ASR Rumors and Lies

by Sean O’Brien

It’s the surf industry’s Fall Classic.A three-day shaka-thon where deals are made, businessesbuilt, and (at least a few) orders written. But thisweekend’s San Diego ASR show wasn’t even a few minutesold when one of the more intriguing rumors turned outto be just that: a rumor.

Swell.com and Hardcloud.com haven’tmerged — despite what you may have heard elsewhere.While the VC, executive-level, financial types fromeach company have had a few conversations, nothing hasbeen signed. But if such a merger did occur — not thatit will, mind you — it will be an interesting firstday at the new-and-improved business. Employees at bothcompany insisted (gloated?) that they would be the onesto help the other company find a way out of its (realor imagined) problems.

In the meantime, the rather spaciousand sorta slick Hardcloud.com booth looked busy, andthe site is up and out of beta testing. October 5 isscheduled launch of Swell.com, who weren’t at the show.Bluetorch was at the show, but that’s another tale.

There were more than a few hardgoodsstories at ASR. Surftech was pushing its Ratboy epoxyboard. Rusty has a unique board with a three-quarter-lengthstringer, dubbed the Flextail,that seems to be building on the innovation legacy startedwith the C-5 program. Lost was typically busy as thegiant Randall head trolled the aisles. Noticeably absentwere Channel Islands and FCS–both are strong, category-leadingcompanies that decided not to show.

Wayne Lynch’s new Evolutionboard brand may have been the biggest hardgoods storyat ASR. With co-owner Clark “Beau” Riedelreportedly planning to spend a cool half-million onbuilding and promoting the brand, and with shaper BrianBulkley lending his ample talents to the project, Evolutionmight become the new, exciting independent board brand–unless Quiksilver snatches them up. We’ll see.

The Wayne Lynch designs might alsoherald the return of other legendary shapers from the70s. Word has it Terry Fitzgerald will relaunch a lineof Hot Buttered boards–complete with the trippy,cosmic airbrush designs he was famous for.

So, we’ve done the 60s with Greg Noll’sboards. We’re now seeing 70s stalwarts like Lynch andFitzgerald get involved. Could the reinterpretationof the neon and polka-dot 80s heyday be just aroundthe corner?

In the early 90s the Urban aisles ofthe ASR show held the thunder and most of the traffic.In the past few years, the skate market has been thehigh-traffic zone. But this year, finding a jostle-freepath down the main surf aisle of the show was as difficultas finding someone speaking English in the Air Tightbooth. It seemed each of the 20,115 conventioneers wereparked into main aisle between the Hurley booth at oneend and Rip Curl booth at the other. Nearly all thesurf lines appeared to be rocking with the majors, newthreats, and up-and-coming brands seeing their shareof traffic.

Reef unveiled two new booths: one forgirls and one for guys and raised more than 500 dollarsfor the Surfrider Foundation (which the brand will match)with a Wheel Of Fortune. Op also unveiled a new booth,complete with “Fembot” go-go dancers. (Oh,behave!) They drew in the crowd, but woe to the buyerwho had to actually get past them and into the booth.

The Billabong and Billabong Girl boothswere also a foot-traffic choke point. Parts of the Juniors’line is tre fashion forward with stretch-denimjeans, skirts with studs, and even rhinestones. Thebrand also launched a line of men’s watches at the show.

In tangential Billabong news, Meg Bernardo,who once worked with Marketing Director Graham Staplebergand most recently was at MKM marketing, has been namedthe new executive director of Surfing America. The nascentorganization seems to be gaining heaps of momentum andwill open an office on the seventeenth of next month.Billabong has also hired a new Juniors’ marketing manager,Jessica Trent.

Speaking of stuff for girls, Globecontinues to move forward with its Gallaz “footwearfor females” program and has introduced additionalstyles and colorways for Spring 2001, including a LayneBeachley signature shoe.

So the youth and mainstream surf-apparelmarketplace is covered, but is there a trend towardthe older and more sophisticated shopper? Brands suchas Solitude and Quiksilver seem to be aggressvely going after thismore affluent customer. And with the sales of hybridboards continuing strong, this is a small but fascinatingnew trend to watch for.

Alex Goes, a new 30-piece apparel linefrom Quiksilver, hopes to cater to women in the 25-to 40-year-old market (we’re talking some cashmere here).There is also word that Quiksilver Silver Edition willhone its target demographic from the 30- to 40-year-oldcrowd down to the 25 year old. If true, it’s an interestingdevelopment when coupled with Alex Goes.

But these two bits were just a smallpart of the huge Quiksilver presence at the show. Combinethe Quik, Roxy, X70, Alex Goes, and Silver programs,and buyers had a vertiable Quiksilver Club Med to choosefrom, a one-stop shop where all needs are catered to– and this doesn’t even include the wintersports orHawk skate brands.

O’Neill also was rocking and had theentire international contingent on hand, including thenew team heading up the Australian program: NationalSales Manager Rob Bain, PR Manager Shannon O’Brien (norelation), and Group Product Manager Frances Kyrikos.”O’Neill has been a small but strong player inthe Australian market,” said Bain. “But withO’Neill Europe’s financial assistance, our marketingwill really strengthen.” This thought was echoedby O’Neill Europe CEO Ben Kunst: “Australia isa very big market with very large brands. I think peopleare looking to find something different there, and O’Neillwill be a clear choice for these people.”

Of course, O’Neill sales continue tobe strong in the states–both within the wetsuitand sportwear collections. Marketing VP Mark Tinkesssays sales are up in specialty stores 30 percent acrossthe board. The brand is also taking some interestingrisks, with its unique 4 jacket/trunk hybrid.

In the wake of the first night’s “OneIll Reef” party–sponsored by O’Neill and Reef(get it?)–I have a question. Was I the only onewho saw “One Ill” everytime an O’Neill logoappeared? Hmm…

ACG had a “soft launch” ofthe So Cal influenced softgoods line (meaning they weretrying to keep it low key and grassroots) and with thehiring of Guy Trotter as marketing manager, the So Calteam seems to be jelling. Some of the neon-colored,acid-washed pieces are either tremendously fashion forwardor just too cool. The retailer and consumer will ultimatelydecide.

The Volcom booth, as usual, exudedpure energy. The punk-rock veneer outside the boothis genuine, but the line inside is first rate, surprisinglysophisticated, and is appealing to an ever-broadeningcustomer. With the company and the brand showing suchcontinued growth, it will be fun to watch how the brandimage evolves (if at all).

All the excitement hasn’t escaped fromthe Internet world in the wake of the Bluetorch”repositioning.” The pending launch of DanMcInerny’s Hub 360 had quite a few saying it would soonbe the B2B site in the surf industry. With a host ofthe majors supposedly onboard, and with rumors of big-buckVC funding, this is a story we’ll definitely followin the weeks to come.

See you in Florida.