and think they are reaching out to the surf market. Kids know the difference, and they want what’s authentic, and in that sense our teamriders are our brand personified.

Down For The Cause

In addition to surf teams and traditional advertising, the trump cards of lifestyle and fashion have opened up other marketing opportunities for women’s brands not as accessible in the past to the men’s lines, such as entertainment and cause marketing. “As a cause, the Surfrider Foundation is equally important to men and women, explains Hild, “but I give huge props to Boarding For Breast Cancer for connecting with the extreme-sports world, and there’s not anything equal to that on the men’s side. Obviously, the entire female audience gets behind the issue of breast cancer with passion and drive.

O’Neill has benefited greatly from the Rochelle Ballard Surf Camps held throughout the country by its top women’s teamrider, according to Juniors’ Brand Manager Malia Alani. Besides giving girls the opportunity to hang with a top pro surfer, the camps provide a valuable altruistic slant to O’Neill’s marketing efforts that rarely happen on the men’s side. Presentations are made by nonprofits such as Boarding for Breast Cancer—a portion of the camps’ proceeds are donated to BFBC and the International Women’s Surfing, the lobby group for women pros. On the fun side, O’Neill and Ballard have teamed with the beauty-products line Bumble and bumble to provide participants with product and makeovers on the beach.

“There’s a lot more room for creativity on the women’s side, and I think girls are more responsive to cause marketing, said Alani. “They’re willing to do different things and not afraid to cross those boundaries.

From a marketing standpoint, Hild says music is given more attention by the men’s brands, but television and movies are more the domain of women. “Generally, men don’t read fashion magazines and they don’t shop at the mall, but music is a very strong influence. But in TV and movies, you have Blue Crush and Surf Girls. Boarding House has a men’s equation, it’s a mix between men and women. But I think the subject of women is looked at with less of a critical eye, which allows for a broader spectrum of marketing.

The women also have opened up more opportunities in public relations. “Our PR department can sell Roxy stories all day long, but the men’s stories are much more difficult to pitch to the mainstream, says Hild. “It’s one of the golden secrets of success of the women’s market. The media picked it up and became fascinated. It’s more compelling to more people. It’s more approachable and easier to talk about.

It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that the women’s market will soon match, if not exceed, the size of the men’s business. What isn’t so clear, however, is how this fact will change the face of surfing and how it’s portrayed to the mainstream market. But make no mistake, the new marketing frontier is being pioneered by the women’s business and probably will be for the next few years to come.

upporting female athletes is what makes us different from fashion brands that feature a board in their ads and think they are reaching out to the surf market. Kids know the difference, and they want what’s authentic, and in that sense our teamriders are our brand personified.

Down For The Cause

In addition to surf teams and traditional advertising, the trump cards of lifestyle and fashion have opened up other marketing opportunities for women’s brands not as accessible in the past to the men’s lines, such as entertainment and cause marketing. “As a cause, the Surfrider Foundation is equally important to men and women, explains Hild, “but I give huge props to Boarding For Breast Cancer for connecting with the extreme-sports world, and there’s not anything equal to that on the men’s side. Obviously, the entire female audience gets behind the issue of breast cancer with passion and drive.

O’Neill has benefited greatly from the Rochelle Ballard Surf Camps held throughout the country by its top women’s teamrider, according to Juniors’ Brand Manager Malia Alani. Besides giving girls the opportunity to hang with a top pro surfer, the camps provide a valuable altruistic slant to O’Neill’s marketing efforts that rarely happen on the men’s side. Presentations are made by nonprofits such as Boarding for Breast Cancer—a portion of the camps’ proceeds are donated to BFBC and the International Women’s Surfing, the lobby group for women pros. On the fun side, O’Neill and Ballard have teamed with the beauty-products line Bumble and bumble to provide participants with product and makeovers on the beach.

“There’s a lot more room for creativity on the women’s side, and I think girls are more responsive to cause marketing, said Alani. “They’re willing to do different things and not afraid to cross those boundaries.

From a marketing standpoint, Hild says music is given more attention by the men’s brands, but television and movies are more the domain of women. “Generally, men don’t read fashion magazines and they don’t shop at the mall, but music is a very strong influence. But in TV and movies, you have Blue Crush and Surf Girls. Boarding House has a men’s equation, it’s a mix between men and women. But I think the subject of women is looked at with less of a critical eye, which allows for a broader spectrum of marketing.

The women also have opened up more opportunities in public relations. “Our PR department can sell Roxy stories all day long, but the men’s stories are much more difficult to pitch to the mainstream, says Hild. “It’s one of the golden secrets of success of the women’s market. The media picked it up and became fascinated. It’s more compelling to more people. It’s more approachable and easier to talk about.

It’s nearly a foregone conclusion that the women’s market will soon match, if not exceed, the size of the men’s business. What isn’t so clear, however, is how this fact will change the face of surfing and how it’s portrayed to the mainstream market. But make no mistake, the new marketing frontier is being pioneered by the women’s business and probably will be for the next few years to come.