Rumors And Lies: Surf Expo January 2004

”January is our no-headache show, says Lori Kisner, vice president of dmg world media, owner of Surf Expo, when asked about the recent Expo held January 10-12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

But judging by the reaction of some of the attendees, that’s a blatant understatement. “That was the best Surf Expo in twenty years, gushed Gary Ward, president of Ocean Minded.

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According to Kisner, he wasn’t alone in that assessment: “There’s never been a bad January show, but this one exceeded all of our expectations. We exceeded our booth-space goal by 100 booths. Our buyer attendance was up thirteen percent — there’s only been a few times since I got involved with Surf Expo where we’ve seen double-digit buyer attendance growth.

Kisner says much of the increase is attributable to the current popularity of the surf market and the reviving economic climate. It couldn’t have hurt that most of the East Coast was locked down in the midst of a bitter cold snap that made the chilly Orlando weather look balmy in comparison.

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Kisner also says Surf Expo has increased the marketing budget of the show and doubled the number of customer-service reps talking it up among retailers and buyers.

Speaking of buyers, several prominent So Cal retailers made the trek to Orlando (on their own dime) to attend the show, says Dave Hollander, Owner of Becker. According to Bobbie Abdulfattah of Jack’s Surfboards, the preview day on Friday was particularly helpful.

But enough theory — what did the show look and feel like? First off, it was back in the familiar Convention Center West Complex (the September show was in the new North Hall across the street — the future location on all Surf Expo shows).

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Gone were the floor-plan complaints that dogged the September show. (At that show many were concerned that buyers had to traverse through aisles of “resort manufacturers to get to the surf and skate areas.) Sure, “resort remains a key portion of Surf Expo — where it appears skull-shaped pirate-motif mugs and Wylandesque teal dolphin bookends remain the hot trends — but those aisles were easy to spot.

Also easy to spot in the surf aisles were the large number of board builders. (Since 1988 Surf Expo has offered shapers a special half-price rate on booth space). You could check out hundreds of models from what seemed like dozens of labels and by Monday afternoon almost every board had been sold. There’s a clear emphasis on surfboards at Surf Expo, with display cases up near the entrance and a shaping bay toward the back of the hall.

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But despite the square footage of the resort area or the prominence of the shapers, Surf Expo is still about the large apparel and (to a lesser degree) footwear companies.

Volcom’s booth had the usual motley crew, and was traditionally packed. But add in 700 yards of plaid fabric, a miniature putting green, a real life bagpipe player (maybe the best-natured guy ever?), and half a dozen pints, and you were instantly beamed into a bizarre two-dimensional world, one part Scottish pub hoe down, the other florescent tradeshow grommet golf.

New Hurley National Sales Manager Kevin Meehan was also seen in mid stride, talking up the company’s line to retailers and other well wishers as he trades in mags for rags. With years of Surfer magazine stories to draw on, he’s bound to keep retailers amused for months.

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Billabong continues to fire on all cylinders and a downright jovial Billabong U.S.A. President Paul Naude had lots to smile about: a two-time men’s WCT world champ, a six-in-a-row women’s WCT champ, a new coffee-table book chronicling the brand’s 30-year run up, a new retail initiative with Honolua Surf Co., and product lines that continue to draw praise from retailers and buyers.

Rip Curl also had an interesting story to tell at Surf Expo with the launch of an eyewear and footwear collection. Category Managerr Guy Trotter says the eyewear line meshes with the company’s idea of The Search. “It’s a mixture of fashion and function and designed to hold up to heavy use. The line will retail between 59 and 100 dollars and will ship for April 1 delivery.

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David Carson, graphic design legend and former art director for Quiksilver, had a booth at Expo this year. And the best part, the big man was sitting in it! His new book Trek looked amazing, a hefty 456-page hardcover full of edgy design and typography creative.

The Osiris booth looked cool with giant-sized caricatures of its teamriders by Persue, aka Dave Ross. Luis says their “Ali model is hitting. Over at Ipath footwear, Travis Matsdorf said they were having a smooth show. Their line looks tight and right.

Over at Surf Tech Randy French looked to be having a productive Expo. The guys there were busy all weekend, and attracted lots of traffic with a visit from top Hawai’ian shaper John Carper.

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After a recent rough patch, Girl Star named the 2J group — which also produces the Aaron Chang line — as its new licensee. Brendan Hayes of Aaron Chang was buzzing about the addition of the Girl Star line — and about the success of Aaron Chang (the label just scored the cover of a recent Victoria’s Secret catalog). So can we get Tyra Banks down to the next show?

Jeff Moore at Ambiguous was stoked out of his gourd about all his new teamriders. Matt “Rocky” Rockhold signed a multi-year deal with them. Rocky joins other new surf team riders including Russell Smith (also from Santa Cruz), CT Taylor, San Diegan up-and-comer Julian Mullins, Ryan Sakal, and Jesse Evans who just recently resigned a multi-year contract with Ambiguous.

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O’Neill’s after-show party at Hard Rock with Social Distortion went off, even though the walk to the venue was colder than the Fortress of Solitude. Social D fans rejoiced when the band announced it’ll be releasing its first studio album in many years sometime this spring. So what’s singer Mike Ness been up to then, before getting to work on the new album? Apparently a little bit of surfing, with help from O’Neill Marketing guru Garth Tarlow. “Here’s to Garth, Ness said mid-set, “my surf instructor in the summer. I take the winters off to recoup. Good on ya’ Mike.

If hearing Sick Boy wasn’t your cup o’ tea (or even if it was) you certainly didn’t want to miss the East Coast Surfing Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies. The ceremony, which honored Larry Pope, Gaulden Reed, Kathy Philips, Wes Laine, Pete Dooley, and others, was a pure unselfconscious hoot that spoke volumes of the tightly knit East Coast surfing community. This was especially evident when surf phenoms Dylan and Jose Graves accepted the award on their father Lewis’ behalf. While Lewis Graves unfortunately passed away several years ago, the reception his son’s received at the awards ceremony show that the love and respect for him lives on.

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What else was noteworthy? Too much. Every manufacturer has a story or two to tell and we’re only scratching the surface here. “We knew two months before the show that this was going to be good, sums up Kisner, “but you’re only as good as your last show — and that’s something we really need to think about. We’ve already had a three-hour meeting about what worked and what didn’t. We’re excited about the health of the market, but we’re still looking for ways to improve the show.

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