That’s Advertainment! Surfing Gets Serious About Entertainment

Twenty years ago in theaters from coast to coast, millions of impressionable teens sat spellbound as Mr. Hand tore Jeff Spicoli’s class schedule into tiny bits. Spicoli groped for a response, and finally it came. “You … dick!” Two words. That’s all it took for Spicoli to become an icon and for a little shoe company called Vans to become an industry giant.

There were two reasons for the success of Fast Times At Ridgemont High: Phoebe Cates’ breasts and Jeff Spicoli’s attitude. While the former were replicated by plastic surgeons all over Southern California for a couple-thousand bucks a pop, the latter was far easier to attain. Spicoli became the archetype for the pubescent American male, and a bit of lingo and 30 clams were all any kid needed to be him.

Spicoli’s 30-dollar Vans checkerboard slip-ons were the piece de resistance of his persona, and shortly after Fast Times debuted, 70,000 pair were flying out the factory doors each week. (That was the upside; we’ll get to the bad news later.) If you didn’t have a pair in 1982, you were as square as Mr. Hand.

The secret that Vans discovered so long ago has only recently become a wider phenomenon. The surf industry is craving mainstream attention. Companies of all shapes and sizes are pouring their dollars and energy into entertainment divisions in hopes of imprinting their brands on the masses. Be it via movies, books, television, videos, or music, there is a concerted effort to turn surfing into something bigger.

“We want to grow the pond,” insists Danny Kwock, president of Brass Ring, Quiksilver’s entertainment unit. The nearly two-year-old division of the industry Goliath is making the biggest push to increase action-sports participation across the board. “Quiksilver is a big fish in a medium-sized pond, so instead of growing the fish, this is about doing something to grow the whole pond. Everybody benefits. The master plan was to come up with ideas to give to the networks to help the whole action-sports industry. To get it out of the monastery in an authentic way. It’s gonna grow with or without us, so we can’t let the outside world do their thing without putting them in touch with the people who are passionate about it.”

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Everyone is leery of letting the voice of surfing fall into the wrong hands (as it did throughout the 60s’ Beach Blanket Bingo era), which is precisely the reason industry leaders are stepping outside their confines, and, well, leading. But in reality, what Quiksilver is doing isn’t an original concept. It’s not even new to surfing.

According to Kwock, the idea of pond building was something shoe giant Nike grasped in the 70s as it lifted the need for running shoes to just behind food and water on the basic-human-needs chart. Once Nike attained mythical status, however, the Beaverton, Oregon company wanted everything for itself. “You can’t get selfish and rape and rape and rape and not give anything back,” says Kwock. “That’s the whole idea here — and even Nike has picked up on it. I heard they used one of my quotes in their recent shareholders’ meeting. They said, ‘Look at what these guys {Quiksilver} are doing. That’s what we need to do. We invented this in the 70s, and we need to get back to it.'”

Within our surfy little clique, Volcom and Vans set the entertainment precedent in the mid 90s. And they did it with something every kid can relate to, whether he’s from Malibu, Memphis, or Miami: music.

Volcom Entertainment was born in 1995 as a way for fledgling punk band The Line to produce an album. Since then, the label has graced the back cover of many a major surf mag and signed several notable acts. Cross promotion makes the relationship mutually beneficial, and despite efforts to appear uncorporate, both The Line and Volcom Entertainment have thrived.

Vans grabbed hold of the Warped Tour and turned it into the ultimate alternative promotional vehicle. upled with skateboarding and other adrenaline-packed activities, the tour was a way for Vans to reintroduce itself to America. A couple years later, it purchased the Triple Crown of Surfing, arguably the most prestigious title in the world of surfing. Vans has since put together similar event clusters in every avenue of action sports. Add to that a record label, the Vans/Off-the-Wall Hour (airing on Fox Sports Net, as well as NBC), the blockbuster hit Dogtown and Z-Boys, the soon-to-be-released Pipe Masters (a documentary on the granddaddy of all action-sports events), and an upcoming animated TV series, and the end result, at least in Vans’ case, is money. Lots of it.

According to Vans’ Vice President Of Entertainment Jay Wilson, the division has earned more than 40-million dollars, and it’s getting bigger. “The reality is you can buy a bunch of ads on TV or print, or you can utilize what you’re already doing,” he says. “Quite frankly, you have a lot of great events that are just now getting the coverage they deserve.”

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Despite the windfall, rumors have circulated that Vans was considering scrapping or selling off its entertainment biz. Not true, says Wilson: “Everybody said to get out of it and focus on business. We’re reconfiguring it to work better. At the same time, it’s going to be more focused and bigger, maybe with some partners.”

While the bottom line has much to gain, it clearly isn’t the reason some companies choose to get into entertainment. Take Sessions Records for example. Not long after Spicoli and his checkerboard Vans graced the silver screen, a music aficionado named Joel Gomez opened a shop in Sunnyvale, California and sold skateboards, snowboards, punk-rock albums, and surfboards. Gomez later launched the successful line of Sessions outerwear and debuted a line of surf apparel last year.

But back in 1993, Gomez started Sessions Records because he loved music. The enterprise lost money every year, but Gomez gradually found a market for his seven-inch vinyl records and coaxed some big-name bands to join the cause. When The Foo Fighters came aboard recently, all hell broke loose.

“They brought people in from all over Europe who weren’t into boarding,” says Gomez. “The guys from the band autographed some records for a contest, and we got a gazillion hits on our Web site. It brings people who are interested in music to our site who had no idea we had a shop.” (Although the brick-and-mortar Sunnyvale shop closed two years ago, Sessions runs a mail-order skate, snow, and surf business through Sessions.com and sells its apparel through hundreds of retailers worldwide.)

Hurley International has taken a similar tack, supporting outside endeavors as a way of life rather than a separate undertaking. “Hey,” shouts Marketing Director Paul Gomez (no relation to Joel) to his department cronies at Hurley, “Do we have an entertainment division around here? Hmm, nobody answered, so I guess not. I was just checking to see if they started one while I was out of the office for a few days.”

Hurley hasn’t made a conscious decision to “grow the pond” by getting involved in entertainment, but by backing everything from bands and independent surf films to art shows, disc jockeys, and female basketball teams, the company makes a point of helping out. And one way or the other, the pond grows.

“If there’s a band out there that needs help, we help ’em,” says Gomez. “It’s not about them wearing our clothes; it’s to help facilitate somebody’s dream. The more mainstream our industry goes, the more people realize that we’re all just ordinary guys. If it’s done correctly, it helps to get the point across.”

That’s the thing, surfing hasn’t been afforded a worthy introduction to the general population since Duke Kahanamoku hung up his swim trunks after the 1932 Olympics. Any gains accrued by surfing’s image over the following half century were erased by Jeff Spicoli with the same two words that made Vans a sensation. Sure, he sold a ton of shoes, but at the same time he sent our prospects for legitimacy hurtling back to the dark ages — or at least negating any progress we’ve made since Gidget. Who’s the dick now?

Grabbing The Brass Ring
Quiksilver, for one, isn’t sitting around hoping the image is portrayed in an accurate light. It’s breaking out the heavy artillery and knocking away the barriers that have kept the surfing industry in check. It’s currently producing television shows, books, movies, animation, video-on-demand, and whatever other ventures may help draw kids away from the soccer field and into our world. And the company is bending over backward to get its brethren involved.

“We’re called Quiksilver Entertainment, but we’re just the producer,” asserts Kwock. “The projects have their own names, and we want all the companies to get in. I saw faults with the Warped Tour, for instance, because it only helped Vans. Other companies didn’t want to get involved. I’m planting seeds for every company in the industry.”

Tracy Dolgin agrees. Dolgin is president of Fox Sports Net, which will begin airing 54321 (sort of a SportsCenter meets MTV meets Access Hollywood for the surf/skate/snow crowd produced by Quiksilver Entertainment) on January 27. “The show will not play favorites anywhere,” he assures us. “I never, ever, ever, ever, ever heard them {Quiksilver} talk about one of their people. That’s why we went to them.”

Dolgin views the decision to move away from the old bat and ball in favor of becoming more of a sports-entertainment network as a natural one. “Action sports is the next mega-trend in all of sports,” he insists. “We view our role as missionaries to build the category.”

If anyone should know how to keep a person entertained, it’s a television producer. Ultimately, folks like Kwock believe that if the pond is to become a justifiable lake, surfing will have to translate into good television. The fact that TV land has yet to succeed at entertaining the public with surfing could mean one of two things: either surfing’s doomed to fail as a spectator sport, or it hasn’t been packaged properly.

But those in the know think it’s just a matter of educating viewers. Considering that much of what the mainstream knows of surfing thus far was put together by people who think a point break is what the Lakers take at halftime, and an off-the-top is how one ends up with a mullet haircut, we must give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

If something as contrived and predictable as pro wrasslin’ can cause a worldwide phenomenon, there’s no reason surfing doesn’t at least deserve a bit of quality airtime. At least that’s the thinking of industry execs at a couple happening networks where not one, but two surfing reality shows are in the works — The North Shore Project on the WB and an all-female affair for MTV.

Rather than hiring writers to throw out lame story lines and actors to pretend to know the feeling, each cast is made up of real surfers in real situations. And not just recreational weekend warriors, but some of the best on the planet. (The WB show captures six weeks in a North Shore cottage with Sunny Garcia, Damien Hobgood, Myles Padaca, Danny Fuller, Holly Beck, Veronica Kay, and Chelsea Georgeson. The MTV offering is being produced by Quiksilver Entertainment and will follow the travels of several girls as they surf around the globe and vie for a Roxy sponsorship.)

[IMAGE 3]Finally, thanks in equal parts to an industry taking proactive measures and a mainstream that can’t get enough action, the surfing world will meet The Real World. This time, instead of handing over the reins to Hollywood, we’re steering the ship. If everything fails, there will be no one to blame but us.

The ultimate goal hasn’t changed in the twenty years since Spicoli fantasized about winning a surf contest iith the same two words that made Vans a sensation. Sure, he sold a ton of shoes, but at the same time he sent our prospects for legitimacy hurtling back to the dark ages — or at least negating any progress we’ve made since Gidget. Who’s the dick now?

Grabbing The Brass Ring
Quiksilver, for one, isn’t sitting around hoping the image is portrayed in an accurate light. It’s breaking out the heavy artillery and knocking away the barriers that have kept the surfing industry in check. It’s currently producing television shows, books, movies, animation, video-on-demand, and whatever other ventures may help draw kids away from the soccer field and into our world. And the company is bending over backward to get its brethren involved.

“We’re called Quiksilver Entertainment, but we’re just the producer,” asserts Kwock. “The projects have their own names, and we want all the companies to get in. I saw faults with the Warped Tour, for instance, because it only helped Vans. Other companies didn’t want to get involved. I’m planting seeds for every company in the industry.”

Tracy Dolgin agrees. Dolgin is president of Fox Sports Net, which will begin airing 54321 (sort of a SportsCenter meets MTV meets Access Hollywood for the surf/skate/snow crowd produced by Quiksilver Entertainment) on January 27. “The show will not play favorites anywhere,” he assures us. “I never, ever, ever, ever, ever heard them {Quiksilver} talk about one of their people. That’s why we went to them.”

Dolgin views the decision to move away from the old bat and ball in favor of becoming more of a sports-entertainment network as a natural one. “Action sports is the next mega-trend in all of sports,” he insists. “We view our role as missionaries to build the category.”

If anyone should know how to keep a person entertained, it’s a television producer. Ultimately, folks like Kwock believe that if the pond is to become a justifiable lake, surfing will have to translate into good television. The fact that TV land has yet to succeed at entertaining the public with surfing could mean one of two things: either surfing’s doomed to fail as a spectator sport, or it hasn’t been packaged properly.

But those in the know think it’s just a matter of educating viewers. Considering that much of what the mainstream knows of surfing thus far was put together by people who think a point break is what the Lakers take at halftime, and an off-the-top is how one ends up with a mullet haircut, we must give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

If something as contrived and predictable as pro wrasslin’ can cause a worldwide phenomenon, there’s no reason surfing doesn’t at least deserve a bit of quality airtime. At least that’s the thinking of industry execs at a couple happening networks where not one, but two surfing reality shows are in the works — The North Shore Project on the WB and an all-female affair for MTV.

Rather than hiring writers to throw out lame story lines and actors to pretend to know the feeling, each cast is made up of real surfers in real situations. And not just recreational weekend warriors, but some of the best on the planet. (The WB show captures six weeks in a North Shore cottage with Sunny Garcia, Damien Hobgood, Myles Padaca, Danny Fuller, Holly Beck, Veronica Kay, and Chelsea Georgeson. The MTV offering is being produced by Quiksilver Entertainment and will follow the travels of several girls as they surf around the globe and vie for a Roxy sponsorship.)

[IMAGE 3]Finally, thanks in equal parts to an industry taking proactive measures and a mainstream that can’t get enough action, the surfing world will meet The Real World. This time, instead of handing over the reins to Hollywood, we’re steering the ship. If everything fails, there will be no one to blame but us.

The ultimate goal hasn’t changed in the twenty years since Spicoli fantasized about winning a surf contest in front of a national television audience and the fame and riches that come with it. Can surfing take its rightful place on television alongside other sports? Will those companies with entertainment divisions protect us from yet another lame Fast Times redux? It’s too early to tell, but initial indicators look promising.

There are lots of fish out there, and they all need a place to swim.st in front of a national television audience and the fame and riches that come with it. Can surfing take its rightful place on television alongside other sports? Will those companies with entertainment divisions protect us from yet another lame Fast Times redux? It’s too early to tell, but initial indicators look promising.

There are lots of fish out there, and they all need a place to swim.