SIMA Holds Second Summit:Surf executives descended on Cabo, were skunked on surf.

Two young Mexican locals were surfing a left point just east of Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico. Little did they know that the five gringos who paddled out and crowded their spot were executives working for the companies that made their surfboards, surf trunks, rashguards, and even their shoes they left on the beach. To these two young surfers, their spot was just overtaken by a bunch of rude, loud, aggressive, pasty, white Southern Californians content on taking as many waves as possible, primarily because the rest of the coast was flat.

Indeed, the mood at the Second Annual SIMA Surf Summit was a bit tense. For the owners, marketing and sales directors, and key managers from more than 40 different surf companies and shops who attended the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) get-together, warm water and long, point-break surf were major reasons to head down to Cabo for the weekend. Except there was no surf.

This actually worked to the organizers advantage because the five seminars, dinner, and keynote address from new ASP President/CEO Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew were actually well attended by the 70-odd people who’d made their way down to Cabo.

While the evenings consisted of many margaritas and pilgrimages to Cabo’s famous bars such as Squid Roe, the days were spent searching for surf and later relaxing poolside at the Melia Los Cabos resort drinking mai tai’s and Coronas.

But the five seminars and post-seminar discussions between the normally competing company men and women were the highlights of this year’s trip.

Seminar one focused on the changing retail environment. Hosted by Gotcha President Michael Tomson, the panel consisted of 17th Street’s Tom Brown, Spyder Surf Shops’ Dickie O’Reilly, ZJ Boarding House’s Todd Roberts, Ron Jon’s John Sabo, and Inner Rhythm Surfer Girl’s Melanie Swanson.

All the retailers said their women’s business has been growing quickly and is definitely the big news in their stores. Swanson said that 40 percent of her shop’s business is now women’s product, while Sabo said his store has had the lowest amount of markdowns in the last five years because of the new customers and their buying habits.

“We’re adding girls to our surf team, and it’s getting easier to find good women surfers,” said Roberts.

Kids was another hot category, and the panelists also discussed such topics as the shoe market, Quiksilver’s distribution, and the affect of skateboarding on the surf market.

The second seminar was on maintaining and growing surfing’s appeal to the youth. It was moderated by SIMA President and Rusty Marketing Director Peter Townend (P.T.). Making up the panel were Alan Gibby of Dynocom, Angelo Ponzi of the Ponzi Group and Board-Trac, and Bill Harper from Petersen Publishing.

Much of this discussion revolved around the importance of getting surfing back on TV on a regular basis. Gibby noted that a new surf show was just beginning on ESPN2, and the overall ratings of surfing continued to be strong, even beating such sports as ice hockey. He noted that the most-watched surf event ever was the Buffalo Kekai Classic in Makaha.

He also noted that just recently, a Wide World Of Sports surfing show in Australia was watched by 5.6-million households, or almost ten percent of that market.

Ponzi spent some time going over the different statistics that he had compiled from his Board-Trac research, including how important sports are to kids’ purchasing habits. “We asked kids if the sport they participated in influenced their brand purchases,” he said. “For the kids who surfed, 81 percent said it did, while 78 percent of the skaters also said yes.”

The third panel addressed the surf media, and was hosted by Bill Sharp, who now publishes the new publication Surf News. The panel was made up of Surfing magazine’s Michael Marckx, Surfer‘s Kevin Meehan, Surfer’s Journal‘s Steve Pezman, Wave Action’s Tracey Mikulec, and TransWorld Surf’s Steve Zeldin.

Each panelist discussed ways to get involved with the magazines, their Web site extensions, and even took a few pot shots at each other in jest.

Selling surfboards in the next century was the fourth topic of the event. It was hosted by Pezman, and panelists included Yater Surfboards’ Reynolds Yater, Randy Rarrick, RC Surfboards’ Ricky Carroll, P.T., and Y (the Morey Boogie inventor formerly known as Tom Morey).

Pezman opened the discussion by pointing out that current surfboard production hasn’t changed in more than 40 years, while Carroll speculated that materials will probably change in the future to produce a stronger and lighter surfboard.

“Because of the shortboard, we lost a generation of people surfing,” said Rarrick, looking at the historic evolution of surfing. “Pro surfing drove surfboard designs and trends, and most people couldn’t ride the boards that were available. Now that people are longboarding again, the sport is growing tremendously. In Hawaii, 150 girls signed up for a contest recently, and 270 women just entered a contest in Makaha. Sixty percent of the blanks from Clark Foam are supposedly longboards. The future will be about catering to the full spectrum of customers.”

Yater added that most shapers probably don’t want to see current design and manufacturing processes change because a lot of them will probably lose their jobs.

The last panel focused on the role the Internet will play in the surf industry and was hosted by Surfline’s David Gilovich. There was a special presentation from Ian Leicht, director of strategic consulting for the Internet development company Inspired Arts. He said the Internet market is growing tremendously, and in 1997 there were nineteen-million users, while by the end of this year there will be 67-million.

The panel included Ocean Pacific’s Dick Baker, Spyder’s O’Reilly, Ron Jon’s Sabo, Billabong’s Graham Stapleberg, and P.T. Most agreed that the shopping experience in the surf market was a critical part of a surfer’s lifestyle, and this couldn’t be replaced by the Internet.

“It’s hard to sell fashion over the Web,” said Sabo, who added that Ron Jon currently sells its own clothing brand on-line, but those sales are less than one percent of the company’s business.

But everyone agreed that this was an area the industry needed to continue to watch because it could affect traditional thinking about distribution and competition between retailers and manufacturers.

Back at the surf spot, local knowledge prevailed and the two locals constantly outpositioned the gringos to take the big set waves. After an hour the gringos were gone and the spot was the theirs again. Because of the SIMA surf summit, the Gringos would probably be improving their businesses over the next year, and that meant better surfboards, trunks, and clothing for the young surfers in the water that day. Little did they know.

–John Stouffer