Soaking Up The Sun: Hollywood Reignites Surf Fever

Tell me if this tale sounds familiar: A teenage girl learns to surf at Malibu and tells her father, who is in the movie industry, about her adventures. He, in turn, takes the story to the big screen, causing a nationwide frenzy to get to the beach. Surfing explodes on the scene, becoming far bigger than anyone in our little faction thought imaginable.

It seems Gidget has struck again.

This time, instead of B-movie screenwriter Frederick Kohner turning his daughter’s frolicking into celluloid, it was Brian Grazer, one of the most successful producers in the business. The result was Blue Crush, which, along with Lilo & Stitch, and a host of other big screeners set to bombard the legions of unjazzed in the coming year, is pushing surfing into the minds of mainstream America.

And it isn’t just movies; it was impossible to turn on the radio this summer without receiving orders from Sheryl Crow to “soak up the sun” or grooving to the sounds of “former pro surfer” Jack Johnson. Time, magazine even picked up on the trend, raving that “an estimated half a million women in the U.S. are taking up the sport, along with the freewheeling way of life it symbolizes.”

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Once again, the floodgates are open, and surfing is being presented to the world in its most favorable light yet. Who is cashing in on this latest craze? And is it just a fad, or will the industry take a quantum leap forward? But first, how did it all come about?

“It was time,” insists Quiksilver’s Danny Kwock. “It was a natural thing that was bound to happen. Kids all over the world are into it. You get a guy like Brian Grazer, who lives at Malibu and is passionate about surfing, and his daughter says, ‘Dad, you should make a movie about girls surfing.’ When you’re in that position — a mover and shaker — and your offspring is telling you how cool this would be, it comes pretty natural.”

The Time article agrees with Kwock, citing the “growing cadre of elite female surfers who are transforming the once male-dominated sport of surfing into both a passion and a pastime for growing numbers of women around the world.” The trend, it contends, merely received an endorsement from the movie.

And speaking of endorsements, the surf industry didn’t wait for the ink to dry on the screenplay before joining the party. “We were pretty proactive,” admits Billabong’s Graham Stapelberg of his company’s involvement with Blue Crush. “Universal made it clear they were looking to secure a deal, but there’s always a risk when you get Hollywood involved with a surf movie. Everyone was pleasantly surprised with the product. It’s definitely created a lot of interest in juniors’ {surfwear}. And it’s not just with us — everyone’s benefited, right across the board.”

Awkward timing — the movie was released near the end of summer — was all that kept the subsequent surge in sales from reaching its full effect so far. “It’s gonna be huge,” predicts O’Neill Sportswear Apparel Designer Cindi Carper. “The boardshorts biz has been down the past four years, but girls are going to be emulating the girls in the movie. The trade shows have already seen an impact. Retailers are talking about it, and once spring hits, girls are really going to be going after that look.”

If early results are any indication, young women are about to rock the surfing world. “It used to be maybe one or two girls every couple weeks ordering boards, but there’s been a dramatic increase in the amount of shortboards selling,” says Kristina Marquez of Paradise Surf Shop, an all-woman outlet in Santa Cruz, California. “We thought it would just last while the movie was playing, but we’re still getting orders. And it’s from teenagers, which is something we didn’t have before. In Santa Cruz, most female surfers are around 25, but now it’s evening out. And we don’t do lessons, but everyone whdoes is making a killing.”

Indeed, it is the surf schools that see the most immediate impact of the latest surfing boom. Already inundated with business, the ever-growing number of camps has seen attendance — especially by females — going through the roof. “The movie definitely made a difference,” asserts Surf City Surfing Lessons’ Kim Hamrock, “and it will probably be even more of an impact for next year.”

Missy Sixberry, director of the Betty Series, an organization based in Florida that runs contests and camps for girls, attests not only to increased enrollment, but also to a sudden interest from companies from outside the industry as potential backers. “Companies are approaching us about sponsoring camps and contests,” she claims, “and they’re mainstream mall stores that never had anything to do with surfing in the past. Not to mention we’re still getting hundreds of e-mails a day from young girls. It’s the younger crowd, the ten year olds, who are writing and saying, ‘I saw the movie and loved it, and I want to come to the camp.'”

Tom Brown, who owns nine Seventeenth Street Surf Shops along the Mid-Atlantic, sees it as the start of something magical. “At the {SIMA} Surf Summit two years ago, we were asking how we could get the impact of the X-Games {into the surfing community}, and this is the first thing that’s done what we were looking for. We see this as a way of impacting the mainstream customer like we haven’t before.”

And, he adds, the effects are already being felt at the register: “We’ve seen a definite growth in women’s this summer — as well as more girls getting in the water. The business carried well through Labor Day. It was strong on both sides {men’s and women’s}, but a lot of people were coming in asking for Billabong Blue CrushLycra.”

No Surprise To The Surf Industry

To many Americans, “surf” is the new new thing, but within the industry the juniors’ business in particular has already enjoyed a full decade of ridiculous growth. It’s just that it took something like this summer’s media onslaught for everyone to notice.

“The clothing {from the surf brands} is equally as good as what everyone else is making,” insists Hurley Head Designer Lian Murray, “but it’s just that now it’s being accepted as more than just beachwear. Once the people become aware of how good we are, aware of other options and that we make shoes and nice shirts and backpacks, they realize we’ve stepped it up a lot. We can’t afford to advertise in Seventeen and Vogue for 50,000 dollars a page. Fortunately, Blue Crush and Dogtown were both good movies. If they were bad, they wouldn’t have had the impact.”

There’s no disputing Hollywood’s impact on the way people think, so it’s entirely possible that another Point Break or Fast Times At Ridgemont High could come along and wipe out the strides surfing has made in the public eye. Upon inspection, however, it seems that we’re turning a corner of sorts.

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“Through Quiksilver Entertainment, I’m dealing with these Hollywood types all the time,” says Kwock, “and most of these guys live at Malibu and are surfers. Actors, producers, attorneys — they’re all surf-stoked. Now, they’re like, ‘Wow, the audience is stoked with surfing,’ so there’s a ton of stuff they’re working on. They’re talking about doing something on Laird {Hamilton}, {Mickey} Dora, {Jeff} Hakman, Greg Noll, and Eddie Aikau, and they’re already working on Lisa Andersen’s life story. And it’s not only movies. MTV, WB, Fox — they’re all working on shows. It’s snowballing, and there isn’t anything that’s gonna stop it.”

With so many different hands in the cookie jar, contamination is inevitable. “So far, it’s been done all right,” allows Volcom’s Richard Woolcott, “and any type of awareness is probably healthy for the industry. As long as they do their best to keep the integrity of the sport, I don’t think it can hurt.”

This is where Kwock begins his plea to the industry to make sure things don’t get out of hand. “As surfers,” he mandates, “it’s our job to put as much authenticity as we can on it so it doesn’t turn into WWF.”

Or Beach Blanket Bingo, for that matter. Or any of the other absurd depictions of the sport during the 1960s, the last time Hollywood went nuts with the sport. It’s a cycle, and right now we’re on the way up.

We’ve been lobbed a golden opportunity. With countless numbers of divas, betties, chicks, watergirls, wahines, and surf sisters in a lather over the surf, it’s up to the surf brands and retailers to keep the volley alive. These chances only come along every 40 years or so, and the great big fiery ball is now in our court.

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Hollywood Goes Surfing

The good, the bad, and the just plain embarrassing list of mainstream Hollywood movies that included surfing.

Gross

In millionsRelease Date

Lilo & Stitch, 142.1,June 21, 2002

Apocalypse Now,78.7,August 17, 1979

Point Break,43.2,July 12, 1991

Orange County,41,January 11, 2002

Blue Crush,34.7*,August 16, 2002

Back To The Beach,13.1,August 7, 1987

North Shore,3.8,August 14, 1987

The Endless Summer 2,2.1,June 3, 1994

In God’s Hands,1.5,April 24, 1998

Aloha Summer,0.4, February 26, 1988

Psycho Beach Party,0.2,August 4, 2000

NOTE: Prior to 1978, box office stats simply were not tracked well, so grosses for movies like The Endless Summer and Big Wednesday are unavailable. * Blue Crush is still in widespread distribution and will likely continue to move up the list.

————–

Surf Down The RunwayFashion-design houses glom on to the surf look for Spring ’03.

Just as Hollywood has caught on to — and cashed in on — surfing, so has the fashion world. Believe it or not, the surf look will be popping up next year on offerings from several designer-label lines such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, and Dries Van Noten.

The Boston Globe reports neoprene is getting the most play, as design houses are incorporating rubber for use in a host of goods — note the neoprene jacket by Marc Jacobs. “Neoprene may be the next summer’s haute version of fur, with many designers using it to make a seasonal statement,” writes the Globe’s Tina Cassidy.

Beyond liberal use of neoprene, fashion labels appear to be big on bold prints and fluorescent colors. In his Spring 2003 collection, Dries Van Noten is using bold floral prints liberally. “Dries Van Noten’s full, knee-length cotton skirts — paired with nothing more complicated than a tank top — were made of floral prints, the sort that often decorate the sides of boardshorts,” Cassidy writes. On the runway in Milan, Miuccia Prada incorporates Hawai’ian prints generously in her Miu Miu line.

Designer Helmut Lang took the surf trip even further, naming his Spring 2003 collection “The Next Wave.” Some tops in The Next Wave are jet black with strips of neon sewn into the sleeves, similar to rashguards of yore.

The Globe also reports that at Luella Bartley’s show models wore long-sleeve tops and bikini bottoms in pink, yellow, and black. To complete the surf look, Bartley’s models each had slick-backed hair as if they’d just gotten out of the water.

“Surfing seems to be the perfect youthful antidote to troubled times,” says Cassidy. Will surfing’s current widespread appeal be enough to lure mainstream shoppers away from department stores and into surf shops?

— John Maynardey do their best to keep the integrity of the sport, I don’t think it can hurt.”

This is where Kwock begins his plea to the industry to make sure things don’t get out of hand. “As surfers,” he mandates, “it’s our job to put as much authenticity as we can on it so it doesn’t turn into WWF.”

Or Beach Blanket Bingo, for that matter. Or any of the other absurd depictions of the sport during the 1960s, the last time Hollywood went nuts with the sport. It’s a cycle, and right now we’re on the way up.

We’ve been lobbed a golden opportunity. With countless numbers of divas, betties, chicks, watergirls, wahines, and surf sisters in a lather over the surf, it’s up to the surf brands and retailers to keep the volley alive. These chances only come along every 40 years or so, and the great big fiery ball is now in our court.

————–

Hollywood Goes Surfing

The good, the bad, and the just plain embarrassing list of mainstream Hollywood movies that included surfing.

Gross

In millionsRelease Date

Lilo & Stitch, 142.1,June 21, 2002

Apocalypse Now,78.7,August 17, 1979

Point Break,43.2,July 12, 1991

Orange County,41,January 11, 2002

Blue Crush,34.7*,August 16, 2002

Back To The Beach,13.1,August 7, 1987

North Shore,3.8,August 14, 1987

The Endless Summer 2,2.1,June 3, 1994

In God’s Hands,1.5,April 24, 1998

Aloha Summer,0.4, February 26, 1988

Psycho Beach Party,0.2,August 4, 2000

NOTE: Prior to 1978, box office stats simply were not tracked well, so grosses for movies like The Endless Summer and Big Wednesday are unavailable. * Blue Crush is still in widespread distribution and will likely continue to move up the list.

————–

Surf Down The RunwayFashion-design houses glom on to the surf look for Spring ’03.

Just as Hollywood has caught on to — and cashed in on — surfing, so has the fashion world. Believe it or not, the surf look will be popping up next year on offerings from several designer-label lines such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, and Dries Van Noten.

The Boston Globe reports neoprene is getting the most play, as design houses are incorporating rubber for use in a host of goods — note the neoprene jacket by Marc Jacobs. “Neoprene may be the next summer’s haute version of fur, with many designers using it to make a seasonal statement,” writes the Globe’s Tina Cassidy.

Beyond liberal use of neoprene, fashion labels appear to be big on bold prints and fluorescent colors. In his Spring 2003 collection, Dries Van Noten is using bold floral prints liberally. “Dries Van Noten’s full, knee-length cotton skirts — paired with nothing more complicated than a tank top — were made of floral prints, the sort that often decorate the sides of boardshorts,” Cassidy writes. On the runway in Milan, Miuccia Prada incorporates Hawai’ian prints generously in her Miu Miu line.

Designer Helmut Lang took the surf trip even further, naming his Spring 2003 collection “The Next Wave.” Some tops in The Next Wave are jet black with strips of neon sewn into the sleeves, similar to rashguards of yore.

The Globe also reports that at Luella Bartley’s show models wore long-sleeve tops and bikini bottoms in pink, yellow, and black. To complete the surf look, Bartley’s models each had slick-backed hair as if they’d just gotten out of the water.

“Surfing seems to be the perfect youthful antidote to troubled times,” says Cassidy. Will surfing’s current widespread appeal be enough to lure mainstream shoppers away from department stores and into surf shops?

— John Maynard