Peter Townend Sounds Off: A Brand Plan for Surfing

As the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) celebrates its tenth-year anniversary, the industry is faced with many challenges¿none larger than keeping surfing and the act of riding waves “cool” with today’s youth.

While surfing has received a good deal of mainstream media coverage lately, it’s clear that the sport of surfing is not close to reaching it potential in the minds of the mainstream.

The lack of general-public attention to Kelly Slater’s record-breaking sixth world title and subsquent semi-retirement, the lack of major coverage of the WCT Tour in the United States, and the dismal performance of the U.S. National Team at the ISA World Surfing Games in Portugal all contribute to the mainstream consumer’s general apathy about surfing competitions.

Kids connect with heroes. But the big question is: does the mainstream youth market know our sport’s heroes?

The competitive side of surfing in America is failing the industry as a promotional vehicle. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Australian Model

In Australia everyone knows who the top surfers are¿even my parents who haven’t been to a surf contest in twenty years or read surf magazines for that matter.

Every night on the evening news they see competitive surfing or read about it the next morning in the daily newspapers. Everyone knows who Occy is¿not just the people who read surf magazines.

This success wasn’t left to chance. A decade ago Surfing Australia was formed to promote the sport. The success of their efforts are manifested in Australia’s current domination of ASP WCT rankings (50 percent and growing of the men’s and women’s competitors are Aussies).

This helps drive a thriving Australian surfing industry where companies such as Rip Curl, Quiksilver, and Billabong are national brands¿not just surf brands.

Making It Happen Here

Two years ago, SIMA created Surfing America as a platform to build the “brand” of surfing through the sport, its stars, and developing talent. It’s a slow process to unite all the factions under one roof, but it’s something we need to do.

The onus is on us. SIMA, the retail community, and the administrators of the competitive, educational, and environmental programs must come together to keep surfing vital to today’s youth culture.

Together, we can make it happen.

¿Peter Townend