Surf Expo: Rumors And Lies – Orlando, Florida.

By John Maynard and Sean O’Brien

While Mother Nature unleashed the first bonafide storm of the winter onSouthern California — delivering driving rains and thunder loud enoughto drive the dogs crazy — a whole ‘nother flurry of action washappening on the Right Coast: the Surf Expo tradeshow in Orlando,Florida.

With Scripps’ Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) forecasting up to20-foot faces along the most exposed coastline in south San DiegoCounty, we were seriously considering shining our Thursday morningflight to the Sunshine State. But alas, duty called, and before youcould answer “Chicken or beef?” we found ourselves fighting for thewindow seat.

Leading into this weekend’s Surf Expo there were a ton of rumorsfloating around the industry that needed to be answered: Will The Realmreally have wetsuits? Who’s Op after now? How’s this whole B2B thingshaking out? Did you see that Body Glove model in Playboy?

While we can’t confirm all the hearsay — for now — it’s certain thatthis winter’s Surf Expo was as successful as ever. Thankfully, it’s notthe slosh-about, shaka-thon that ASR is — people actually get shitdone. A peek into Rusty’s new booth proved it — an army of retailershuddled around tables armed with pens and paper. Yes, paper!

[IMAGE 1]Actually the show seemed a bit slow on Friday, but picked up the pace onSaturday, with aisles and booths looking busy. Of course, we’re talkingabout the surf side of the show. The resort side, with its lame CharmingShark brands and cheesy La Wedge head pillows, had all the excitement ofa South Miami retirement trailer park. Can’t we erect a huge curtainbetween these two completely separate groups? Or maybe we should squareoff in a gigantic paintball war with the loser banished to somecross-town location. It’s a thought.

Jitters about the economy had a few manufacturers predicting that wouldsoon slow in the surf industry (a la the rest of the world — possiblefear of G-Dub planet?). Most brands, however, were still reportingorders up and pointed to busy booths as proof. Rusty, O’Neill,Billabong, Reef, Hurley, Volcom and others did look busy, but the realgauge of the industry’s health is in front of a cash register and notunder the bright lights of Florida’s Orange County Convention Center. Iguess we’ll all have to wait to make that call.

Things at HIC were also busy. Designer Baltazar Magdirila cut my meetingshort in order to tend to more important matters: buyers. We stopped byon Sunday before heading back to San Diego to see some more of HIC’sline (which includes shorts with a hidden pocket on the inseam — lookout for cheaters, ladies), and also to meet HIC’s new marketing directorBenji Severson. He’s hyped on the brand. By the way, HIC So Cal SalesRep Terrence McNulty and big-wave hellman swears his joining the brandwas not the reason for his brother Joe to skip to Body Glove.

Speaking of Body Glove, former Body Glove wetsuit guy Rick Petri hasbeen busy getting his feet wet at as VP of marketing at O’NeillSportswear. It appears Petri — with strong roots in wetsuit design –will provide an integral link between O’Neill’s Santa Cruz wetsuitheadquarters and the Irvine sportswear licensee.

The departure of O’Neill’s former marketing manager Joey Santleycertainly proves just what an incestuous industry this is, with Petribailing Body Glove for O’Neill, Joe McNulty bailing HIC for Body Glove,and Benji Severson sliding in at HIC. Six degrees of separation anyone?

The Op booth, which got a lot of attention during the last ASR and SurfExpo, was still loud and Gatorade green. We met up with Alien, the guywho’s responsible for the beats. He’s a trip — so animated. It wasexhausting just listening to the guy. But he kept the femmebots in fulleffect for three days straight — and got paid three bills a day to doit.[IMAGE 3]

Speaking of wanting to get attention, Volcom’s booth was large and incharge as always. The pink motif has given way to a banana-yellowflavor. Andd the swarm of yellow jumpsuits was hard to miss — even aftertipping a few post-show cocktails.

Also hard to miss was ceiling scratcher Kevin Flanagan — Globe’s newmarketing head honcho. Hanging outside the Globe booth Flanagan’s grinwas almost as wide as he is tall.

[IMAGE 2]While Flanagan seemed pumped with his new employer, Reef had to dealwith a bizarro incident just prior to the show when Mitch Brabson, thebrand’s newly hired v.p. of production, decided not to take the jobafterall — just days after starting work. Weird.

Absent from the Surf Expo was RVCA, the new Conan Hayes/Pat Tanoriclothing brand. With Hayes amicably parting ways with Ezekiel, it willbe interesting to see what Ezekiel frontman Vinnie DeLaPena does withthat freed up team-rider cash. Look for more on this story soon.

We weren’t invited to the Surfer Mag party. However, those who attendeddon’t remember a thing, so it was probably pretty dope. Instead, we hitthe Surf Expo-sponsored City Walk party at Universal Studios. Bad move.

Okay, I’ll call it. I’m tired of answering the most frequently askedquestions of this year’s show, so here’s some answers once and for all.Yes, it’s my secret vice and I check it out every day. No, I don’t thinkthey know something Amazon’s Jeff Bezos doesn’t. No, I don’t understandthe business model either.

There was definitely some dick waving going on at the show. Sector 9’sCorpo Man showed some guy how big-time he was during Ezekiel’s showingof The Calling in room 205 on Saturday night. They both got some goodshots in, but Corpo Man definitely had the upper hand. The monkeybusiness was embarrassing to watch, though — too much hair pulling andshirt ripping, not enough swinging. It was like watching an episode ofToughman.

Speaking of surf-industry embarrassments, one under-age teamrider gotreally lucky in a round of craps at the Rosen Centre lounge and snatched500 bones from a host of other Orange County surf-industry execs,screaming, “Free Malibu and Cokes for everyone!” Malibu rum? Come on,tough guy.

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